Many people’s dream is to one day own a bar, restaurant, hotel, whatever, when they grow up, just to retire. They’ve toiled all their lives at work, maybe loveless, loveless, but they’ve saved some good money along the way. what to do? If you’ve driven enough, you might have a cushion to list things like starting a business.
Kathy Coleman Wood has always had a passion for travel. Her father was with the U.S. Army, later the National Security Agency, and as such Wood lived in various places, including Germany, Munich, and Melbourne, Australia, where she was born. Finally, the family moved to Ft. They are stationed in Laurel, Maryland, near the NSA headquarters. field. There, she led the life of a normal teenager growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s (think “The Wonder Years”), attending Laurel Junior and Senior High Public Schools.
But Wood was always successful. As a senior, she was class secretary, homecoming queen and co-editor of the yearbook. After graduation, she attended a small university in Tusculum, Tennessee, where she graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned an MBA from the Wharton Graduate School of Business. Wood held HR positions in several companies, from large – Union Carbide / Martin Marietta, now part of Lockheed-Martin – to medium, Plastic-Line / ImagePoint – to small – CTI, Inc. Her schedule for many of her jobs was demanding — “60-hour work weeks,” she says, as is required for many middle- to high-management positions.
She and her husband, Charlie, took a short trip to France in early 2003 to find relief. The couple was so excited about this opportunity that they decided to give back some of their savings over the years for 14 months. 2004-05, a sabbatical from life, if you will. That’s where Wood plans to open a boutique travel company, she says. She has made many contacts with French residents and knows the lay of the land. Why don’t others get the same resources she did and make money at the same time?
Wood designed company brochures and instead of sending Christmas cards that year, she sent flyers to her entire mailing list. Surprise: She only got nine recipients! But Wood was having fun, and she firmly believed in her idea.
Like any good story, random things happen that change the course of life – they call it luck. A USA TODAY writer in the Luberon, France, area of Provence Wood is unique and was looking for advice. In the year In 2006, the film starring Russell Crowe and produced by Ridley Scott “A Good Year” attracted the journalist’s attention. The next USA Today article appeared above the fold on page one of the travel section and mentioned the lumber company. The answer: more than 800 leads, almost more than she and her husband could handle.
European experiences, the name of the wood company, continues to grow, and in 2019, the best year ever – it had 186 customers. But then Covid-19 hit, and all of Wood’s advance money for travel had to be returned to clients because international travel was severely curtailed. Wood was lucky that her company, unlike say a hotel or a restaurant, required little cost and capital investment to keep it afloat. She also had savings for lean times and was collecting pensions from some of the companies she worked for. The European experience is that no advertising is done, and new business is mostly generated by word of mouth. To get through the pandemic and stay sane, Wood chatted with her clients about everything from cooking, to French cheese, to olive oil for free.
Now that the world seems to be finally out of covid, Wood’s business is heating up again. So far, she has signed up 293 customers on 27 separate trips. Half of the customers are repeat customers, and two-thirds are women. In the year In 2023, she hopes to do even better.
When will Wood retire? Her husband, 77, is already pulling back from the business. “Maybe in three or four years,” she says, adding that the older she gets, the harder the job gets. But now I’m doing what I love, being busy and meeting interesting people around the world. Wood plans to sell the company once she retires.
Moral of the story: Dreamers can live dreams, with a little luck and courage to pursue passion, take risks, establish company. The need for wood is a journey. what is yours