Labor Day marked the traditional close of summer, and with it the end of tourist season. Small businesses that rely on seasonal customers face the challenge of pacing their year-long operations to adjust to the monthly ebb and flow of revenue and work.

Sorita Rotner has owned and managed Esquire Travel Service, a travel agency located on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, for 20 years. She has cultivated her corporate travel client base in order to serve as a hedge against the more seasonal and unpredictable leisure travel business. She also has about two-thirds of her agents working on a contractual basis, so she has more flexibility to adjust her budget throughout the year. She recently spoke to the Business Journal's Joyzelle Davis about how she deals with the rhythm of her industry.

This week has been slow; it's usually slow from about mid-August until a bit after Labor Day. So we finally have time to clean the office.

But even though summer has closed, that doesn't mean that our business has entirely gone away. Some people plan for trips months in advance, especially our corporate clients. They sometimes start planning their trips for next spring as early as June (of the previous year). During times like this, we really concentrate on our corporate clients. Some of our leisure clients like to plan in advance, too, but usually not as far. But by September and October, people are starting to plan for their winter trips.

Corporate clients are good business to have because you know that you can count on them all year. It's consistent. With leisure, we have some regulars, but you also get walk-ins, referrals from friends you never know where it's going to come from. With our business travelers, we have a built-in clientele of about 50 to 100 companies we can always count on.

Not only is leisure seasonal, but you can never predict what it's going to be like from year to year. This year, we were busy from Jan. 1 until mid-August, which is really unusual. Most of the time, our leisure business lasts only until May. Sometimes you're frantic for months and sometimes you twiddle your thumbs; you just never know.

So you do your best to turn your leisure clients into your corporate clients and your corporate clients into your leisure as well. The balance brings stability. Right now, our business is split evenly between leisure and corporate clients and we intend to keep it that way.

You have to do your best to build a base of reliable clients. If you treat them well and if you're lucky, you can have clients who will stay with you through all the cycles: seasonal, economic, everything.

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