What bad economy?
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Morgan, Bridget and Tina Dowd ride on an elephant trek in Thailand during family vacation. Tina and her husband John, of Franklin Township, own Sundance Vacations, ranked one of the top growing companies in America.
Twenty years ago, John and Tina Dowd (she was Tina Berger at the time) were ambitious college students, working together in sales.
They decided the concepts of their company were good, but could do better.
They married and formed their own travel company. Today, Sundance Vacations has offices in nine American cities as well as Mexico and the Caribbean, and employs more than 500 people.
Last month, Inc. Magazine, a monthly national magazine focusing on growing companies, released its annual list of the fastest growing private companies in America. Sundance Vacations was on the list for the third consecutive year. It also ranked as the "fastest growing travel company in Pennsylvania" for the third straight year.
Sundance specializes in wholesale vacation accommodations. It has marketing locations in Tamaqua, where it employs 60 people; Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, and Shamokin. Its sales locations are in Rockaway, N.J., King of Prussia, Harrisburg, Downer's Grove, Ill., and Brookfield, Wisconsin.
John and Tina now reside in Franklin Township. Tina is a graduate of Lehighton Area High School while John graduated from Shikellamy. They met in the summer of 1991 while selling time shares in the Poconos.
Tina said John has been an entrepreneur since he was a child, holding down two newspaper routes and having a grass-cutting contract of sorts with the town.
After forming Sundance Vacations, the business grew larger than they expected and even the weak economy hasn't hindered its growth.
John, however, is able to put the three-year growth rate into some perspective.
"Unfortunately, our jump in the ranking is like a health check-up for the climate," he said. "Very few companies were able to grow at all, so what we would call a very mediocre performance was still able to propel us up the ranking."
Inc. Magazine also has what it calls a "500/5000 list."
This year, Sundance Vacations ranks 2,917 on the list, a big jump from last year's ranking of 4,719. It lists revenues of $60.7 million. John said that according to the magazine, "the list" companies created 370,592 jobs in the last three years.
"We want to create jobs," John said. "We've got plans. We've got ideas. We've got our eyes on some new markets but we need consumers with job security and access to credit to execute on our plans."
Both Tina and John grew up learning the value of a dollar, which included working to help pay their way through college.
Tina is the daughter of Thomas and Joyce Berger. Her father was a mechanic for the coal mines in Tamaqua while her mother worked in garment factories.
After graduating from Lehighton in 1987, she earned a degree in elementary education from Kutztown University. She never applied for a teaching job, however, since the vacation business became the next venture with her husband.
After graduating from Shikellamy High School in 1985, John attended Penn State University to pursue a degree in engineering. He's the son of Nancy Dowd and the late John Dowd.
They have three daughters, Morgan, 17; Madison, 15, and Bridget, 7.
The couple met while working at Split Rock selling time shares while both were in college.
"We took a look at the product and its strengths and weaknesses," said Tina.
After making an analysis, they decided they could do better, so they bought a condominium in Jack Frost Resort.
They kept re-investing their money into new condos and integrated vacation travel into the concept. They now own or rent condos in many locations, including Orlando, the New Jersey shore, Myrtle Beach, and Hawaii.
"We now have hundreds of destinations people can go to," Tina said. "People buy vacations from us and we put them in the location."
Given the economy, Tina said she and John were surprised to make the list.
"I don't feel we were having tremendous growth," she said.
Even though the economy has tanked, Tina said people are still going on vacation. She has noticed a trend where people are placing less of a down payment on their vacations and relying more on credit cards.
This year, their oldest daughter Morgan has became the "communications specialist" for the business, increasing the visibility of Sundance Vacations on such sites as Facebook and Twitter.
"Despite the recession, our sales never slowed down," Tina said. "I think the thing that will help us to grow and go forward is if the credit crisis eases."
Hawaii is Tina's favorite vacation destination for two reasons. One is the weather and the other is that she got to personally select the condos that her company owns there.
Initially, when she and John looked at condominiums in Hawaii, they thought the prices were too high. The Japanese economy was booming at the time and their investors were buying everything.
When Japan's economy began its downward spiral and real estate prices dropped, the opportunity opened for Sundance to expand. They purchased six condos in Hawaii.
Tina also loves Las Vegas because of the variety of entertainment.
For their own getaways, the family travels to areas where they don't own condos. Therefore, their vacations doesn't feel like work.
Last year, the family went to Thailand and rode elephants. The year before, they went to Australia.
On a trip to Egypt one year, they witnesses an American flag-burning demonstration from their hotel.
"We were never so happy to come home," Tina said.
Customer Service Manager Ed Coppinger is optimistic about the company's future.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "We're perfectly positioned to grow the company."
Sundance Vacations has achieved other state and national rankings.
It was listed as a "Best Place to Work In Pennsylvania" company for four consecutive years, according to Best Companies Group.
It also ranked 17th in the "Best Place to Work" out of 30 finalists in an Illinois program.
The company was also recently honored as Sales Department of the Year in the third annual Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service.