From reluctant YTS recruit at Lunn Poly, Andrew Earle has gone on to set up three successful stores in East Yorkshire and this year celebrates his agency’s 25th anniversary. Amie Keeley reports.

Q: How will you mark your anniversary?
A: We’re going to have some adverts in local press and on radio, and we’d like to identify those clients who have been booking with us for 10 years or more, and do something special for them later in the year. We’ve also had an anniversary logo made to show everyone how long we’ve been in business.

Q: How did you get into travel?
A: I couldn’t get a job anywhere – I wrote to every bank but didn’t get any interviews. My Dad said Lunn Poly was advertising for a YTS (Youth Training Scheme). I wasn’t keen but I got an interview and the chap said ‘We don’t get many men applying’ and I was screaming on the inside ‘I don’t want to be one!’ He told me most of the female staff get pregnant so the career progression was very good and I’d get to go to Majorca and train at college and that was how it all started.

Q: How and why did you set-up your own agency?
A: After two years at Lunn Poly I moved to AA Travel where I learnt how to work with suppliers. When they closed they gave me redundancy money and I bought a new car but my Dad suggested I set up on my own. I launched AAA Travel with the manager from AA Travel and for the first three years we were successful, turning over £2.2 million. We split in 1993 and I opened my first store in Hull. It soon became apparent we weren’t penetrating areas of wealth so I opened a second store in Anlaby in 1996 and offered free parking. In 1999 I opened my third shop in Brough. I employ 34 staff across all three.

Q: Do you plan to open any more?
A: I’m comfortable with three shops, but we are hoping to launch the East Yorkshire Cruise Club in October. We turn over about £2 million in cruise sales and we’d like to double that in the next two years with a telesales unit in place for the January and February peaks. I also want to develop a youth employment policy for college leavers.

Q: Are you still very hands on?
A: I run the business day to day and take bookings because a lot of customers still ask for me. But I’m building the management team up because over the next five years I’d like to cut down my days and do more travelling.

Q: What do you sell a lot of?
A: About 60% of our business is long-haul – US, Disney and Australia – which has been critical to how we have grown. We saw a big change in customer demand in 1997 when the Halifax floated and account holders received £2,000-£5,000. This encouraged people to travel further afield and we benefitted. Since 2012 we have seen more people coming to us for long-haul. We think this is linked to clients who took packages in the 1980s whose kids have flown the nest. Our average spend has gone from about £800 per person to more than £1,600. Customers often ask how we can be cheaper than Virgin Holidays, but we have commercial agreements in place and we’re not working on as higher margins as they are. We don’t sell enough standard package holidays and that niggles me, so that’s something I see us improving short term.

Q: What is your biggest challenge and/or frustration?
A: Outside influences – terror attacks, strikes, bad weather, good weather! We have procedures but there’s always something else that happens. Tui customers find deals cheaper online than in store so that has a bad impact on stores because customers assume we all do that.