It's among the most famous stories of corporate bloopers. Several years ago, a Sears executive traveling to branches around the country was shocked to find a display of snow blowers in... Miami. As Sears struggles to survive, stories like this may illustrate why. How could a mistake so boneheaded ever happen? It makes me smack my forehead and say, "Doh!" every time I think about it. But for another, wiser salesman, could the mistake of snow in Miami be turned into a strategy?
YPO member Eduardo Gaz believed it could, and his success has, well, snowballed. Gaz is a Brazilian-born entrepreneur who has made skiing the focus of his life's work. He first founded TTW Group to bring luxury global skiing opportunities to Brazilians, who like Miamians did not have skiing readily available. Gaz's success in that venture has led to several more luxury travel companies. These include SkiUSA, which offers the same personalized luxury skiing experience for the US market, and Selections, which offers Brazilians opportunities for luxury vacations of all sorts outside of skiing. Today, TTW Group includes more than 8 divisions, generates more than $25 million annually from the Brazilian market alone, and is the second largest ski tour operator in the Americas.
It may sound counter-intuitive to locate the headquarters of a ski travel company in Miami, but the Harvard OPM-educated Gaz knew what he was doing. He understood that selling luxury requires different marketing and sales strategies. Sticking out like a sore thumb can be a great thing, when harnessed properly. On an episode of my podcast YPO 10 Minute Tips from the Top, Gaz shared why his ski travel company fits right in under the Miami sun:
1. Make It Different
When Gaz started in the ski industry in Brazil, he knew he had an uphill climb. "It's not very popular," he admitted, "but it's my job to make it more popular." He found success in the Brazilian market, but wanted to do more. "I was speaking to a very small audience in Brazil...I wanted to use all my contacts and contracts to provide this service to a broader audience," he says. Gaz recognizes that his services may not be for the masses, explaining, "It's only scalable to a point, but I'm fully committed to it." The locations he chose had something important in common: "We don't have any snow or mountains in Brazil, same as in Miami," he smiles. "On top of that, Miami is the perfect platform for the whole of Latin America. It's the gateway to America," he says. Even if your market isn't huge, the right product or service can offer tons of opportunity.
2. Make It Easy
For Gaz, customer service is the lifeblood of his business. "For the people that want to go skiing, I make their lives easy enough in all aspects of their trip," he says. He continues, "It's door to door service...And we make sure they know what they're going to find once they get to the ski resort." No detail is too small for Gaz, and even the financing can be made easy: "We have trips that we sell in 24 installments if you want," Gaz says. What has made his companies successful is their dedication to the highest quality. "It's a concierge service, and we got really good at it. We do it fast, and we do it well. It just makes their lives a lot easier," he explains. When you can do the hard work for your clients, they will value you more, and become repeat customers.
3. Make It Customized
Gaz works to make sure each trip is exactly what his client wants, saying, "It's totally, 100% customized. We don't do packages." No two trips are quite alike: "Even if we have people going to the same place at the same time, we [approach] their trips from different angles and perspectives, and they have totally different experiences," Gaz explains. Another reason for his company's growth is Gaz's mastery of off-the-beaten-ski-trail destinations. "It's not only Vail and Aspen and the mainstream resorts," he says. "It's also the less-known places, not only in the US, but also globally." This model has proved so successful that his customers clamored for more: "With [my other company] Selections, what we do is everything buy skiing. It was on the demand of our own clients, who wanted the same level of experience they were having with the skiing world, for other non-skiing destinations," he says. He has tons of great ideas: "Do you want to go ski Iceland?" he smiles.
4. Make It Valuable
Gaz knows that if he is to maintain success, his company must continue offering something compelling and different. It started when he decided to expand his business to the US. Believe it or not, "The logical place was Miami!" he asserts. "People here don't have the ski culture. So we can bring them a lot of value, in that sense. What they need is our expertise and our guidance in order to be successful in their skiing experience," he explains. But Gaz won't take on just any trip: "We only take trips where we know we can bring value to the beauty of the experience," he says, cautioning, "You need to be careful, otherwise you become another tree in the forest." No industry is without competitors, but if your offerings stand out among the crowd, you'll have a ski up on the competition.
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