Meet Tracy: Love of Disney Fuels Her Businessby Donna Tunney /
Mickey and Minnie weren't part of Tracy Whipple's childhood years, and she didn't visit Disneyland until she was a grownup. But today this online retailer is a Disney specialist who attracts a global clientele eager to experience the iconic American brand.
“When I was young, I didn't watch Disney movies or videos. On vacation our family stayed close to home. We'd go camping. So I was never exposed to Disney. But as an adult one of the first places I went was Disneyland and I fell in love with it,” says Whipple, who owns Travel on a Dream, LLC.
She has been on 24 Disney cruises in the last 11 years and has never brought a child onboard.“I don't have kids, unless you count my husband,” jokes Whipple, who is Disney-certified, has an Elite Cruise Counselor certification from CLIA and is a graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge.
While Whipple does sell some non-Disney products, close to 90% of her sales are derived from bookings on Disney Cruise Line and from vacation packages to the Disney parks.
Building a business
Based in DeForest, Wisc., Whipple launched her online site in 2010. She now has 12 independent contractors from around the country working with her.
“They are all Disney-certified, and for the majority that's their only focus; they don't want to do anything else.”
She began her career in travel working for an online agency, a Disney-exclusive retailer, in 2006. Four years later she decided to go out on her own.
“They were more about the volume than personalized service. I wanted to be much more hands-on,” says Whipple.
“We had a major falling out, and they tried to put me out of business,” she says, declining to name the agency. Her competitor was not successful, and Whipple has never looked back.
Transfer of skills
Before joining the online travel agency in 2006, Whipple worked as a paralegal. It might seem an unusual transition – paralegal to travel agent – but her organizational skills and attention to detail helped her succeed in both professions.
Today, her travel business is booming. In fact, she says, the agency could use additional contractors.
“Without more contractors I've gone as far as I can go. I can't take on any more clients. Last summer I had to start turning away referrals and giving them to my contractors, if it was OK with the client.
“It never slowed down last year. And our sales are higher now than they were last year. Looking at travel [bookings] for 2014, we're already ahead of 2013 and it's still early,” she says.
Whipple says she decided to focus on Disney because of the brand's level of service.
“When I walk into anything that's Disney-owned, I'm always amazed at how well they treat guests and how beautiful they keep the parks and ships. I'm all about personalized service too.”
Like many customer service-focused businesses, Whipple has built up her customer base through referrals. “Some people find us online, but it's mostly referral business.”
Her clients are a mix of families with children and people traveling without youngsters.
“I do at least one group cruise a year, and the majority of the [clients] don't have children traveling with them. Disney offers a great selection of entertainment for adults, and some of the family events are fun to participate in, even if you don't have kids with you,” she notes.
A kiss from Mickey
So, who’s her favorite Disney character?
“It's Mickey. I think he represents Walt [Disney]. Mickey is the whole idea behind Disney. Plus he kissed me on one of my birthdays, while I was on a Disney ship on a Panama Canal cruise,” says the agent.
Whipple even has a “Mickey room” in her house. “It's where I keep all the Mickey stuff I've collected over the years.”