Three Generations Of Women At Phillips DMC Help Visitors Experience Coastal Virginia
On the fourth floor of a condominium complex in Norfolk’s Waterside district, a mother-daughter team spends their days meticulously planning the excursions, tours and reunion events of thousands of visitors to Coastal Virginia. Walking into the condo, Brooke Phillips Garrett can be seen in her office, busily taking calls with a bright smile on her face. The back balcony of the unique office space provides a breathtaking view of Nauticus and the pier where incoming cruise ships take harbor for their day stops in Norfolk. Anne Phillips, president of Phillips DMC and Brooke’s mother, takes in a deep breath as she surveys the morning view. The picturesque scene is fitting for the Phillips’s family business, as many of their customers come and go from these very landmarks.
Phillips DMC, the premier designation management company in Coastal Virginia, began as a tour guide service in 1978 by Anne’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Phillips. Marjorie approached the Convention Bureau with a request to take people on tours and was met with overwhelming support. At the time, she was 50 years old and had never worked outside the home before. She realized there was a need for a tour service in Coastal Virginia, and Marjorie Phillips Tours was born.
“She was a trailblazer,” Anne says. “There was no business like this in Coastal Virginia at the time.”
Most of Marjorie’s business in those early days came from World War II reunion groups. The groups often consisted of up to 500 people, and Marjorie might have 15 groups in a month. Anne joined the business as a tour guide, then took over the business in 1998 when Marjorie decided it was time to retire. At that time, World War II reunions were becoming less frequent, and the business, now called Phillips Tours, was beginning to branch out into other areas. By 2006, when Anne’s daughter Brooke came aboard as vice president, the business had become a full-fledged destination management company and was aptly renamed Phillips DMC.
Taking over the business for her mother-in-law was an exciting and challenging move for Anne. “I didn’t know much about running a business yet, but I loved the industry, and I had a great mentor in my mother-in-law. I was grateful she wanted me to take over,” Anne says.
Phillips DMC now has four main areas of service: military reunions, cruise ships, conventions and receptive business (tour groups). The business is a one-stop-shop for these groups for planning their stay in Coastal Virginia. From the time they step off the cruise ship, airplane or tour bus, Phillips DMC arranges the group’s itinerary based on their preferences. A group interested in history might want to spend several days exploring the Historic Triangle, while cruise ship passengers coming in for a day-long shore excursion might be more interested in a walking or biking tour of Norfolk, lunch at a popular restaurant and a trip to MacArthur Center. Whatever the needs of the group are, Phillips DMC is the group leader’s point of contact for the entire trip.
With Anne and Brooke at the helm, the company also employs Anne’s daughter-in-law, Erin Phillips, as marketing director, Shannon Heisler as operations manager and Megan Anderson Morris as marketing and communications manager. They also have 15 independent contractors consisting of tour guides and staff that handle the day-to-day operations with guests.
Working with your family every day might seem like a stressful arrangement, but the Phillips ladies count it a blessing.
“We just have fun together,” Brooke says. “It’s fun working with my mom every day. We get along well, and we also work well together, so we always have a great time.”
Anne, who is the first person in Virginia to earn the prestigious Destination Management Certified Professional certification, is the big-picture creative to Brooke’s detail-oriented, logistics-focused expertise.
The pair has organized all types of tours and events in their 10 years in business together. From 3,000-passenger cruise ships to motor coach groups to military veteran reunions, the Phillips family has done it all. In 2009, the company coordinated the transportation for the commissioning of the USS George H.W. Bush, which included 44 motor coaches, dignitaries flying in on private jets and arranging all transportation for the Bush family.
“When you’re dealing with the logistics of these events, there are so many moving parts, and so much work goes into making it all come together,” Brooke says. “There are some times when we’re just holding our breath hoping things will work out the way we planned. It’s exhilarating.”
Now nearing its 40th year, Phillips DMC is bustling with business and no signs of slowing down.
“I feel really blessed and fortunate to have this relationship with Brooke and also with Marjorie,” says Anne. “To say we’ve been in this for almost 40 years—and to see the idea my mother-in-law had all those years ago blossom into the business we have today—is truly incredible. And it’s so gratifying that she’s here to see it.”
Story By Chelsea Sherman Photography By David Uhrin