Brenda Fullerton in India
Seventeen years ago, when Bank Travel Management was in its infancy, Brenda Fullerton, coordinator for Members First Club at First Citizens Bank in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was one of the first directors profiled.
The seasoned travel leader had been the club coordinator for 10 years when that article was printed, and some statistics have changed since her first decade at the helm. Since 1995, Members First has doubled its membership to 1,300; it has also doubled its adventures, now taking nearly two dozen trips a year that range from exotic overseas locations to fun day trips an hour away.
But when it comes to passion, it seems much has stayed the same. Speaking about her club members in that first feature, Fullerton said, “They are interesting, witty and most of all fun. I never forget that I am privileged to be chosen to lead them.”
Recently, Fullerton said, “I have the best job at the bank. How else would I have seen the world with folks who are like family?”
Ignorance is bliss, but experience is best
It was 40 years ago when this impressive woman was stocking shelves as a part-time employee in a drugstore. Two men walked in, and when Fullerton noticed that no one was helping them, she took the time to offer her assistance.
“Unbeknownst to me, one of those men was the president of the bank,” Fullerton said. “When he returned to his office, he called me at the store to say, ‘You’re the kind of person I want to work for me.’ I never applied for the job; I began as a teller, and the rest is history.”
When Fullerton was offered the position of Members First Club coordinator in 1985, she recalled that leading group travel was a lonely venture.
“I don’t remember using vendors or even CVBs. I sat down with magazines and books, made all the reservations myself and just winged it on many occasions,” she said. “I have no idea how I did it, and I’m sure I made lots of mistakes, but most people are very forgiving.”
An avid reader, Fullerton still likes to use print resources. One of her favorite day-trip references is “101 Best Places To Eat in Kentucky”; her group has visited 30 so far.
She receives lots of vendor assistance with excursions around the world, including those to exotic destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Egypt. In 2012, the group will take its fifth European river cruise and will also enjoy a cultural tour of once-off-limits Cuba.
“We’ve always had a successful bank group, but I can say the last five years have been the best despite the economy — keep in mind some of these trips are $12,000 a couple,” she said. “But also keep in mind that while places like Vietnam and Cambodia are expensive to get to, once you’re there, it’s a first-class trip on very affordable dollars. You get lots of bang for your buck.
“But we take lots of motorcoach trips,” she quickly added. “While I personally think flying is always worth the adventure, there are people who don’t like to fly, and I appreciate that.”
Marilyn Ford, bank president, explained her theory on Members First’s continued success. “Brenda caters to everyone. She not only takes exotic trips but train and motorcoach travels that appeal to people who have the gamut of interests and desires.
“Brenda is a terrific relationship-builder with our customer base. They look at us as extended family, and they plan their vacations around us.”
Those club members include a man and a woman who, after having lost their respective spouses, met on a Members First adventure. “They later married and took their honeymoon with us to Amsterdam,” Fullerton said.
“But perhaps my favorite customer story comes from a woman, Elizabeth Burn, who, unless she has a serious conflict, has taken every motorcoach trip with us. Not only has Elizabeth won our frequent travelers award for the past two years, but she also just spent her 103rd birthday with us in Florida.
“She is in such good health, and she chalks it all up to not sitting at home. She is such an inspiration.”