Tom White always knew he was good at sales. But he also knew he wanted his career to make a difference in people’s lives. So after growing up in a military family stationed at various times in Germany, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and finally, Huntsville, Alabama, he saw an opportunity open at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
“I was going to school full time for sales management, and I needed something part time,” White said. “I had worked in retail sales before that, and I knew I was good at promotions and events, but I wanted to find a place that had more meaning to it. I felt like working here and seeing the kids coming into the museum so excited had such an impact on them.”
White’s first opportunity with the organization came in 2000, when he spent six months as a counselor working firsthand with young visitors. A short detour into the charter bus industry took him away for a while, but then the U.S. Space and Rocket Center came calling again.
“I was recruited to come back as part of the operations team,” he said. “I worked in planning and logistics, and took over the group sales side, and it was a natural fit. Then, about eight years ago, our new CEO came in and did some restructuring. She brought the whole sales department together, and she asked me to be in charge of it.”
In this role as director of sales and outreach, White recognized the opportunity for the organization to grow by reaching out to the travel and tourism market. He now regularly works with tour operators and group leaders, attending events hosted by organizations such as the American Bus Association, Travel South USA and the United States Tour Operators Association.
“I spend about 100 days a year traveling,” he said. “I’m trying to lead on developing sales through tour operators, through receptives or with schools directly. As much as I’m on the school side of the business, I’m at a lot of education shows as well, and I also go directly to the classroom.”
Many school groups are interested in the center’s famous Space Camp program, which involves three to six days of immersion in which students experience the training and technology involved in deep-space exploration. But White is finding more adult groups interested in similar programs.
“For adults, it’s kind of a fantasy camp,” he said. “We have some huge space buffs come in. But if you’re not a space buff, it’s still a cool, fun experience.”
Regardless of how old the participants are, White enjoys knowing that the products he sells bring people joy and make long-lasting memories.
“I get to go down and see people putting on their spacesuits, about to do their space walks,” he said. “They have huge smiles on their faces. It’s so fun and cool. I’m not just trying to sell a certain number of products. It makes me feel good to know that I’m selling an experience, and it makes a difference.”
A Sales Tip from Tom
“We have so much technology, but sales still comes down to relationships, period. If you’re trying to develop new business from scratch, getting people to understand your experience and knowing you makes a big difference. Technology comes and goes, but relationships don’t.”