Advantage Travel Partnership is steering a refurbishment programme for its members. Katherine Lawrey speaks to business development director Colin O’Neill and Jon Murfitt from Balance Ltd consultancy about its success
Five Advantage members are causing tongues to wag on their high streets with new-look premises. Traveltime World in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire; Solent World Travel in Hampshire; Camberley Travel in Surrey; and Yorkshire Travel, just outside Doncaster have all had a facelift, while Oasis Travel in Bangor has moved into entirely new premises. A sixth, Jimmy Martin Travel in Edinburgh, is embarking on the journey.
For business development director Colin O’Neill, the bricks and mortar revitalisation process is an essential part of an agent’s marketing strategy.
The agency has to fund its own refurbishment – there’s no financial input from Advantage. But the consortium lends business consultancy support. O’Neill puts agents in touch with Balance Ltd, specialists in integrating brands and spaces, and stays closely involved in the design process. Balance can also be a part of the process to source local contractors or leave that to the agent, depending on their wishes.
A key part of the process is visualisation. Jonathan Murfitt, director at Balance, says: “We go in and measure a store, build a 3D model (pictured above for Camberley Travel), apply the brand and put furniture in. It’s about inspiring people with a realistic visualisation.”
“This computer-aided design technology is very powerful,” adds O’Neill. “It gives agents an accurate representation of the finished article before they start to strip the walls. They can play around with colours, textures and layouts, and compare the options.”
It’s about encouraging agents to really think about what they want, and how to get the most impact for their money, he says. “It’s not a like-for-like approach. A new square desk instead of the old square desk is not the way to go. We want agents to take a long hard look at what their business looks like, and what it could look like.”
With Harrods and Selfridges windows and Coca-Cola’s themed area at the Rio Olympics on its CV, the team at Balance knows a thing or two about branding.
“Budget is our starting point,” says Murfitt. “We determine that and work backwards. What will make the biggest impact?” He suggests starting with the shop front and the window, then looking at interior imagery and brochure racks, then furniture, and flooring last.
“As a rule of thumb, I would budget about £45-50 per square metre. It’s difficult to be prescriptive with costs but I’d say £5,000 can make a real difference.”
When it comes to brochures, Murfitt is a proponent of the less is more theory: “Everyone [we’ve seen] was overloaded with brochures. We’ve cut them down by at least half in every store. If the brochures aren’t out, then the customer has to ask for them, and that starts a conversation. Display them like a piece of art so you hone in on individual brands and destinations.”
O’Neill agrees that reducing the amount of brochures on display has worked in every case. “Agents get it that it’s not about reducing customer choice. It’s about better presentation of the offering.”
A common scenario is a dated shop that’s struggling to attract the type of clientele it aspires to have. O’Neill cites Yorkshire Travel, in a village outside Doncaster. “The shop was tired and old, and the passing traffic reasonably affluent. Range Rovers used the road as a cut-through. We worked to make the shop more bright and modern to attract higher value business.”
While Yorkshire Travel wants to stand out, Jimmy Martin Travel wants to blend in. The agency is located in an affluent area of Edinburgh, and the brief for Balance is to bring it in line with that area. “The design needs to help Jimmy Martin Travel to conform with the area, using subdued, heritage colours. They don’t want the shop to jar with its surrounds.”
O’Neill hopes spreading the word about agency success stories will encourage more agents to consider a refresh. “We’ve featured the before and after shots in our monthly Insight newsletter, which have attracted lots of positive comments. Working with Balance is a fantastic opportunity, with the creativity that goes with it. It’s a personalised service for each and every agent.”
The Surrey-based independent agency wanted to refresh and update its high street shop after 20 years of being in the same building. Camberley Travel initially approached local firms about doing a refit but eventually went through its consortium Advantage to find design firm Balance.
Leisure travel manager Gail Sims says: “We had a very old-fashioned shop with a high counter and we needed to create a new fresh look. “We looked at a variety of local shop fitters but found their quotes very confusing, which made it difficult to compare prices.
“Then we found Balance through Advantage. They gave us some ideas of what we could do for our budget, which wasn’t huge, and what could be done if we spent a little bit more.”
The agency opted for a new white and Mediterranean blue colour scheme; the renovation included new signs and company logo, and the installation of modern low-level desks (pictured above).
“Customers like it much better because we’re on the same level as them and we have proper chairs now – it’s a much better customer experience,” says Sims.
“The fresher look is definitely attracting new customers. People are noticing us more. We’re next door to Thomas Cook and we used to look a bit old fashioned compared to them, but this puts us on an equal footing from a visual perspective.”
The work was carried out over a bank holiday weekend, which minimised the time the shop was closed to the public, although a skeleton staff continued to work in an upstairs office while the project was being completed.