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Your Stories: How offering appointments in a local gift shop boosted Jo Shayler’s customer base

The Holidaysplease homeworker credits working in the gift shop near her home in Frinton-on-Sea once a week with boosting her mental health during Covid. Juliet Dennis reports.

Q. Why did you become a homeworker and how long have you done it for?
A. At the start of my career it was hard to get a job in travel without experience so I worked as an estate agent for 10 years. I didn’t love my job and then my dad died, which made me reassess everything. I moved to Herefordshire to get out of London and met Holidaysplease consultant Luke Skinner, who asked if I wanted to come on board with his business at the start of 2011. I worked for him for a year and a half and he mentored me. That gave me the confidence to do it on my own at the end of 2012. Holidaysplease has a pool of enquiries from its website, which you can go to for sales leads and for the first few years I did that. Now I rely on my own referrals and repeat clients.

“Holidaysplease has a pool of enquiries from its website, which you can go to for sales leads and for the first few years I did that.”

Q. What stage was your business at when the pandemic hit?
A. At the end of September 2019 I went to Holidaysplease’s conference and listened to a keynote speaker called Danny Sperling, a business development consultant for Abbotts Travel. He was talking about [the importance of] putting yourself out there. I was inspired by this. He helped me make a plan for my business in 2020. It was all about creating a website and being on social platforms to be in people’s faces more consistently. When March came, and the world fell apart, I had to decide whether to continue with it. I did and it was one of the only positive things in my life at the time. It gave me a positive reason to contact people, to get testimonials to use as examples on my website.

“When March came, and the world fell apart, I had to decide whether to continue with it. I did and it was one of the only positive things in my life at the time.”

Q. How did Covid affect your business?
A. Initially it was ‘oh my god, what’s going on?’ and then I focused on moving clients’ holidays. I contacted tour operators and hotels and said my clients would like to go at the same time next year, and asked suppliers to honour the prices they had given. The first hurdle was that they said rebookings would be subject to next year’s prices. I had many conversations and had massive success [getting suppliers to hold prices]. As a travel agent I had always felt beholden to the supplier but we needed to help each other as an industry. I managed to move 70% of my bookings. But I’m still moving bookings now where countries are on the red list or there’s a fear factor and people don’t feel comfortable about travel. This month I have had to cancel holidays worth £100,000 [in total].

“I’m still moving bookings now where countries are on the red list or there’s a fear factor and people don’t feel comfortable about travel.”

Q. Have you made any decent bookings since you started working at the cafe at the back of the local gift shop in August?
A. Yes! One new client has booked three holidays to the value of £70,000, another one has booked two holidays worth £35,000 in total and then I’ve got another client booking a New England fly-drive holiday for £5,000. This was all above and beyond what I expected. I’ve also added between 25 and 30 people to my newsletter [mailing] list.

“The first Wednesday after I worked at The Patio, the cafe at the back of the gift shop, I was walking on air; I was just buzzing.”

Q. How has creating a new place to meet clients helped you personally?
A. What I wasn’t expecting was how much this would help my mental health – just by having people around me. Working from home can be a lonely place. Since the pandemic I’ve woken up every morning full of dread. Usually it’s completely unjustified. The first Wednesday after I worked at The Patio, the cafe at the back of the gift shop, I was walking on air; I was just buzzing. I don’t have a longing to go on the high street [full time]. The owners, Birgitte and Mike, have been so generous in offering me this space, and nobody walks into the shop without being told about me!


Jo Shayler 2

Why did you decide to diversify your home-based business and work in a shop once a week?

I have shopped at Great Danes gift shop in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, over the last eight years and get on well with the owners, Mike and Birgitte McLain. During the pandemic, they decided to diversify and set up a coffee shop and bar in an area at the back of the shop called The Patio. Birgitte invited me to work there one day a week rent-free. I set up ‘Holidaysplease on Connaught’ at The Patio every Wednesday. People come and chat to me while they have a drink; everyone loves talking about travel!

 “I set up ‘Holidaysplease on Connaught’ at The Patio every Wednesday. People come and chat to me while they have a drink; everyone loves talking about travel!”

I might not get an instant booking but I give them my card and people then know who I am. I’ve never worked in a shop before, only ever from home. Had it not been for that camaraderie between local businesses, helping each other out, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. The purpose of it is to let people know I’m here.

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