Hays Travel has been forced to take a more innovative approach to recruitment in recent years due to its continued "rapid" expansion, boss John Hays has said.
Hays, the UK’s largest independent travel agency chain, opened its 171st store on Wednesday (October 3), with nine more due “before Christmas” - extending its network to 180 shops in total.
Retail director Jane Schumm told delegates at the Hays Travel Independence Group conference she expected all nine stores to be fully operational by January.
It is the latest development in the recent rapid expansion of Hays Travel, which has in recent years revisited its recruitment ethos to ensure it can adequately staff its new stores, such as by embracing apprenticeships.
"Clearly, we wouldn’t be opening these shops if we were not trading well," said Hays, speaking at the conference in the Algarve on Sunday.
"We have shops in the north east where all the staff joined us from school and the culture within Hays Travel gets embedded in them.
"If we are growing rapidly, we do need to bring people in from outside though, and that’s a problem for us. The people from big chains don’t always have the same culture we are looking for. There are some brilliant people, but they might not fit in. So increasingly, we are taking people from elsewhere."
Hays said the business’s travel academy allowed the company, the UK’s largest independent travel agency chain, to bring people in with the necessary skills from outside travel, train and reskill them, and then employ them at a more senior level.
Hays Travel was founded in 1980 by John Hays at the back of his mum’s children clothes store in Seaham. It achieved £500 million turnover in 2012 before a year later embarking on its most substantial acquisition to date, that of Bath Travel’s 60 stores.
Hays has since achieved £1 billion turnover for the first time, in the year to April this year. The IG group, meanwhile, was founded in 1995 and now boasts more than 100 members.
Schumm said while the most important contributor to Hays’ growth over the past 10 years had been its staff, the biggest challenge it now faced was recruiting high calibre agents to staff new stores.
“The pool of quality travel agents is very different to what it was 10 years ago,” said Schumm. “People have left the industry. We are fishing in a very small pond. We’ve had to change our recruitment [and] have faith in our recruitment team and shop managers.”
This faith has seen Hays stores turn to “bright, smiley and passionate” - often younger - applicants without previous experience but with a strong grasp of the digital world.
It has employed more than 300 young people through a government-approved apprenticeship scheme, and has 60 people on its travel academy programme.
“These people come from sales backgrounds,” said Schumm. “They have a passion for it. We put them on a six-month programme, give them all the tools they need and then place them in a shop with a strong manager and sales team.”
Schumm added Hays’ “multi-channel” approach to digital - embracing Facebook, developing new backend systems such as its iSell and Know Your Customer platforms and innovation by, and integration with, Hays Travel Tour Operating - put Hays “at the forefront” in terms of using new technology.
“John has a saying: ‘The web is our friend’,” said Schumm. “I think our growth is due, in part, to us using these tools. Hays Travel has the right mix of high street and digital.
“Our staff and head office have embraced tech - the digital world is really key for us. We’ve been able to combine that with personal service.”