By Laura Demarco
Achieve Incentives & Meetings began as a labor of love. Literally.
Achieve Incentives & Meetings began as a labor of love. Literally. “We are almost like real-estate agents, trying to help clients,” said Ashley Lawson♬ Road Trip (Travel, Uplifting, Upbeat, Adventure) - AudioKraken
Chuck and Marge Lawson with trip directors as they prepared to lead an incentive program. (All photos courtesy of Achieve Incentives and Meetings)
Chuck and Marge Lawson welcoming incentive guests to a farewell reception in Rome, Italy, wearing the hand-sewn togas made by Marge’s mom.
"Travel builds meaningful connections between communities."
Seventy years ago, founders Chuck and Marge Lawson met while both working at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. They fell in love over shared coffee breaks, and soon married.
That was just the beginning of a lifetime of adventures. During those coffee breaks, they had also discussed all of the places they dreamt about visiting in their future travels.
So with a start-up investment of $65, and some encouragement from the then-head of TWA, they launched their own travel agency. But not just any agency. This was a company focused on businesses using travel as a reward for employees and customers.
That was 1952. In 2022, second and third generation Lawsons continue to help Clevelanders — and others — see the world, with the unique mission of delivering luxury incentive trips and planning executive meetings around the globe. Achieve Incentives & Meetings currently has a staff of 15, with offices in Westlake.
“We are almost like real-estate agents, trying to help clients find the best home for their events,” said Ashley Lawson, Vice President of Business Partnerships. “We look at popular destinations and underdog destinations. Our goal is to help clients celebrate and reward people. We do all of the planning.”
As part of her role, Lawson spends much time on the road and in the air vetting destinations, meeting tourism boards and making site visits. As part of their service, Achieve takes care of program design, vendor matchmaking, program marketing, all travel arrangements, event management and on-site support for clients.
The pandemic, and now inflation, both created unique challenges — but Achieve is adapting, just as they’ve done for decades through hurricanes and earthquakes and airline strikes and other travel industry challenges.
“Everything has become so much more expensive,” said Lawson. “But we have an in-house air team, we can be a flight concierge for clients. With group bookings, we can negotiate rates. And we try to be as creative as possible with ideas on how to save money since hotel and air rates have risen, and we are also dealing with things we have never paid for before, such as new tourism taxes.”
During COVID, taking care of clients was an immediate concern.
“There was a lot of pause and restart, a lot of questions and concerns. We had people traveling. We had multiple trips and events to cancel and reschedule. There were so many unknowns. We hold our relationships very close, and our top concern was taking care of clients as best we could.”
Taking care of their team is also a top concern for the family-owned company — and a key reason for their longevity, said Lawson.
“Providing the best council to our clients and taking care of our team are always top of mind.”
As a small company, Achieve has long utilized COSE to offer benefits to employees.
“COSE allows us to be a better employer and provide benefits we could not have without our membership. We are grateful,” said Lawson. “The biggest benefit is that we can now better support — and attract and retain talent — our team by having the ability to offer a medical benefit. If it weren’t for COSE’s partnership, I don’t think this could have been possible.”
Though much has changed in 70 years, Lawson said some things have stayed the same at Achieve Incentives.
“So many things have changed in hospitality and travel,” she said. “But what has not changed is that travel builds meaningful connections between communities. We have a passion for helping people experience the world. We are helping clients plan trips, but also get a broader understanding and perspective of the world.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of COSE, Greater Cleveland Partnership and COSE are shining a spotlight on the inspiring stories of Cleveland small businesses and entrepreneurs. Visit our blog for stories, and see COSE.org/ for our series of video spotlights.
Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Dynamic Business and Business Confidence.