What Can Mortgage Leaders Learn from the Travel Industry?


Charles de L’ArbreWhen Charles de L’Arbre (Charlie) joined the family business, Santa Barbara Travel Bureau, travel agencies were easy to come by. In Santa Barbara alone, there were 75 agencies. But today? He says there are about six agencies in total — most of them with two, three employees at the most — that survived the ups and downs of the industry.

During the time that Charlie has served as CEO, he’s experienced the deregulation of the airline industry in the ‘70s, the decrease in travel agent commissions in the ‘90s and the emergence of giant travel services such as Expedia.

With all the changes the mortgage industry has seen lately, we invited Charlie to our recent Masters’ Coach event in Santa Barbara to share how his company not only survived but transformed during these moments of industry shake-up — and how mortgage leaders can do the same.

The Travel Industry’s Lessons for Mortgage Leaders

The secret to Charlie’s success seems to be rooted in a few key things: first, he never compromised on service, regardless of the book of business in front of him. Every client knew they had a reliable single point of contact on their trips.

We also learned that Charlie embraced an “opportunistic” approach to building a business. He knew that if one client was served well, that client relationship could easily lead to another. One time he helped a client’s son book five round-trip tickets for a film shoot; that client led to another, and in time Santa Barbara Travel Bureau had a network of production managers who relied on their team to manage travel for shows at Showtime, Starz and Lifetime, to name a few.

Charlie said his team makes it a point to understand and manage all the “minutiae” that can get in the way of their clients arriving at their film or tour destinations. Through the business expansions, Charlie and his team remained steadfast in their commitment to finding elegant solutions for their clients.

1. Be a Niche Leader

People might be coming after the quick and easy transaction. But niche markets aren’t served by the broad online experience. Charlie made it a point to use opportunities to serve a customer well and let the quality of his service speak for itself.

In the mortgage industry, we see great examples of niche leaders like Josh Mettle with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation and Louise Thaxton with the American Warrior Initiative.

Josh’s practice evolved into a niche service that specializes in home loans for physicians. His staff is specially trained to analyze a physician’s needs based on whether they’re going into residency or they’re in private practice; this understanding allows his loan officers to identify unique loan solutions for each physician.

Louise created a niche in her practice by traveling the country to educate real estate agents and other professionals about the challenges facing men and women who have served in the military when they return home from war.

2. Create Elegant Solutions

Clients all have different needs; sometimes the services we offer them will be very cost-dependent and other times those services will be more experience-dependent.

Expedia and Travelocity can only give their clients a range of four or five outputs, but Charlie and his team recognized that there’s more to life than that. Don’t compare yourself to what the larger online players are doing because there’s rarely anything elegant in what they offer.

3. Hold onto Service

Stick with relationship-based solutions, and keep doing what you know you’re good at.

Even in the two-year period where Charlie’s company lost about $600,000, they stayed focused on serving clients well and being ready when opportunity knocked.

Want to learn more about the mortgage industry’s premier coaching program, The Masters’ CoachVisit the website.


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