Profile: Agent pair bounce back with Advantage franchise scheme

After 16 years with the same West Yorkshire travel agency, redundancy could have spelt disaster for Shevaun Joy. Instead she and colleague Lisa Manditsch turned adversity to their advantage.

They were the first agents to sign up to Advantage Travel Centres’ new managed services option, which helps new starters get into the market.

“After losing our jobs, Lisa and I decided we wanted to start our own travel agency together called Destination,” said Shevaun.

They’d even gone as far as approaching their boss with a takeover proposition, but were knocked back because the Silsden branch of Specialist Travel was tied up with other businesses.

She said: “We couldn’t buy it as a standalone business, and knew if we were going to do it, we would have to do it on our own.  Then, when we lost our jobs, we got the opportunity.”

Specialist Travel went into liquidation in February last year, and suddenly the pair were able to realise their dream. They pooled their redundancy money, which was a pretty meagre statutory payout, but that didn’t deter the new partners.

“Whatever we got we put in as working capital for the business. We put our own money in as well,” said Shevaun.

“We were also quite ahead of the game because we ended up getting the lease on the old shop and we bought the contents from the liquidators.”

In fact, Shevaun reckons there are some bargains to be had during a recession. “Rates and bills are expensive, but as far as other things go it’s never been cheaper – flooring for example, any sort of decorating materials are a really good price at the minute, so there’s never been a better time in some ways.”

They got advice from their local job centre, from Business Link and from small business support centre Airedale Enterprise Services, which also helped them identify grants they were entitled to.

All was going according to plan until they submitted their bonding application – in the same week Freedom Direct went under

“It was bad timing, to say the least. It made us realise it would be difficult to get bonding in our own right. 

“We also realised we were going to struggle to get merchant services because they would see us as a phoenix company, rising out the ashes of the old one, which we were not,” said Shevaun.

That’s when they turned to Advantage Travel Centres to discuss their new managed services option. It offers all the benefits of normal Advantage membership plus merchant services, bonding and ABTA membership. 

In addition, there is plenty of marketing support and they can avail themselves of a variety of financial services such as supplier failure and airlines failure insurance. There are also good commercial terms and commission, and they supply the agency’s front and back office systems.

“They take care of all our supplier payments.  So it’s ideal for a start-up, or for someone who may have worked for a company and wants to start up on their own but doesn’t quite know how. Or for someone who takes over from an old owner and doesn’t want to use their bonding.”

Advantage Travel Centres head of business development David Moon said: “Advantage was delighted to have Destination as it’s first managed service branch. They had a well thought-out business plan and a huge amount of enthusiasm.”

Destination has been trading since June 28 2009 and so far, business is booming.

“As soon as we knew we were getting the lease on the business we put signs in the window saying: ‘under new ownership, please bear with us, we’ll be open very soon’.

“Because we are in a little Yorkshire Dales village the loyalty is phenomenal. We’ve even known people who haven’t gone on holiday while we’ve been closed because they didn’t want to use another agency.

“People have said we must be mad, but we didn’t want to do anything else. If travel is in your blood and you want to do it, you’ll just do it,” said Shevaun.

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