The ex-Tui branch manager’s new high-street agency combines old school values with a chic modern look. Paul talks to Ben Ireland about his striking Glasgow store.
Q. You’ve now opened on your own. What’s your background?
A. After leaving school I worked for Thomas Cook for 10 years, then spent another 10 at Tui – or Thomson, as it was then. I became Glasgow deputy regional manager and was company manager of the year in 2013. In 2015, I went to work for Specialist Holidays Group as area manager. I had a strange patch: Scotland, Ireland and the south of England.
Q. Did you always plan to open your own shop?
A. Since I was a boy, I always thought I would have my own travel agency. As soon as I worked in travel I knew it was something I would do. My time at Tui was really enjoyable, there was always a lot going on and I learned a lot. I know everything there is to know about running a travel agency, but when I decided to go it alone I didn’t know how to run my own business, so it was daunting. But I’ve done my homework.
Q. How’s business going so far?
A. We opened on December 23 and made our first booking that day. It was a real relief because the thing worrying me before I opened was that people said it takes time before bookings come. I’d prepared for that eventuality but it was the opposite. We’ve been really busy. I’ve had to hire two new staff already.
Q. The interior design of the shop is quite striking. What was the inspiration?
A. At Specialist Holidays, I was on the road at lots of agencies. I saw everything, from shops of the future to survivors from the 70s without a lick of paint since. I wanted mine to be different and unique. We have a ‘sky lounge’ where customers – no matter what they’re spending – can sit. Booking the holiday should be as exciting as the holiday itself. People still use travel agents because booking holidays can be an experience. Just like you can’t get a haircut on the internet, you can’t get that service online.
Q. How do high street agencies beat online competition?
A. People use the internet for ideas but want advice to make the final decision. Speaking to an agent verifies your plans, or opens your eyes to something similar, but better. I’ve been celebrating some of the things that traditionally made travel agents great. Our windows have been more popular than I expected. They are A3 with lightbulbs so people can see the deals at night – it illuminates the high street. We had 10 bookings in our first three weeks just from the windows.
Q. Do you have brochures?
A. I was advised to do away with brochure racks, but went with the biggest one I could get on the wall. That’s been a really big part of our success so far and we’ve had great feedback on the diversity we offer. I already had the contacts for the different operators.
Q. You also promote your business on social media…
A. Of course. Facebook is huge for us, it’s gone crazy. Conversations begin on Facebook, which leads to a phone call, then the customer comes in. It’s not as black and white as customers being shop bookers or online bookers any more. It’s not easy to build a relationship on social media, and getting to know customers on first-name terms is something we work towards.
Q. You’ve joined a consortium. Why did you choose Advantage?
A. Because they are the nicest people I’ve dealt with, and I’m a real people person. Everybody wants you to succeed and do well. They put me in touch with other Advantage members and we went to Love To Travel, in Motherwell, to learn the [Advantage] systems.
Q. Do you see yourself opening more branches in the future?
A. Expansion would be good, but it’s not all about having lots of branches, it’s about carefully selected areas and making sure it’s the right fit. So we’ll see.
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