Harry Kemble travelled north of the border and found a store with all the ingredients to continue being successful as people return to travel after Covid
“It’s impossible not to talk about Barrhead once you get home,” says Angela Gemmell, store manager at the Scotland-based agency’s Braehead shop.
Gemmell returned from maternity leave last year to continue her 18-year travel career, but she does not discuss day-to-day operations with her toddler Grayson.
Instead, the passionate and dedicated Barrhead manager often spends her evenings chatting about the company with her husband Barry, a web design manager at the agency’s head office.
“We try to talk about the company for just an hour at the end of the day, but it rarely happens,” she explains.
The store Gemmell manages is in the same Braehead shopping centre as branches of Virgin Holidays, Tui and Hays Travel, but she insists there’s no fighting over customers, and rarely do they move between the shops trying to the find the best deal.
“We’re really lucky at Barrhead because we get enquiries through Facebook and over the phone,” she says. “We don’t rely on footfall. People visit the store website and find a [staff member’s] profile.”
Gemmell shows me how customers can make an enquiry via the website, using the ‘Find An Expert’ search tool that identifies the best member of her nine-strong team to contact, depending what kind of holiday the customer wants.
“We do get plenty of enquiries,” says Gemmell. She adds that customers occasionally visit to deliver gifts, to maintain face-to-face contact – even when their holiday has just been cancelled.
Pictured: Store manager Angela Gemmell with the ‘bookings bell’
Gemmell says the agency is looking to recruit another two people. “There are people who worked for us before [the pandemic] and are desperate to come back,” she explains. “One is with a competitor and the other is doing something completely different.”
Gemmell describes the current team as “very bubbly”, “dedicated” and a “good laugh”.
“They were excited about coming back – and sales are great. We have to do overtime to deal with demand.”
Florida land-based trips and Caribbean cruises are selling particularly well, according to Gemmell, who says the easing of Covid measures in Barbados has encouraged customers to book.
Gemmell adds that she’s seen customers booking “a big-value, luxury cruise” and then “squeezing in two or three” holiday bookings at the same time.
“We had one client who booked his first holiday with us in November – and then booked another four in one go,” she explains.
“We’ve got another lady who booked Lapland, New York and Florida. People just think that life is too short.”
Pictured: Some of the agency’s staff; a TikTok video of two Barrhead agents dancing with customers
Rings a bell
A bell on Gemmell’s desk rings each time an important booking is completed. In the week of my visit in late February, apprentice Nathan Wilkie, who joined the team in January, made his first cruise booking with Cunard, so the bell was rung in celebration.
Initially, the apprentices who join Barrhead have to “shadow” Gemmell and the more experienced members of the team, before they can start to sell.
“This is just to build their confidence,” explains Gemmell. “Then they just go for it – and they go on to be so successful.”
Gemmell says the overall team’s conversion rate is up 11 percentage points during January and February, compared with 2019.
“People are coming in who are committed to booking a holiday,” she adds. “Business is booming.”
The store has about 100 customers who have made at least two bookings with its sales team. The repeat bookers include two ladies who attend a local zumba class. Recently, when they made a booking, Gemmell encouraged the pair to do a dance to celebrate. A film of Gemmell and her colleague Ruth Saunders dancing with the customers has racked up more almost 650 views on TikTok.
“They will show it to their friends and it just becomes a talking point,” she adds.
Gemmell clearly believes that there’s never a bad time to talk about Barrhead.
Pictured: Harry and store manager Angela Gemmell
A warm welcome on a cold day
Driving west from Glasgow along the banks of the River Clyde, you couldn’t miss the snow that had fallen that week. It made for a chilly journey, but the warm welcome I received from Angela Gemmell and her team upon arrival at their smart store in Braehead ensured that I soon forgot about the sub-zero temperatures.
One of the first things I noticed was how comfortable all of the agents were – even though some had been there for only a matter of months. Hugh Doran, for instance, joined the team last April, while Nathan Wilkie only started his apprenticeship at the store in January.
While the store is looking to fill two more roles, it’s clear that the staff are happy with the current set-up, as they deal with growing demand. It’s hard to know whether rising sales are a reflection of the current market or satisfied staff, but one thing’s for certain: this Barrhead team has all the ingredients to continue being successful.
Up close and personal with…
Travel consultant Kelly McGrath
How long have you been in travel?
A. I’ve been working in the travel trade for 26 years. I started as a Modern Apprentice at Lunn Poly then moved to Going Places before working abroad in Cyprus for three years as a holiday rep. I’ve now been at Barrhead Travel for more than 16 years.
What’s your favourite destination?
A. Italy. I specialise in European holidays.
Travel consultant Shannon Wooder
What’s the best booking you’ve made?
A. My standout booking was a triple centre tailormade holiday for Canada, New York and Las Vegas. It meant a lot to my client and it stood out because it was my first Canada/US tailormade holiday I did all on my own.
What’s your favourite destination?
A. Krakow, Poland.