When Scott Brodsky’s mother started a quilt tour company 33 years ago, he had no idea that he would run it one day.
“My mother started the business in the early ’80s,” Brodsky said. “She was a housewife in New Hampshire pursuing a crafting career. She got a call one day from a tour company that lost its tour manager during New England fall foliage. It was a craft tour, and they ask if she could cover it. She had no experience but took the tour out and decided she could do it as a hobby.”
That hobby grew into a full-blown venture. Brodsky’s mother secured a small-business loan and started Country Heritage Tours in the basement of the family home. Eventually, her husband left his career to join her in the company.
Brodsky was 9 years old when the company started and grew up around the business. But he left home to pursue a different path, first going to college to study art, then moving to Savannah, Georgia, before settling into a career in New York theater. But a few years ago, he felt the tour company calling him home.
“I was a set designer for Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera in New York,” he said. “But after 11 years, I got tired of the rat race, so I moved to New Hampshire and worked in the business, side by side with my parents for a couple of years.”
During that time, Brodsky helped his parents build a website and increase marketing efforts. Eventually, he took over as president of the company and oversaw significant growth.
“We built our list of clients from 4,000 to 40,000,” he said. “We’re getting the word out there and doing multiple international tours. We have a repeat clientele of around 70%, and we’re seeing our audience age drop from 55-plus to 48-plus.”
Though Brodsky’s parents have both passed away, he still draws on lessons he learned from them, some even at an early age.
“When I was 14, my mother brought me on a site inspection trip to Paducah,” he said. “At one hotel, our room was gorgeous; but the next morning, she said, ‘I’d like to see a regular room, please.’ That’s when I learned that there’s a difference between what vendors want to show you and the reality of what your guests may experience.”
Because Country Heritage Tours caters to a very specific audience — female quilt-lovers traveling without husbands or children — Brodsky makes special efforts to experience every element of a trip firsthand to ensure it will serve them well.
“On all our tours since 2011, I have slept in the beds, I have eaten in the restaurant, I have walked in the museums,” he said. “You can sit behind a desk and develop product. But do you understand where the bus is going to pull up and how many stalls are in the women’s room? Is the gift shop good enough? I get those details from site inspections and FAM tours.”
Brodsky likens this pretrip research to the work he used to do on Broadway.
“Theater’s all about putting on a production, and running tours is no different,” he said. “The preproduction is looking at hotels and attractions, and what bits and pieces we’re going to cast in a show. Rehearsals are our site inspections and contracts. Then the production is running the tour.”
“If you want to grow your audience, you have to get in front of them. You don’t need to market to people who know you — you need to get in front of the ones who don’t. Use all the tools in your toolbox. Use social media. And remember, direct mail is not dead. All the major players put out paper catalogs.”