Travel advisors use many tried-and-true methods for acquiring new clients. One of the most popular is referrals from family and friends. But for Darla Lee Mattes, the overwhelming majority of her agency’s growth and success comes from the cheerleading and sales referrals she receives from her husband and her two adult daughters.
“We’re a package deal,” said Mattes, owner of Junebug Travel, a name that came from Doug, her husband of 51 years. Mattes’ middle name is June, “and Doug likes to call me ‘Junebug.’ When I was looking for a fun name for my agency, that seemed to be a good fit,” she said.
Mattes has never advertised her La Marque, Texas, agency, relying strictly on word-of-mouth referrals from people she, Doug and their two daughters – Amy and Melissa – know. For example, she and her husband often travel with 12 of Darla Mattes’ colleagues from her days working as a computer programmer and administrator for the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).
“For years, we sat in the same meetings discussing software implementations, etc., and now we travel together,” she said. This same group spent 15 days together in Scotland and Ireland last spring. Last October, the couple was in Rome and cruised the Greek Isles with a different set of UTMB colleagues and four couples from their church.
“I’ve booked travel for everyone, from my daughters’ sorority sisters, parents of the children my daughter, Amy, coached in softball, to my husband’s doctor,” she said.
Doug Mattes’ nephrologist has already booked three trips with Junebug Travel. “Every time Doug has an appointment, he will spend five minutes talking about his medical issues, and the next 20 minutes she’s asking where he has traveled recently. Then, they end up talking about where she wants to go next,” Darla Mattes said.
“Last spring, she called him after one of his visits and asked to speak to me. That call resulted in a beautiful trip to Italy for her and her husband. This spring, I booked them to Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Buenos Aires. Next up for her is Alaska with their kids this summer.”
Said Doug Mattes: “I hand out Junebug Travel business cards whenever the topic of vacations arises. Active in a group of retirees that meets weekly to perform church maintenance, recently, when a new member of the group had a cruise question, “I gave him one of Darla’s business cards,” he said. “This led to five cabins being booked for a family cruise and then a referral from one of the cruisers to her mom for a Disney vacation.”
Active in their church, the Mattes family gains a lot of referrals from fellow congregants, especially those who follow them on social media. “When we got back from Europe for a month, everyone in church had been following our posts on Facebook, and are now talking about how they want to go with us on our next trip,” Darla Mattes said.
Darla’s daughter Amy Mattes is the director of athletics at St. Agnes Academy in Houston. Amy has helped raise awareness of her mother’s business with some of the school’s sports teams.
“My sister and I started off by just letting our friends know that mom had started a travel business,” Amy Mattes said. “Having seen images of our family trips on Facebook, they wanted to experience similar vacations. That combined with the trust they already had in my mom really got Junebug Travel off to a great start.”
“I am very active on social media, so I share a lot of things,” said Darla’s daughter, Melissa Tortorici.
“Our whole family is fortunate to have a variety of friends and family on social media, so when people see pictures of our vacations and/or mom and dad’s amazing trips, they want to know more,” said Amy Mattes. “It sells itself really, but the relationship my mom builds with each of her clients is what keeps them coming back to plan their next trip.
“My mom has an impeccable reputation of being very organized and very honest. She is also a great communicator, so all we have to do is mention her travel business and our friends and co-workers immediately trust her to plan their trip.”
All in the family
Travel has always been integral to the family’s lifestyle. As newlyweds, Darla and Doug (U.S. Air Force) lived in Washington, D.C.; Okinawa; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “The opportunity to travel to Japan, Okinawa, and Hong Kong really opened my eyes to international travel,” Darla Mattes said.
During the years the Mattes’ were raising their girls, “our travels took us border to border and coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There are only four states we haven’t visited: Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.”
“My mom has always loved to travel and has always been a planner,” said Amy Mattes. “Even when we were younger and the majority of our family trips only consisted of traveling around Texas, it was my mom who had all of the details planned out before we even left home.”
“We traveled around Texas and Louisiana in spring, summer, and fall playing softball,” Darla Mattes said. “I would be the one who would make the hotel reservations for all of the team and their families. I would research what fun things were available to do in addition to being at the ballpark.”
When the girls were in middle school, “we started taking long driving vacations — Seattle, Yellowstone, Disney World, Rio Grande Valley, Six Flags Over Texas, etc. I always did all of the planning and booking all reservations. I recall those days when I have young families with limited budgets. It helps me come up with realistic options for them,” said Darla Mattes.
The family that works together, reaps the travel benefits
The family’s travel legacy is part of the reason why everyone is so active in the business.
Melissa is “a Disney guru,” Darla Mattes said, and helps Junebug Travel’s Disney clients map out their park visits to get the most out of their days. “She keeps abreast of the latest news and is always willing to help make dining suggestions and FastPass reservations,” said Darla Mattes. (The family books a Disney-related vacation of their own at least once every three years.)
“I think mom loves planning Disney trips for people because Walt Disney World is a very special place for our family,” Tortorici said. “She puts together little gift bags for the kids, full of Disney things to keep them busy on their flight. It’s fun for us to see others have a great experience when their photos show up on Facebook.”
Darla Mattes even put her college-age granddaughter, Mia, to work over the recent Christmas break, filing, organizing travel brochures, and delivering cruise packets to clients.
Doug Mattes helps in other ways. “I fix dinner and look after the laundry. I know Darla appreciates me stepping in to take over some of our daily routine so she can focus on the business.”
“I have been very fortunate to have the support of my immediate family in making my business a success,” said Darla Mattes. “I think the love that we share and our desire to support each other in being successful in whatever we try is the key.
“Our shared love of travel is also a factor. The family has their own text message group, ‘Famdamily.’ “We share fun things and travel ideas through it as well as brainstorm about future destinations, excursions, etc.”
Not every business owner might find the Junebug Travel family approach to their liking, said Doug Mattes, adding that it’s important for family members to give the owner “space and time to develop their business. Darla is very self-motivated and I provide support for her choices,” he said.
“I am a sounding board for new ideas and a patient listener when she wants my opinion on whether a client email she’s writing has the right tone. And I benefit, too, because I am her lifelong traveling companion on these amazing adventures she books all over the world.”
Amy Mattes said she is grateful for how the business has allowed the family to travel together. “My mom still takes us ‘kids’ on vacation at least once a year, too, and continues to instill her love for travel in us. She’s building her business with the hopes that my sister and I will take over when she decides to retire (for the third time). If we do, it will definitely take both of us to try and hold a candle to her.”
Last summer, Tortorici took a girls’ cruise with eight friends to celebrate a milestone birthday. “My mom was the travel advisor for our group. It was fun for me to be on the trip with my girlfriends and hear them praise her for how easy she made it and how well-planned and organized it was. I’m very proud of my mom.”
“We all benefit by being able to travel the world as a family,” said Darla Mattes. “We decided, years ago, to scale back on gifts and instead give our family life experiences. Now, we’re sharing the world together.”