Former military tailor Gillian Ashwood tells Samantha Mayling how business has been going since she quit homeworking to refurbish dilapidated premises and open her first travel shop.
Q. How did you set up your own agency?
A. I worked for Barrhead Travel, then as a homeworker with Brilliant Travel. It was getting too much to manage alone, so opening my own agency was the logical step. We found this shop on an amazing corner site, with a car park across the road. It was a dump, but we bought and renovated it. I was at Barrhead’s conference last November when we completed the purchase. It’s the first agency in the area for eight years, so I know it will work. My daughters helped me to buy it, but they’re not in travel; one is an opera singer and the other works in insurance. They told me: “You can live your dream.” It was hard work to get up and running while it was busy, and I have also been doing wedding shows at the weekends.
Q. How was the refurbishment?
A. The builders started when we got the keys and the refurbishment, which cost about £20,000, was done by Christmas. We have special walls with images – one from Travelpack and one from Sandals. The ceiling is like a blue sky so you feel like you’re on the beach.
Q. Who have you recruited?
A. I have two members of staff, Emily Higgins and Richard Wilson. Emily is new to travel and is unbelievable with admin – full of enthusiasm and worth her weight in gold. Richard has lots of experience, having worked with Barrhead, airlines and Triton. I was worried about handing over the reins, but not anymore.
Q. What is your background in travel?
A. I used to manage a wedding showroom, then I was a military tailor in Germany. When I returned to the UK, I worked in foreign exchange at Going Places in Woking, Surrey. I ended up at Barrhead Travel – that was the best move I ever made. I’ve had a fabulous time with them.
Q. Do you have any specialities?
A. I specialise in Sandals and Beaches, weddings, honeymoons, Africa and the southern hemisphere – big, chunky bookings. I am part of Sandals’ Chairman’s Royal Club, so twice a year I go to their resorts to get updates. I’m a big Sandals fan; you get lots for your money.
Q. How has business been since you opened We Travel To?
A. The first booking was Sandals, then New Zealand and Australia. I have clients everywhere in this neighbourhood and support has been fantastic. Once we’ve completed the refurbishment, I will do an opening event with the local papers. One of my clients runs a professional events company and will help. One of my more unusual bookings was for a school in Essex, which sends pupils to help charity projects in India.
Q. How does Brilliant Travel help?
A. I am a Managed Service Travel Partner, an independent agency with Brilliant Travel, affiliated to Barrhead Travel. They do lots of administration and helped sort phones, computers and software. The conference last autumn was good too, as there were lots of operators I’d not used before, so it was good to speak to the likes of Jet2holidays, for example.
Gillian’s sales tips
• Ignore phone calls if you’re with a client in person
• Get to know customers and what they want
• Build knowledge from fam trips, training, events, and other sources.
1999 – 2004 – Going Places, Woking, Glasgow and Cardiff
2004 – 2009 – B&A Travel, Beith
2010 – 2010 – Thorne Travel, Kilwinning
2011 – 2018 – Barrhead Travel
2018 – Set up We Travel To…
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