We love sharing business stories. Since the Traverse Traveler story began eighteen years ago today I thought it would be fun to share some of the history behind this little card business and take a look at what has changed from 2001 to today.

Brandy Mealtickets little cards at Bayshore ResortBrandy the little card lady at Traverse Traveler office

How it All Began

In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 I lost my job as a graphic designer for a small ad firm in Traverse City. Getting a new one didn’t seem too likely as the market was struggling to recover. So why not start a business?

Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas was born on November 1, 2001 from a desire to help visitors see northern Michigan the way I do. It began with only six advertisers and 30 little card displays.

I set-up a corner office in my basement where I designed the little cards, managed the website and made sales calls. On the other side of the basement, with the washer/dryer behind me and towers of card boxes all around, I filled displays. When I wasn’t working from home I was delivering displays to hotels, motels and resorts across Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau county.

Little card by little card the business grew. The hotels I worked with loved the little card displays because they fit on the front desk. Their guests liked how the cards fit in their pocket or purse. And I loved working with each advertiser to design a card that captured their business on a piece of paper no larger than a bookmark.

For over 13 years you’d find a dozen displays in the trunk of my car, a semi-permanent groove on my hip where I carried them, and a well worn path from my garage to my basement where I stored and filled over 70 displays each month.

Mealtickets website homepage 2003Traverse Traveler website screenshot

Little Cards with a Big Name

The DBA I registered when I started the business was Traverse Area Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas. Yep. That’s a mouthful. It was my dad’s idea actually. He was my entrepreneurial mentor, and he had some aspirations to take this idea “national” someday in the form of a franchise. Mealtickets was in the name to represent the restaurants, because every visitor wants to know where to eat. But how do you sum up all the amazing and unique attractions, retail shops, and other destinations we that wanted to represent? Unusual Ideas. So that’s the genesis of the name that debuted on the little card displays.

Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas is a name that is not easy to remember. And yet, those first customers I sold and hotel relationships I built, still refer to the cards as Mealtickets, brought to you by the little card lady.

In 2010 when I decided to create an app to grow our platform I knew it was time for a re-brand. That’s when Traverse Traveler was born. The logo has seen a few updates and Traverse Traveler is now the brand name for all of our traveler marketing products.

Mealtickets home officeTraverse Traveler office

Outgrowing the Basement

My corner office in the basement was home to the little card empire until we sold our house in Lake Ann. We were building a new home closer to Traverse City and this time I was moving on up. A first-floor office with a view was a top priority. And that’s when I met my partner Jay Gorter.

Jay launched Visitors Media with digital signage in the hotel lobbies, and an in-room visitor channel playing all original content. We started out testing one anothers products: I designed a card for his channel ExploreTC, and he put me on camera to produce a Wine Tasting Tips video which helped promote the Traverse Traveler app.

In 2015 after a year of collaboration and working out of the Visitors Media office while my house was being built, we decided to merge our companies. The little cards had a new home at Visitors Media.

Mealtickets card shipmentTraverse Traveler card inventory

Some Things Never Change

I’ve changed the business name. I’ve moved office locations. I’ve changed printers and processes for inventory. But so many things remain the same. I still design the cards (over 150 different designs in these 18 years). We still load up our car with displays and deliver them to hotels in three counties every month, year round. And in case you didn’t notice, purple is still my signature color.

After 18 years I’m proud to say these little cards still do a great job at educating travelers on restaurants and attractions to visit. And I’m still proud to be known as the little card lady.