GoCruise & Travel with Karen and Mark was set up just before the pandemic hit and a pop-up shop is helping get the fledgling business off the ground. Juliet Dennis reports.
Q. Why did you become a GoCruise & Travel franchisee?
A. I started working in travel in 2005 when my youngest daughter started at school full-time – and I’ve never looked back. I worked for Tui for about 12 years. We were living in Essex, then relocated to Suffolk. I moved out of sales and took a job in Fred Olsen Travel’s head office. I was working on administration for GoCruise, but kept saying to my husband I wanted to go back to sales. I didn’t necessarily want to be stuck to retail hours and have to work weekends in a shop, though, as we had moved to Suffolk for some more freedom. That was how I ended up as a GoCruise franchisee. It got me back to sales but meant I could work my own hours.
I was working on administration for GoCruise, but kept saying to my husband I wanted to go back to sales.
Q. What was it like setting up at the start of the pandemic?
A. We signed contracts in January 2020, just as whispers were starting about Covid. My husband was going to join me straight away; I was going to train him, as he’s not from a travel background. As a result of the pandemic, he continued to work as a construction project manager and we put the business on the back-burner. It felt insensitive to market a travel business with everything that was going on. We started to increase our marketing at the end of last year, starting from scratch with no customer database, just family and friends. We did some newspaper advertisements and social media. It has been hard and people are still hesitant. Even now you have to be sensitive about how you promote holidays. We started to get bookings only this year, and most are for 2022. I’ve no regrets at all about starting a business but it takes time. I think 2022 will be our year.
We started to increase our marketing at the end of last year, starting from scratch with no customer database, just family and friends.
Q. How are you giving clients confidence to take a cruise?
A. It’s about taking the time to go through what they need to do step by step. You can send an email but will they read it? I spent an hour on the phone to a cruise customer the other day to go through everything, checking she’d done all the right tests and had the right documents. She did say when she came back that it had helped. When I go on ships, I do blogs and videos to help clients. I sent one of my customers a video of myself using P&O’s app to put her mind at ease. I do try to think about it from the customer’s point of view and what they need.
When I go on ships, I do blogs and videos to help clients. I sent one of my customers a video of myself using P&O’s app to put her mind at ease.
Q. Apart from your pop-up shop, what other services do you offer?
A. We are going to launch a mobile appointment service. We will say to people who come to us at the community centre that we are happy to visit them in their own homes. It’s just another service, but because of Covid, we have held off rolling this out. We are already getting out into the community and going to wedding fairs. My husband comes along whenever he can, and if I need an extra pair of hands, my two daughters live locally. They have grown up with me talking about travel and they now help me with my social media.
We will say to people who come to us at the community centre that we are happy to visit them in their own homes.
Q. How does it work being a GoCruise & Travel franchisee?
A. We pay a monthly fee, and when we get a booking, the admin department at head office puts it on the system and sends out a confirmation, takes payment and sends out the tickets – so we don’t have to worry about that side. There is a marketing department at head office if we need help with advertising, flyers or promotions. We have also got a franchise support team, so if I need to brainstorm about something, I ring them to get feedback.
We have also got a franchise support team, so if I need to brainstorm about something, I ring them to get feedback.
Q. What hours do you work?
A. It’s flexible, although I like to be at my desk each morning in my home office. I have a routine but I can nip out if I need to. I never miss a call as I always have my phone on me. As a franchisee, I am not tied to my desk. In the autumn, we went on Regal Princess and because there was Wi-Fi on board, I could work from my sunlounger.
How did your pop-up shop come about?
The ‘shop in a box’ project was launched by GoCruise’s head office. You can pack up the shop and put it in a box in the back of your car. You get a stand which you can use as a counter, as well as branded banners, a brochure rack and an iPad stand, which I use to show people brochures or videos online.
We call it our ‘holiday popup shop’. We launched it in September and every month we go to a community centre in Langham, near Colchester.
You get a stand which you can use as a counter, branded banners, a brochure rack and an iPad stand, which I use to show people brochures or videos.
There’s a constant stream of people passing through the centre. We are seeing more positivity, even if people don’t necessarily want to book yet.
We are using the pop-up shop as a pilot. Once it has been up and running for a while, we will look to launch another one, in a different village near Colchester. We’ve only been doing it a few weeks and haven’t yet taken a booking, but we have received some good feedback. It’s about creating a presence, so that people know we are there every month if they want to come and talk to us.