Moving from selling experiences to travel has seen Experience It Now open three high street agencies in seven months as part of the Hays Independence Group. Ben Ireland speaks to directors Richard and Caroline Light.
Q. What’s the background to the business?
A. We established Experience It Now as an auction company in 2012, hosting events around the UK and producing our own portfolio of experience products. We sell things such as hot air balloon rides and corporate days at Ascot and meals cooked by Gordon Ramsay’s chefs.
Q. How did you move into travel?
A. We started selling accommodation-only holidays as part of our experiences portfolio. We were sending about 2,000 people abroad each year, so it was a natural progression. We thought it would be great to sell flights to clients and additional products such as attraction tickets and car hire.
Q. Why did you choose to join Hays Independence Group?
A. I (Richard) did my homework and found Hays Travel Independence Group, and the team helped us obtain our Abta licence. It fitted us completely, even though we’re in Sussex and Hays’ headquarters is in Sunderland.
Q. When did you open on the high street?
A. We opened our first shop on April 23 this year in Newhaven, which is near Brighton in Sussex. We were getting office space there and the shop was part of the site anyway. It’s done really well. People walk in off the street and spend thousands of pounds. It’s surprised us really, as Newhaven isn’t the most affluent town.
Q. And you’ve expanded since then…
A. The success of the first shop gave us the confidence to open another. Our second opened in Seaford on September 12 and our third opened in Peacehaven, on November 16. All three are within 10 miles of each other, which means we can market easily. People don’t travel from town to town to buy holidays, so it works having one shop in each.
Q. How do you deal with the changing trends in shopping habits?
A. We’ve taken on three homeworkers to work from 5pm to 10pm Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays, to help cover the times when the shop isn’t open. They take phone calls and look after our online chat. We decided to hire experienced agents, one was from Loveholidays and another from Teletext Holidays. We have seven agents in the shops and also have support staff who work across the auction company as well as the travel side, doing admin and marketing.
Q. Where do you get most of your leads from?
A. We are getting a lot through Facebook, and the digital marketing that we do. This is why the homeworkers have been a great addition as they can look after the clients that come to us that way. But we’re also looking for walk-in clients too. They’re definitely there – that’s why we’ve been able to open three shops in seven months.
Q. Do you have any favourite suppliers?
A. We do a lot with Gold Medal, but we also like to use Hays Travel’s in-house tour operator, which we can by being an IG member. We like suppliers that have fast systems and choice to suit different customers.
Q. After such a rapid high street rise, what are your growth targets now?
A. We are looking likely to hit our first target, which is £600,000 turnover in the first 12 months. After that we hope to grow by 20% in year two and year three on the high street – which we think is doable.
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