Former Co-op Travel manager Ben Hughes was once nicknamed ‘Judith Chalmers’ for being so passionate about travel. This year he lived up to that billing by setting up his own agency, Go Ben Travel, in his home town. Juliet Dennis reports.

Q. Why did you leave the world of insurance sales for travel?
A. I worked in insurance for seven years until last September. I was a branch manager at Swinton Insurance, and then worked for another broker as head of revenue. There was a lot of change in the sector. I was approaching 30 and wanted a job where I could make people smile – and you always smile when you go on holiday. I had transferable skills and thought if I left any later I would be too settled. I am passionate about travel; they called me Judith Chalmers in my old job! The difference with travel is you are selling dreams.

Q. After your first travel job at The Co-operative Travel, you set up on your own a year ago. Why?
A. I wanted to be in the driving seat. I was a branch manager for The Co‑operative Travel [Thomas Cook] but wanted to be able to sell other holidays like Tui and Jet2holidays, and put together my own packages too. I wanted to be a one-stop-shop. The Global Travel Group offered what I needed and all my family are self-employed so I had a lot of support. Before I started I sat down with my dad and got him to show me how to do my VAT returns.

Q. How challenging was it, first working from home and then opening your shop?
A. It was very daunting, especially taking my first booking. There have been teething problems but there is always someone at the end of the phone at Global. In March this year I started off working from home; it was good but I missed the personal interaction and there is an element of trust from that face-to-face contact. After I saw an opportunity in the town where I was born and bred, my shop opened in September. It has really helped that I am from this area. It’s been exhausting but you don’t mind if you enjoy it.

When I got the keys to the shop I thought I’d just make do, but my mum said “let’s get it all done up” and lent me the money. Now it’s got a great Mediterranean feel to it. I am a Sandals specialist agent and they have helped me create a beach-themed wall. My logo is ‘With our expertise and your imagination you will go far’.

Q. Where did the name Go Ben Travel come from?
A. I was with my mum and stepsister having dinner and I said I was thinking of doing this. My stepsister said “Go Ben!” and it went from there.

Q. Now you have a shop, what next?
A. In the short term it’s about getting the business off the ground. Longer-term I don’t want to stop there. I might look at other local towns with no independent agents. There is demand out there and I’d like to have more shops.

Ben’s sales tips 

  1. Do your research and find a consortium that gives you the support you need.
  2. Don’t step on other people’s toes if there are already established independent agencies in your area.
  3. Negotiate. Overheads are high so talk to your landlord: you can usually get the first month or two free.