Sunshine Brit founder Maria Matthews has two passions, one is to travel hence opening her own travel agency and the other is cosmetics. The Sunshine Brit Winter Palette was an idea of Maria’sthat lingered in the back of her brain and was yet to explore the idea of bringing the concept to life.
In a very short few months having researched the market to make sure that this is exactly the path she wanted to follow, Maria launched the cruelty-free palette much to her success. Now with additional projects underway, Maria is currently working on an exciting set of brushes to add to the collection, so we chat to Maria about the setup process, the journey so far and what’s next in store for the entrepreneur.
Welcome Maria, thank you for coming on board with us, can you introduce yourself to us?
Thank you for inviting me, I am excited. I was born west of London in a town called Reading in the UK where I lived for 38 years before moving to New Jersey with my husband and our two daughters then 16 and 8. It was my husband’s career that was taking off, he was offered a great promotion in NYC and it would have been foolish for him to turn it down.
At that particular time, I was running my own business (a cleaning company) which was doing very well but as he was the breadwinner it was a decision we made as a family that we would stay in the States for at least a year and if we didn’t like it we would move back! Well, we are still here, eleven years later living on the border of Princeton and glad that was the decision we made. I am a real girly girl, a true Pisces (sensitive, over-trusting compassionate) a lover of Beagles and above all my Two Daughters are my world.
Originally from the UK, but having moved to New Jersey, can you talk us through the path you have pathed to where you are now?
When we first arrived the focus was on my husband and two girls, him settling into his new role and our girls adapting to new schools, friends and the local community. We arrived in April and I had the whole Summer off which gave me a chance to meet new people, hang out at the local pool and go to the beach. We lived in a nice neighbourhood and I made friends quickly. It was in September that things changed as soon as Labor Day came, it was like everyone disappeared, the pool had closed people had returned to their full-time jobs and the girls were at school and I found myself lonely. So I got a part-time job in a local hair salon running the reception desk which I actually did for two years. Then I did freelance work for Chanel and Clarins going into Nordstrom stores and applying makeup and helping with promotions, this I loved but I still hadn’t found my forte and I was beginning to get bored! I had told my husband that I wanted a career for me, (I had sold the business in the UK) and was eager to get myself established with something new!
My husband had a suggested a trip to Miami for the two of us, we were out at a mall one Saturday and there was a travel agency which happened to be displaying a picture of the Fontainebleau Hotel in the window as it was the hotel that we had been talking about we walked in! Whilst we were in there the girl who booked the trip was not overly friendly she was pleasant but definitely no warmth to her and we were in and out in 40 minutes with the travel documents in our hand. My husband at this point said, “you could do that job and you would be good at it!” So I went home and looked online and saw that they were hiring in multiple locations and one not too far from where I lived so I applied to be a Vacation Expert which is what the job title implied. After a personality quiz, a telephone interview, a sales interview, an interview with the branch manager and then a background check I was hired and I was elated!
I went on a two-week travel school course came back and was expected to meet my daily goal of selling two trips a day. Sounds easy right? Wrong, this particular office had what I call a couple of “mean girls” working in there, so when Clients would walk in they would grab them as this was a sales job and we worked on a small salary and you made your money up on commission. I knew that this was going to be a sink or swim environment so I chose to swim. This was a large corporate company, with offices in the UK and Australia, I learned fast and I was hungry, I didn’t just want to be a Vacation Expert I wanted to be the Team Leader so I knuckled down, went on training courses, did familiarisation trips and became the assistant team leader within seven months and then Team Leader within twenty-three months.
For the first couple of years I was happy I had a nice team of people working with me and we all got along well, I was firm but fair with my management style and I got results but the President of the retail side of the business moved to Canada and a new one was put in place and that’s when things went sour. We would have to have a meeting about having a meeting, conference calls on Mondays to discuss numbers and if we hadn’t met the goal I had to be held accountable for how I was going to make the numbers. The customer was no longer important to Corporate (they were to me) but it was a numbers game and I enjoyed selling and loved customer interaction so by attending unnecessary meetings and filling in spreadsheets I became miserable. I would have a panic attack on a Sunday night, the thought of going to work on a Monday used to make me physically ill. I suffered from horrible anxiety, I would need to drink every night to get through the day and then would worry about the next. Something had to change and it did!
In January of 2016 to keep a long story short my husband needed emergency Heart Surgery, we were all petrified, he was 45 at the time and very young to undergo a quadruple bypass but he did and we are very fortunate that he had a fantastic cardiologist. Things could have been so different. During that time My Husband was in Temple Hospital in Philadelphia and we had just had twenty-two inches of snow in 24 hours so getting down to see him was impossible. This particular weekend my Assistant Team Leader was called at home and asked when she was going to get to the office and open it. Everyone was snowed in, you had to physically dig yourself out, no one was planning a trip that weekend but corporate head office wanted every travel office opened and they didn’t want to hear you were snowed in.
Our Office was right next door to a Starbucks and even they were closed but no my poor Assistant had a meltdown! I was off during the week to help my husband and I went into work every Saturday so that our girls would look after their dad, this I did for six weeks and then my husband returned to work after eight weeks and things slowly started to normalise but that was my wake up call, life had just changed for us, we had a huge shock which made me more appreciative of every day knowing that in an instant it can all be taken away.
Corporate was still piling pressure on stating that they didn’t want their team leaders selling anymore and we were told to teach and run our offices and nurture our staff. The fiscal year ran from July 1st and I told my husband at the end of April I would not be sitting at my desk their come July 1st, I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I was done.
The first week of May my neighbour called me at 7.30am one morning to tell me that the Owner of a local travel agency had passed away overnight unexpectedly, this was very upsetting to everybody and none of her family knew what to do with the business as they had no travel experience, my neighbour told them to talk to me and he arranged a meeting.
At the meeting, the owner’s husband said that if I couldn’t purchase the business then he would just close the doors which told me that if he was prepared to close the doors then he would probably take an offer and he did! So I left my corporate roll in June 2016, gutted the office and made it more modern and fresh and re-opened the travel agency in August keeping the same name, as it was an established business for twenty-five years. This year will be year three!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day will start with a cup of tea (British tea) actually two while checking email messages and updating social media before being showered. I head to my office for 10.00am where I meet clients and vendors, I plan itineraries, put Honeymoon and destination wedding’s together, create all sorts of trips for all over the world for people. I normally head home around six, walk the dogs, prepare dinner, tidy round (I am a clean freak) check out social media, bed at 10pm maybe a chapter of a book then sleep.
We know you have a passion for travel, what sparked your interest to open a travel agency?
The Passion for travel I know comes from when I was a little girl, we used to live in the flight path of London Heathrow Airport and when Concorde came out it flew over us twice a day and it would shake the windows. it was so loud and also it was still pretty low so you really got a good view of it and I was intrigued.
I wanted to go on it, My dad was a coach driver so when he was given an airport job sometimes we would go too and I loved it, he would park right by the runway and I was mesmerised by these huge planes and have always had an interest in planes even up to this day. Opening the travel agency really fell into my lap (it just so happened I was ready to move when the previous owner passed away) I had thought about it and had even looked at a space but it was like it was meant to be, the lady who owned the business before me had it for twenty-five years and for her it was like a hobby, she had no social media, no website and worked off referrals but she liked to travel, for me its a travel agency business where I take pride in the fact that every client is important and that when they leave they feel excited about their trip and plans.
How has that journey been so far, what was the setup process like for you?
The first year was tough, having had a salary come in every month and now I was working on commission only, I am lucky my husband has a great job and we were not going to starve however I have always liked having my own money, I would never buy my husband a gift from our joint bank account and my salary has always been the top up which enabled us to go on vacation and have a few small luxuries, rent still needed paying at the office and when you work in the travel industry you often do not get paid until your clients travel so that first year was hard going.
I remember opening up in August and I had set my heart on white desks and when they were delivered they were smashed to bits they looked like a truck had run over them. I had to open with one small white desk which we salvaged out of the mess and then got three new desks delivered a week later. There were problems with the internet but we got there in the end, there are always bumps in the road with a new business you just have to wait for the smooth ride!