Brett Snyder, president and self-described “Chief Airline Dork” of Cranky Flier LLC and The Cranky Concierge, has been an airline geek since he was a kid. (I can relate, as I also hung around airports to watch planes, collected timetables, and helped family and friends with travel details.) While earning degrees in marketing and tourism studies from George Washington University, and a MBA in Business from Stanford, Snyder interned at USAirways, America West and United Airlines. He joined United Airlines as a planning product manager, and later joined PriceGrabber.com as business director of travel in 2005.
Snyder also has been an analyst and blogger for BNET (CBS), and he is author of How to Start a Home-Based Blogging Business (2012, Globe Pequot Press). With the encouragement of friends, he started The Cranky Flier blog, as a hobby, in August 2006. When he got laid off from PriceGrabber.com, he started Cranky Concierge in 2009.
Cranky Flier reports on airline industry trends, frequent flyer programs, links to airline industry news, and trip reports, which Snyder writes in a well-versed yet breezy style. Cranky Concierge offers 24/07 real live people to provide assistance to those whose flights are cancelled or who need flights monitored for delays and cancellations (and provide alternative itineraries), travel management for individuals and small businesses, and airline awards travel assistance. The provided services are fee-based.
You may think, “Doesn’t a travel agent provide that?” Some do, for a fee or for high-end business customers. The airlines used to offer agents commissions to sell and monitor flights, but the commissions dried up, as more people bought tickets online. Now, when you buy your ticket online and the flight is cancelled, you’ve no choice but to wait for a reservations agent on the phone, or stand in line at the counter or the gate. Cranky Concierge staffers, trained by Snyder, take care of these interruptions–quickly.
Finding new income sources
Snyder realized that solely blogging could not bring him a salary he needed. “I could consult, but it would be a conflict of interest, when I was also writing about an airline,” said Snyder, who lists his consulting “gigs” on Cranky Flier’s website under “Code of Ethics.” “I could, however, charge people for travel assistance and support,” said Snyder, which explained how Cranky Concierge developed an income-producing model.
Cranky Concierge staffers work remotely, although they’re all trained by Snyder, who is currently writing up business manuals to standardize the operation among all staffers, and to create a ”how to” for the business to refer to as it grows. “About half of my employees are independent contractors; we use phone and Google Chat to meet, and I can keep office overhead down. Our biggest outlay at the moment is a new website, and we don’t really have a major marketing effort in place yet. Word-of-mouth is driving referrals, along with the press we get, although that will come in time.”
Snyder is just closing out the books on 2015. “Last year, our business requests rose by 35%,” he says, which is an indication that he’s found the right niche and word-of-mouth visibility to grow the business, as airline travelers continue to face turbulent times.
Snyder is looking for slow and steady growth, because Cranky Concierge is a people business that can’t be automated or mechanized. “It’s about people and customer service” said Snyder. The accolades keep coming in, from Conde Nast Traveler (which named him “Top Travel Specialist for Urgent Airline Assistance” for three years) to the Houston Chronicle, YahooTravel, International Business Times, and the Boston Globe.
Snyder recalled one happy traveler experience, when a volcano in Iceland had snarled most trans-Atlantic flights, and a customer needed to get from Los Angeles to Nice immediately. “I’ve helped people get to weddings and funerals, when they’ve been stranded, but this was a unique situation,” Snyder recalls. “We were able to get her from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, and then on to Madrid and Barcelona airports, which were still open, and then a rental car to cross the French border. We had one very appreciative customer.”
The airlines consider him an ally. “I worked as an airline insider, and I know the industry in a way that others don’t,” he says. “When there’s a line of delayed and angry passengers in line at an airport ticket counter waiting to be re-booked, and I can help shorten that line, the airlines like me, and my Cranky Concierge customers like me.”
And, that’s succeeding in small business.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.