Lisa Weakley has recently opened a second Global Independent Travel Centre in North Somerset. She tells Abra Dunsby about what it takes to stand out from the crowd.
When one door closes, another opens,” goes the saying, and it’s especially true for agency owner Lisa Weakley, who opened her second Global Independent Travel Centre in October.
After working for an independent travel agent in Clevedon, North Somerset, for nine years, the high street shop was forced to close down. Weakley saw this as an opportunity to open her own shop around the corner in 2010, bringing many of the original client base with her.
Then, after fulfilling her dream of moving to Winscombe with her family in May this year, she approached the owner of the village’s only travel agency and found that they were in a position to sell.
Weakley struck a deal and bought the shop in October this year. She says: “I knew of the [former Winscombe] agency as it had been there since 1989, but it didn’t actively do any marketing, so I could see huge potential for opening a second shop. Local people support these types of businesses so it’s a great place for us to be.”
Despite her first Clevedon store being on a busy high street alongside numerous competitors, the business – part of the Freedom Travel Group – has gone from strength to strength.
In six years, Weakley has grown her team from three staff members to nine, and 2016 has been her most successful year in terms of growth and number of sales.
At the Clevedon shop, 80% of clients are repeat business and Weakley says she has managed to stand out by becoming a friendly pillar of the community.
“We try to get involved in any local activity – for example we sponsor the local girls’ football team. We’re also involved in the local community group, which organises events like turning on the Christmas lights and promotes shopping locally.”
Weakley hopes to replicate her success with the new store, so she and her team have already got stuck into meeting the locals. “We had an open evening where we invited our clients for drinks and canapes and had a prize draw to win a holiday,” she says.
The new shop has also hosted presentation evenings, where customers are invited to meet the team and learn about destinations.
“We’re also hoping to work with nearby businesses to run community events, such as wine and holiday evenings.” Other marketing initiatives include direct mailers to clients and a “refer a friend” loyalty scheme.
Facebook and Twitter have also proved useful for gaining brand recognition. “Our clients like to hear our news on social media, especially if someone has been away. It’s a great way of setting up a loyal community and talking to people,” she says.
The new move hasn’t been without its challenges, and Lisa admits she will have her work cut out distinguishing the shop from its defunct predecessor, Winscombe Travel. What sets her apart, though, is a great, friendly team and a commitment to customer service.
“We’re very dedicated to building close relationships with our customers, getting to know them well and finding out what they want from their holidays,” she adds.
“As we’re an independent, we’re able to offer something different for everyone, and clients are welcome to come for out of hours appointments, where they’ll get a cup of tea, or some fizz, and one-on-one attention.”
Staff training is also key for Weakley. Each team member is gaining an accredited UK qualification, which they are training for as they work – from team management to IT, customer services to facilities and management services.
As mum to two-year-old Amelia, it’s a juggling act for Weakley to balance work and family life. “Luckily I’ve got great support from my husband and my mum. My sister Laura also works with me part-time in the Clevedon branch and has done for almost 10 years, so she looks after Amelia and helps out when I need some time off.”
Does she envisage opening more shops in the future? “For the moment I am just concentrating on growing the business and increasing client retention, she says.
“Who knows what will be next, though... I do like a challenge!”