(Ambrosio’s note: Hawaii is undoubtedly one of the world’s top travel destinations, and I know a lot of people (myself included) who’d love to experience being in Kari Butterton’s shoes — living the life of an online travel entrepreneur and working in this gorgeous setting. Kari shares with us what she does to grow her business, and how she was able to overcome a few minor hiccups along the way. Hopefully, this interview will inspire those of you who are still searching for that ideal business that complements the lifestyle you desire.
This is the final installment of my 3-part series of interviews with MyDestination franchisees — but only for now. I hope to do a similar series in the near future. It’s been such a pleasure interviewing James Street, Fay Jones, Mike Watt, Gerard Lynch, and Kari Butterton — by far, the easiest group of people to work with. I look forward to keeping in touch and getting to know more MyDestination franchisees in the weeks and months ahead.)
1. Can you tell us about your work background prior to becoming a franchisee of MyDestination?
Before MyDestination, I was working in Seattle as a Financial Officer for a travel wholesaler who specialized in tours throughout Australia and New Zealand. I specialized in currency buying, to prevent any loss from the fluctuation in currency movements.
2. What other franchise concepts did you consider and what made you choose MyDestination?
My choice wasn’t limited to franchise concepts. I was looking for a business model that would fit my ideal lifestyle — the ability to be mobile and travel often, have a flexible schedule, and not be tied down with large overhead expenses. With MyDestination, the choice was easy.
3. What is a typical day like in your life as a franchisee?
I’m not sure if there is a typical day. Right now, I am on Maui, working out of a local cafe with free wifi. I’ve spent the early morning hours filming virtual tours and video of Lahaina Town. Then I met up with a client to shoot a virtual tour of their venue, after which I met my Maui sales rep for a lunch meeting to discuss my next trip to Maui.
By mid-afternoon, I was in my mobile office (some other local cafe with free wifi) uploading my virtual tour and video footage, labeling and sending to the MyDestination tech team to edit, checking email, and other administrative tasks.
Back in Oahu, where I live, a typical day would be either working out of my home office, working out of my favorite cafe, or meeting clients at their business locations. My laptop is my office, and it is always with me.
4. Can you name 3 specific things that you’ve done for your business that have produced the greatest results?
Finding that star employee. I’ve lost a lot of time and money hiring the wrong people. It takes a certain knack and discipline to work this business. Luckily, I have a right-hand woman — my star employee — who lives and works in Maui. Her marketing and sales skills are second only to her skills at building and maintaining relationships with the local Maui community, which is what this business is all about.
Secondly, as I began to grow, I began to create systems and automate tasks. This was critical so nothing gets lost in the mix. We have a checklist to ensure every client gets set up correctly. I implemented an email platform to stay in touch with current and prospective clients via monthly newsletters and a CRM to have a real-time customer database that everyone uses whenever they make contact with a client.
Lastly, partnering with local businesses. We have aligned ourselves with a brochure-display company in Maui that specializes in print. We pair well together as we seek the same clients, but she offers printed brochure space and I offer an online marketing platform. It’s like a match made in heaven. We pool our resources, refer clients, and work in a collaborative manner.
5. Can you share the highest point and lowest point of your franchise journey so far, and what lessons have you learned from them?
I think my highest point is now and I can only go higher. Local brand awareness is growing and I am continuing to establish relationships with local Hawaii businesses.
My lowest point was letting go of an employee that was not working out. It was a big blow because he was my first hire for an outer island sales rep and although he had great references, he was not a good fit for the position. It was difficult to let go of someone you just hired, even when it’s best for both parties involved.
6. What mistakes have you made as franchise owner that have taught you the biggest lessons?
When I first joined the MyDestination network, there were so many exciting changes on the horizon. I was always waiting for the next change to happen or project to finish before approaching clients.
We had big plans for a mobile app and I knew that would be a strong selling point. So I held back and waited…and waited. But the company that was hired to create our app couldn’t make their January deadline. Then they couldn’t make their February deadline, then their April deadline. The app they produced was so buggy it couldn’t even be used. So the project was scrapped until corporate could hire an in-house app developer (which they have) to create a new mobile app from scratch, but one that would really work with the brand identity.
I am still waiting on the edge of my seat for that app to launch this fall, but I’m not waiting to approach potential clients anymore because we have a strong enough offering without it.
7. If you were to speak with a prospective franchisee about the profit potential of a MyDestination franchise, what would you say?
The long term profit potential is enormous, especially with the recent launch of our hotel booking engine and other similar revenue streams to come. Each site should easily be able to earn $100,000 a year once established.
8. Can you describe your working relationship with the home office of MyDestination?
The support received from MyDestination is phenomenal. I constantly bombard them with emails, questions, and forum posts, yet they continue to respond in a timely fashion. I email them videos, virtual tour, images, formatting requests, and marketing material to edit and they promptly respond with high quality work. They handle EVERYTHING technical which allows me to focus on content and clients.
9. What do you like most about being a franchisee of MyDestination, and what do you like least?
I love the people and the travel opportunities. We have an annual conference each year in a different global location, where all the site owners can network, chat, and build relationships.
I’ve been staring at my computer screen for ten minutes now and I can’t think of what I don’t like about being a MyDestination franchisee. The only thing that comes to mind is that they have so many great project ideas and not enough time to implement them all.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about MyDestination Hawaii?
MyDestination Hawaii supports non-profit tourist attractions, including museums and historical sites, by offering a complimentary page on our website with visitor information for the non-profit. Non-profits wishing to be included on the site can contact me through our business page.