CruCon's business in Moultonborough is cruising alongBy LARISSA MULKERN
Special to the Sunday News
June 28. 2014 7:52PM
Move over, Lake Winnipesaukee. There's a new jewel in the Lakes Region, and this gem is hiring.
This weekend, CruCon Cruise Outlet celebrates the grand opening of its 30,000-square-foot, three-story world headquarters at 81 Whittier Highway. A public open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today will feature a cruise show, building tours and a recruitment fair. A VIP reception with leaders from major cruise lines and company officials was held Saturday evening.
Founder and President Sandra Cleary, who left a successful career as an aeronautical engineer in California to return to her family in East Boston in the 1990s, launched the Internet-based travel business in 1995, working out of her mother's basement with her sister, Pat. Eventually she moved the business to a small office in Boston but hightailed it out of that neighborhood in 2004 after her employees witnessed a bank robbery and shoot-out across the street.
Fond memories of the Lakes Region, where Cleary and her family had vacationed in Paugus Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee as a child, drew her to Moultonborough, where she eventually rented new office space off of Whittier Highway. Nine of her original 10 employees from the Boston office relocated with her - and are still working with CruCon today.
Company growth and the need for more parking space led Cleary to look into the lot across the street. She ended up purchasing and closing on the property within three weeks, she said.
"We kept growing across the street, and we got to a point literally that our biggest problem was parking. We had to go to the town to get a variance to park on the access road," Cleary said during an interview last week.
Cleary knew the company needed to build its own facility because there was no existing building large enough to accommodate it. She considered the 12,000-square-foot bank building next door, but it only had 65 parking spots.
"We decided, based on my long-range plans, that we had to have a much larger building. I was able to put everything that I wanted into this building," Cleary said. The Adirondack-style structure, whose environmentally friendly design includes a pervious pavement to prevent stormwater runoff into the lake, offers many amenities.
"When we designed this building, my main concern was for my employees and their health and welfare, because my belief is always that your employees are your extended family, and they will make or break you," Cleary said. "They are the key to your success, or your failure if you don't treat them properly."
For health and comfort, the building includes a full gym employees can use before and after work, a kitchen and cafeteria with a chef who prepares free meals for the workers, and an outdoor café-style patio. There are a couple of quiet and cozy lounge areas where employees can decompress - or even nap. A large, African safari-themed lounge features reclining leather sofas, faux jungle vegetation and a carved giraffe, a hippopotamus and an elephant.
Cleary said she respects her employees' growth, their families and their time. When the company puts on four or five annual cruise sales, she said the staff works into the early morning hours. Currently, the company employs about 90 people and the new space allows it to hire an additional 60.
Kendra Jones, who is head of CruCon's marketing and new business development, said new hires undergo a 90-day training program where they learn all of the details and features of the many cruises, as well as any federal laws pertaining to travel restrictions. The new building features a training room that accommodates up to 30 people. New and existing customer service personnel are thoroughly trained on all the details, and with the upcoming "Firecracker Sale" coming up the Fourth of July weekend, the company preps for a busy holiday. Jones said cruises go on sale four or five times a year, when cruise lines offer special upgrades or freebies such as dinners. Sales generate a lot of business.
"These guys are here until one in the morning - they are here on Saturdays and Sundays. They don't see their families. You have to appreciate that. I wanted to make sure we had a gym and showers in place and areas to nap and rest in," she said. Providing for employee meals - there is no eating at one's desk - can stimulate teamwork, Cleary said.
"The best thing about providing for meals is everybody congregates in the kitchen and patio area. Everyone is dining about the same time period, and that creates more of a bond within departments, within management," she said. In a future benefit for employees with kids, Cleary is currently working with the town of Moultonborough to locate a child care center in the adjacent building.
Cleary, who grew up the youngest of four siblings with her Irish parents in an East Boston brownstone, credits her strong family values to her parents and her business sense to her older brother, Steve, who have since passed on.
"I was raised in East Boston in an Irish family where family values were paramount. There were right things to do and wrong things to do. You had to wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with who you are," said Cleary, acknowledging the one regret that neither her parents, nor brother, lived to see her success.
CruCon Outlet has earned numerous awards, including travel industry organizations such as Vacation.com, TravelZoo, TripAdvisor and from major cruise lines. CruCon has been named "Best Agency for Cruise Deals" by 13 million TravelZoo subscribers for six years in a row.
This year, Cleary earned the New Hampshire Business Review 2014 Outstanding Woman in Business Award.
Annually, CruCon Cruise Outlet sends more than 90,000 vacationers to destinations all over the world on cruise ships touring Alaska, Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Australia and Asia. With more than $100 million in sales with the cruise business, Cleary said the business would expand to include land-based travel packages such as safaris. The company has a database of more than a million subscribers and advertises on travel websites.
Locally, Cleary and CruCon are acknowledged as a Lakes Region asset.
"They have doubled their employment so far and brought a lot of new jobs to the area - and they are still hiring," said Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. "I'm thrilled to have them as part of the community. They are a hidden gem." Gifford also credits Cleary and staff for their charitable work in the community. They often purchase items for a children's benefit auction then redonate them.
Town of Moultonborough Planning Director Bruce Woodruff said the new headquarters is the beginning of a comprehensive campus that will in the future include the day care center.
"The building is beautiful. It's a great thing for Moultonborough and an example of low-impact development," Woodruff said.