The boss of Hays Travel North West says he expects the business to expand to around 50 stores over the next 18 months, further establishing the Hays Travel brand in Lancashire and Greater Manchester.
Hays North West currently has 31 branches, but managing director Don Bircham, speaking to TTG at the Hays Travel Independence Group conference, said he had his sights set on soon becoming the second largest independent agency chain in the UK, second only to Hays Travel itself.
“We have 31 branches now,” said Bircham. “But we’re about to sign the leases on another nine so I would expect to have 40 by spring next year. The ultimate objective is to get beyond 50. Within the next 18 months, we will get there.”
Bircham set up agency chain Just Go Travel (JGT) in 2000. Between 2006 and 2014, it operated as a Tui franchisee. John Hays then took a 40% stake in the company, which saw JGT become Hays Travel North West.
While the business’s heartland is in north Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire, Bircham’s vision will see Hays North West expand further into Lancashire and Greater Manchester. New locations include Runcorn, Macclesfield, Oldham, Northwich, Formby, Cheadle, Bury and Ashton-under-Lyne.
“Before I started working with John, there really wasn’t a Hays presence in the north west,” said Bircham. “It’s a whole new market.
“While we’re all second to Hays [Travel] overall, I think the next biggest independent chain is Barrhead with about 36/37 shops so we will be next.”
Bircham, who used to work for the Co-op and has 40 years’ experience in retail, said his business had inherited some of the footprint of Co-op Travel in the north west. “I know the good locations,” he said. “I know where we can be very successful in this area.”
Bircham said he was confident there was sufficient resilience in the high street to support the group’s growth.
“I hear all the stories about the high street and how difficult it is,” he said. “We’re just not feeling that. We have our concerns, of course, but we’re doing well.”
Hays North West is part of the Hays IG group, and takes full advantage of many of the head office functions it provides.
“We have a great relationship with John and the Hays team,” said Bircham. “We really tap into that infrastructure they provide - IT, finance, HR, etc. It’s win-win for us.”
The business opened its 30th store earlier this year, and as a consequence of its expansion, recently created two new regional manager roles, both of which Bircham said he was pleased to have been able to fill by promoting internally. Simone Murphy steps up from her role as manager of the business’s Wrexham branch, and Smith from its Bolton branch.
“It’s just down to how fast we’ve grown,” said Bircham. “We’ve had to create another management team. We looked at recruiting externally, but I was delighted to be able to give Simone and Toni the opportunity.”