Lance Chima’s first exposure as a child to his family’s business was over the holidays every November.
“When I was young, my father would send groups of 300 or 400 to New York City over Thanksgiving to see the parade,” said Chima, CTC, president of Chima Travel in Akron, Ohio.
Chima would make copies of every client’s information and airline tickets for the trips, marking his induction into the travel industry at an early age. He would also file brochures for his father.
“As a youngster I was brought up in the business,” he said.
But Chima wasn’t sure he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the travel agency business after he graduated college in 1977. Still, he decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised.
“When I got my foot in the door, and developed a clientele of my own, I enjoyed it more and made a career of it,” said Chima.
Currently, Chima is co-owner, with his cousin Derek Chima, of the 96-year-old Ensemble-affiliated agency.
The agency employs 12 full-time workers at its Akron office, plus another 10 to 12 independent contractors. Chima Travel tallies $12 million a year in sales, with a 50/50 leisure/business mix.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Chima Travel throughout its 96 years in the business, however.
In 2000, with an eye on the future, an ambitious Chima acquired another large agency in the area and moved to a larger Akron building with about 25 fulltime staff.
Then 9/11 sent shockwaves through the travel industry, and he faced the challenge of cutting staff while attempting to grow the agency’s business.
“That was an exciting time for us,” said Chima. “We trimmed our staff by quite a bit and took on a number of local [former] agency owners who wanted to sell travel but didn’t want to be involved in the day-to-day operation of a business.”
While Chima Travel is a bit smaller than it was 15 years ago, it is still growing steadily. Its leisure business includes several large group trips a year, in addition to a variety of vacation productions, including cruise and resort vacations.
“We rely on the marketing expertise of Ensemble, instead of marketing in our Sunday local paper or pushing online bookings,” Chima said.
On the corporate side, the agency grows its business through its strong ties to the local community.
“We recently got a contract to take on more of the University of Akron’s business, so it’s really going to beef up our corporate sales,” said Chima.
Chima’s son Brian, 25, recently joined the company after graduating from the University of Akron with a degree in business.
“He did an internship at Disney Land during college,” said Chima of his son. “He really loves it here with his business background.”
Brian helped revamp the agency’s website and brings a more contemporary perspective to the agency, his father said.
Overall, Chima wants to see the agency founded by his family continue to grow into the next generation.
“I think many of our clients are older Akron people, and as those people are retiring we need to replace that business,” said Chima. “We need to continue to market and grow.”