Until a couple of years ago, this spot in Mere Green was an unassuming estate agents – now it’s the location of Pure Destinations, winner of the ttgluxury Travel Awrds Luxury Travel Agency of the Year and adviser to the area’s affluent footballers and avid travellers.
Often finding himself stuck in traffic at a common bottleneck in Mere Green in the West Midlands, Pure Destinations founder and managing director Lakh Hayer would think to himself what a captive audience the estate agents located just before the roundabout must have, with people prone to staring into its windows.
With the nearby arrival of the trendy new Mulberry Walk shopping development in an already affluent area that’s home to many a football player for Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers, you can soon see why Hayer thought a high-end travel agency would make sense here.
Once Hayer heard the estate agents had become available, he and his team set about creating a store to fit the potential clientele – bespoke champagne bar, Tassimo coffee machine, stylish large-screen Apple computers, spotlessly clear desks and custom-made contemporary furniture. The result was genuinely award-winning.
But the store’s success is not surprising, given Hayer has travel in his blood – his parents run a travel business too. Plus, he already has another Pure Destinations shop in Edgbaston and owns Honeymoon Dreams, awarded UK & Ireland’s Top Weddings & Honeymoons Agency at this year’s TTG Top 50.
But aside from his own entrepreneurial spirit, the retail team in the shop – two miles north of Sutton Coldfield and 10 miles north-east of Birmingham – are sharp as knives and set on making sure the store is not just a pretty face.
Manager Simone Adams has 30 years’ experience and works alongside Donna Enright-Stanton, with 20 years of knowledge, while Natasha Cooper is the youngest of the three. “Natasha’s great on social media, and all the younger customers like to chat with her,” says Adams.
When Pure Destinations launched, promotional moves included producing copies of their own newspaper to be distributed to 15,000 households plus local businesses; another is planned for August/September.
Last October, there was a champagne-fuelled launch event for the shop, including an overspill party in a bar across the road with a Vegas theme – showgirls, singer, Elvis impersonator and plenty of prizes. Adams reckons some 200 people were entertained at the launch party and there was certainly plenty of local press coverage.
But while the party may have wooed a good crowd and wowed with some razzle-dazzle, it’s good old customer service that’s been the overarching success theme so far.
One of the many touches the team swear by is the bespoke box clients receive once the booking is made and they’re counting down to the holiday. Inside the box are tickets, chocolates or treats and a lovely letter – it is a touch that has always worked well for the honeymoon side of the business where there was less opportunity for personal interaction with the client.
Honeymoons are also proving to be big business for the shop, however, including elaborate “big reveal” situations in which a couple comes in to have one partner surprise the other with the location for a dream trip.
“In one case, the future groom wanted to make a big deal of the trip for his girlfriend, so we had balloons and a bit of a theme going on and then he brought her into the shop and surprised her with the details – a honeymoon in Bora Bora. She was over the moon,” says Adams.
She adds that these kind of moments often have all the team in tears. “We get on well with all our clients, so love being able to do these things for them. I’ve changed my day off before to make sure I could be around when the client wanted to do a trip reveal. I should be on Surprise Surprise!”
Whether it’s an England cricketer, a footballer or just a client from down the road, everyone gets treated the same, Adams says, although people can be assured of even more special treatment and undivided attention if they book one of the 1.5-hour appointments (that’s the limit for free parking in the nearby M&S).
“It’s not a hard sell or just a transaction to us – we really want them to relax and chat. And although we do tend to get a lot of honeymoons, we’re happy to book anything,” Adams says.
Coming soon will be “mums’ Prosecco mornings” in a bid to grow the local market. “We really do want more people to see what we’re trying to do,” says Adams.
“We often see people walking past the window trying to figure out what’s going on in here. Once they come in, they usually say, ‘It’s not like any travel agency we’ve seen before.’ And they usually ask us where we got the lights from.” (The answer is oceanlighting.co.uk, she says).
It seems that this will to do things differently is catching Kuoni’s eye too, as the Mere Green shop is the second partner store for Hayer, making Pure Destinations one of the first independent UK agencies to have two shops in partnership with the brand.
Pure Destinations’ first store opened in Edgbaston in 2010 and was rebranded as a Kuoni partner store in 2015. Since then, both Hayer and Kuoni will surely have done their research on Mere Green, no doubt discovering it is at the heart of one of West Midlands’ wealthiest enclaves, including Four Oaks Estate – home to footballers and business magnates.
The population within a 15-minute drive is around 84,000 people and covers Lichfield, Aldridge, Tamworth and Kingsbury. And some 45% of them (according to details by Acorn released by the Mulberry Walk development) are “affluent achievers”, meaning almost half the local population are “asset-rich families and affluent professionals”. That category makes up only 22% of the population on average nationally.
While Pure Destinations may be a Kuoni partner store, Adams recognises the need to offer a range of operators, from If Only to Cyplon.
“We do support a lot of operators based on past relationships I’ve built up, for example, and we only work with those companies that are service-based – we’re entrusting our clients with them and we hope they support us,” she says. In fact, the business has been one of Simply Luxury by Travel 2’s top luxury agents for two years on the trot.
The team also make sure they get out and about, of course – whether on ship visits or to training events at nearby Birmingham airport, as well as plenty of fam trips, including St Lucia, Maldives, Sardinia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Dubai recently. They also all make sure they socialise as a team. “Donna makes an amazing Sunday roast,” laughs Adams.
So with an estate full of million-pound houses up the road, a swish new shopping centre next door, passionate staff and a savvy HQ (also happily sitting in new offices of their own since September), this is one business that definitely doesn’t seem to be stuck in traffic.
We’re on the hunt for the 2019 Luxury Travel Agency of the Year (store). Could it be you?
The process for the awards starts on August 9, when you will be able to tell us all about why you should be the one to try for this crown following Pure Destinations’ success in this year’s event.