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Keeping the Faith

“Keeping the Faith”

Being different by staying the same.

In late 2000, Martha Van Gorder and Lori Moline were having their best year ever when the bottom dropped out of their international travel business.

Violence erupted in Jerusalem, which meant cancelled trips and lost revenue for CrossingBorders Inc., the Bloomington, Minn.-based travel company that Van Gorder and Moline had launched in 1996.

CrossingBorders specializes in church-related international tours.

"Although we had been working in a variety of countries, 2001 had a majority of our tours traveling to the Holy Land due to increased interest from the millennium celebration," Moline explains, noting that the company’s revenue dropped by 50%.

In response, Van Gorder and Moline worked hard to develop new options for church travelers, such as tours relating to European Reformation history or Apostle Paul’s journeys.

Yet convincing customers to make a switch required significant coaching and hand-holding. "The Holy Land is a unique experience for Christian travelers, and some church leaders just couldn’t imagine going somewhere else," Moline says.

Just as things were looking better, the United States suffered terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which rattled consumer confidence about air travel, especially overseas. Business also was negatively affected by the recession, the weakening of the U.S. dollar and the SARS epidemic.

Van Gorder and Moline considered truly retooling their company. But they ultimately decided to stick to their guns and avoid a knee-jerk reaction to adversity. Thinking differently in this situation meant thinking the same.

"Staying true to our mission was an unconventional approach, under the circumstances," Moline explains, noting that other companies working in international travel switched their focus to domestic travel. "It was tempting to make a change — and we had opportunities — but sometimes you can go too far out of the box."

Advice: Commitment and passion are essential for dealing with tough times. "Without that, I don’t think we would have had the energy to survive," adds Moline.

FastTrac training also helped them deal with adversity, Van Gorder says: "FastTrac taught us how to develop well-formed assumptions to build our business on — assumptions that have helped us adapt during changing times."

Their constancy has paid off. In spring 2003, Moline and Van Gorder were named "Emerging Business Owners of the Year" by the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. What’s more, revenue is rebounding to 2000 levels.