Vogue Travel Agency
Vogue Travel Headquarters located in Southfield, Mich

“When we started Vogue Travel in 1988 my husband and I wanted a business we could build together”, says Lesli Robinson, owner of Vogue Travel Agency. “We both liked to travel so a travel agency seemed like the obvious choice. Why not combine what we liked to do with a way to earn a living?”

“We had attended a franchise show and it was there that we got the idea,” say Robinson. “The company was called the Computer Travel Service Network and it was based in Phoenix, Ariz.”

“Building any type of business takes hard work and resources,” says Robinson. “Make sure you have both the financial and emotional resources to carry you until the business is able to support you. I continued to work my full time job at a local hospital while we built the business.”

Vogue Travel Agency
Inside the lobby of Vogue Travel’s offices

“Location is very important for a new business so we decided to open our office in Laurel Park,” Robinson admits. “The public can sometimes be skeptical of new agencies because of some unscrupulous agencies that have taken money and failed to do what they promised. So our aim was to address that issue by choosing a good location that would validate our credibility.”

“We have corporate and personal clients and we realized from the onset that everything we did would be open to scrutiny,” says Robinson. “It took extra work to convince people that a Black-owned firm was adequately equipped to handle their needs. We knew there were other agencies operating but we didn’t feel like we were competing with them because of the personal service we offered.”

“When CTSN went out of business in 1990 and we had to decide if we were going to continue on our own or fold,” says Robinson. “When we decided we were going to continue the business we realized there was a lot we needed to do.”

“We had basically been a broker for CTSN because they did everything,” says Robinson. “We worked off commission so we would overnight our orders through Federal Express to the company and they would mail the bookings back to us usually through regular mail. Sometimes orders would arrive late, sometimes not at all. Our overhead was very high because we paid for everything, faxing, postage, etc. In the beginning we lost money because we were somewhat naive and didn’t know enough about running a travel agency.”

“Once we went on our own we were able to get a lot of assistance from agencies like the SBA (Small Business Administration) and MMBDC (Michigan Minority Business Development Council),” Robinson remembers. “The good thing was we didn’t lose any clients while we were restructuring the business.”

Lesli Robinson
Lesli Robinson, Owner, Vogue Travel Agency

“Most of the restructuring work involved setting things up and preparing to do everything ourselves,” says Robinson. “We discovered that the more you do up front the fewer surprises you will encounter later. Over the years the entire experience has taught me a lot. And some of the mistakes I made I know I will never repeat.”

“It’s also important that you keep the business separate from your personal life,” says Robinson. “Sometimes family and friends expect special consideration, but if you intend to be successful you have to make them understand that you are running a business and not practicing a hobby.”

“Make sure you have a clear understanding of the tax laws and the insurance requirements relative to your business,” says Robinson. “The IRS takes it very serious when businesses don’t have their documents in order. If you are going to have employees you better make sure you understand all the legal requirements. I have 8 agents working for the agency and they’re all independent contractors. I learned early that there are a lot of records you have to maintain when you have regular employees.”

“You have to be flexible with your product,” say Robinson. “When the industry changes you have to be willing to change with it. After the airlines stopped paying commission a lot of travel agencies that weren’t willing to change simply went out of business. You have to look for ways to make change work to your advantage.”

“When people come to me they are looking for something that will help them get away from the stress of everyday life,” says Robinson. “Ask open-ended questions that require something other than a yes or no answer and take the time to find out what your customer really needs. Your customers trust you to provide them with the best product possible, sometimes sight unseen, so it’s up to you to respect that trust and deliver exactly what you promise.”

“I love to travel, so to me it only makes sense to work in an industry that allows me to do what I enjoy on both a professional and personal level,” says Robinson. “We started the Vogue Travel Club in 1995 and it fizzled, in 1999 we revived it and we now have about 47 members with approximately 25 active members. It’s a perfect way to have fun doing what I love while earning a living in the process.”

“Whatever paths you choose, try to find something that you would do for reasons other than money,” says Robinson. “That way when it does become profitable you will enjoy it that much more.”