Before moving to Florida in the mid 90s, Jean Paugh, founder and owner of All About Your Travel Unlimited, worked for the State Department of Corrections in up-state New York. Wanting to get out of the cold, Paugh and her husband decided to move to the Sunshine State. After making the move, and living in several different cities throughout Florida, they settled in Cocoa Beach, an area they grew to love from previous vacations. Paugh shared the story behind her journey from corrections to helping people experience the vacation of their dreams.
"From the time we first moved to Florida until about 1999, I worked for the Department of Juvenile Justice," she said. "It was a good job, but it wasn't my true passion. Before we moved to Cocoa Beach, my husband and I lived in Deltona. That's where I met a lady who had twenty years experience in the travel industry. She opened my eyes to the possibilities. That's when I decided to get some training and make a career change. I remember attending a travel event in Orlando with 500 other travel agents. I was surrounded by agents in their 60s and 70s all fighting over the last piece of chicken. That's when I remember thinking how well I would do in this industry."
From 1999 until October of 2005, Paugh worked for two different travel agencies. She enjoyed the work, but there were things about the two agencies that didn't sit well with her. That's when she identified an opportunity to take her knowledge and passion for travel and start her own agency. She officially opened her doors in October of 2005.
"I originally tried to buy the last agency I worked for," she said. "Unfortunately, once I helped it become profitable, the owner didn't want to sell it. I was upset, but also excited because I knew I could do it on my own. When I left the agency, I would get messages from customers still looking for me. I had a lot of mixed emotions when I first opened the agency, but it was an exciting time. I knew that I was going to make it if I just kept going. I took the plunge and never looked back."
Paugh grew the business by investing heavily in marketing. She did shows and events, such as the seasonal craft fairs in the historic Cocoa Village area, and anything she could to get in front of potential customers. When the recession hit, Paugh, unlike many other small business owners that are now out of business, doubled down on her marketing efforts. As a result, business actually picked up. People were stressed and needed a break from the bad news. A Caribbean cruise or an adventure to an exotic destination was exactly what the doctor ordered.
When it comes to customers, Paugh shared that most people can benefit from utilizing a travel agent. "Most people really appreciate the advice and support from a travel professional," she said. "This is especially true for more involved trips, but also for smaller cruises and domestic flights. When you do your own booking online, you basically become your own travel agent. You have to print everything out yourself and you better be sure you understand the visa requirements in certain countries. When you use a travel agent, we ensure your travel requirements are met, your documents are printed and you get access to lower rates because we buy groups of tickets at discounted prices."
Thanks to Paugh's early and continuous marketing efforts, most of their business comes from word-of-mouth referrals. She's the exclusive travel agent listed in four different magazines that are distributed to gated communities in the Viera area. She's also the exclusive travel advisor for a local wedding venue. For Paugh, helping to make her client's travel dreams come true at an affordable price and being available for them every step of the way is what she enjoys most.
Looking ahead, Paugh, who recently added another agent at the end of 2018, is focused on growing her business while still being able to provide the exceptional level of customer service her clients have come to expect. She loves what she does and can see herself working until she's no longer able to.
What advice does Paugh have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "It's tough, especially in a commission-based business like the travel industry," she said. "You just have to be confident in yourself. You need a good marketing and business plan in place before you start. Be confident in your abilities and be ready for the ups and downs. Also, remember that you usually aren't profitable your first couple of years in business. It helps to have a source of income while you build it out."