Green Bay might be most well known for its professional football team, but Ryan Siler has lists of other attractions that could be just the thing for a visitor to the area.
Siler, who works full time at St. Norbert College, recently participated in the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Eagle Pitch Contest where he introduced his new business, Directional Ventures Travel. Although he offers vacation packages for destinations throughout the world, his niche is putting together custom packages for people visiting the Green Bay area.
“I got the idea over the past couple of years,” he explained. “I always had the itch to own a business, but didn’t know what type I’d like to start. As I was evaluating possibilities, I looked at personal interests and things that my family enjoyed. For us, it was more about experiences instead of buying things.”
His fondest memories were of family vacations; that led him to consider how he could turn that love into a business. Research led to the travel industry.
“I started to research agencies. You can build one on a larger scale, but that wasn’t realistic for me because of the large investment that is required,” Siler said. “I looked at host agencies and located one that had resources that were everything I wanted to be, so I signed the contract.”
A host agency can negotiate with travel providers to obtain discounts that an independent agent would be unlikely to secure. The agents become part of a larger group, all with access to a worldwide network. Siler said other benefits include access to special promotions, marketing assistance, management systems and extensive education programs.
His evenings are spent taking advantage of the learning modules.
But hard work and long hours are something he’s accustomed to. Siler grew up on a farm and says that you can’t take time off when there are cows that need milking or other animals that need tending. That strong work ethic has been with him throughout his career.
After graduating from high school, he worked on the farm and then at a manufacturing company before going to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to study hospitality. That led to a career where he worked a variety of jobs at a hotel in Platteville and did everything from managing the front desk to auditing.
“I learned a lot about customer service. After Platteville, I was in food and beverage management at Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan and then managed a Toys R Us in southern Wisconsin,” he said.
He left Toys R Us just before the chain declared bankruptcy, met his wife, and continued working in the hospitality industry before moving to De Pere in 2018 to manage the book store at St. Norbert’s. Siler says he loves his job, but also hopes to develop a successful business.
He was taking entrepreneurship classes at NWTC when Lisa Taylor, who manages the program, told him about the business pitch contest for students. Siler saw it as a way to move his business forward.
“I thought it would be a good way to get the word out there,” Siler said about the contest. “The feedback was good and being able to present was a learning opportunity. When I was preparing for the pitch, I was able to gather a lot of information about the tourism industry in the area and its impact.”
All of this helps him learn more about the area and the tourism business. He has a rough draft of a business plan but admits that after just six months, it already needs to be updated. The business classes at NWTC help, but there are parts of the plan, like estimating income, that are difficult to predict.
One challenge is to increase the number of clients booking a trip. Large agencies are most successful when they book group travel; booking for small groups is not likely enough to turn it from a hobby to full-time business.
“Cruise specialists made a lot more money,” he said. “Booking hotels isn’t a good way to be super successful. I’m hoping that when I develop the Green Bay aspect it will drive income so it will be successful. Once it’s established, it should work.”
He has developed a relationship with Discover Green Bay where he is listed as a partner. He has a Facebook page and website and is listed with the Travel Leaders Network. There is also word of mouth as he plans trips.
One of the first he put together included Green Bay Packers tickets, a concert at EPIC Event Center, and Hall of Fame tour.
“There are so many interesting things to do depending on a person’s interests. In addition to the Green Bay Packers, I can add fishing trips, winery tours, golfing, and Resch Center events,” he added.
As much as he can, Siler tries to experience every attraction so that he has firsthand knowledge to share. That’s something an agent from outside the area can’t offer. His goal is to maximize experiences based on interests.
“I’ll ask, ‘Do you like sightseeing? Do you like history?’ My business is modeled after the service aspect from what I’ve learned by working in hospitality. It’s about serving others and giving them my best effort,” Siler said. “I have the mentality to go above and beyond so people enjoy the experience and relax.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.