As a graduate student in business school, Richard W. Frendt knew the travel business wasn't what he wanted. The cutthroat competition and narrow profit margins in selling airline tickets didn't seem worth the trouble.
He thought he had a good feel for what the travel industry offered because when he wasn't studying he was keeping the books and sweeping the floor at his mother's fledgling travel agency, Morris Travel."At the time, Morris was just four or five people, so it didn't seem like a business with a future," Frendt recalls.
Frendt apparently underestimated his own talent and that of his mother, June Morris, who combined with her son to make Morris - now known as Morris/Ask Mr. Foster - the largest travel agency in Utah and the 12th largest in the country.
Not surprisingly, the tremendous growth that took place at his mother's business surpassed Frendt's expectations. But the 37-year-old Frendt, now president of the agency, has his own explanation of why the business took off like it did and is now cruising above the competition with $110 million in annual sales.
"My mother has an incredible knowledge of the business and I brought a drive to win," he said.
June Morris lured her son to work in 1975 by giving him an offer he says he couldn't refuse: "$16,800 a year and all the travel benefits. It seemed like a fortune back then," Frendt said.
Frendt recalls the days of planning and projecting the future as a kind of game, where mother and son would challenge each other to increase their customer base and dream up innovative ways of doing it. But he doesn't give all the credit for Morris Travel's success to mother and son in the trenches. Father pitched in with needed capital to keep the business afloat when clients didn't pay the bills while the agency needed cash to meet its obligations.
A turning point came when Morris Travel landed the Sperry Univac account, which Frendt's attributes to the agency's innovative program of making sales calls to local businesses to increase business travel revenues.
"That doubled our business and gave us the idea that we could really do it. We doubled in size every year after that."
The small agency caught its growth fever in the late 1970s and when deregulation of the airline industry set in, Morris Travel was already in the high volume mode.
Frendt said they didn't forecast the effects of deregulation and didn't realize the competitive advantage a high volume business would have down the road. "We picked up a lot of business with the thinking that if we got enough volume some of the new business would go to our bottom line."
But when the implications of deregulation became clear, such as cheaper airfares shrinking travel agency profits, Morris Travel knew high volume was the answer to survival and the agency turned on the marketing to increase its sales.
Under deregulation, carriers were slashing airfares and cutting the best deals with agencies that sold the most tickets. And those reduced rates were being passed on to the agency's customers.
Soon all the agencies were slashing fares and sacrificing their precious commissions, through rebates and other types of discounts, to get a larger piece of the market. "Some agencies were giving away their shirts to gain business," Frendt said.
That's when Morris made its second fortuitous move by building up its leisure travel business. It started with one charter flight from Salt Lake to Hawaii every week and has grown into a separate business, Morris Air Service, offering 14 flights a week to six destinations this summer.
The charter business grossed $25 million last year.
Despite its success, Frendt said offering a charter service is fraught with logistical headaches that the new company continues to work out and perfect. For that task, June Morris has become president and chief executive of Morris Air Service to field customer complaints.
That reorganization, in which Frendt became president of the travel agency, took place when Morris merged with national travel giant Ask Mr. Foster in order to keep business travel customers with Utah locations and acquire a national presence. The company has also established an incentive travel department that arranges tours for businesses and other groups.
With a healthy market share and 21 offices, stretching from Rexburg, Idaho, to Spanish Fork, explosive growth has since subsided, Frendt said, and emphasis is being placed on service and maintaining good prices.
"Now we can go for taking care of our customers and having some fun," he said.
Frendt loves to travel and met his wife, Zara, on a Mediterranean cruise. They have three children, Zeni, 10, Bobby, 7, and Ricky, 3. When he is not traveling either for business or leisure, he likes to spend time at home with his family as well as jog, play racquetball and golf.