Juliet Dennis is given a warm welcome at Thomas Cook’s first Discovery store.
The excitement of managing Thomas Cook’s first Discovery store is written large across manager Peter Ryan’s face.
“This is the biggest opportunity of my career,” says Ryan, who transferred from managing Thomas Cook’s store in the nearby Stratford Centre when it closed last year.
“My biggest asset is my team because of their knowledge and experience – we have 13 staff with 250 years between them. If only you could bottle them up and give them to every store.”
The whole team is clearly passionate about the shop, which opened in the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre almost seven months ago.
It is obvious why. It’s spacious and open‑plan, and boasts six large consultant booths, two lounges, a kids’ zone, a customer welcome desk and a travel bureau, as well as two large screens in the window.
As we chat, a toddler waddles towards what has clearly become a focal point – a travel globe on a stand.
Ryan adds: “It brings people into the store. The other day, someone came in and showed their child Perth – where their nanny lives.”
But it’s not just the globe that attracts customers. The window screens, which run 24/7, are often watched by diners sitting outside the restaurant next door, while a bespoke appointment system allows the store to text clients when consultants are free.
Ryan recalls a recent sale that was a direct result of the branch’s window screens, complemented by the shop’s ‘mood lighting’.
“We changed the lighting and used clubbing images, which created a bit of hype over the weekend,” he says. “People drink beer outside until midnight and we had a group of five lads who came in to book after seeing the ads the night before. They didn’t realise we offered Club 18-30 holidays.”
The store is also finding customers like the shop’s text messaging service, as well as being able to book an appointment online in advance.
“We can text a customer when we are free, and when they come back, our staff know what holiday they want and their name; it all links back to the conversation at the start,” says Ryan.
“Last week, we had a couple who wanted to have a meal and come back. We were able to text them when we were free, which worked out, as they had just finished eating.”
The welcome desk, where appointments are made, is the shop’s hub. Behind it there is a display of brochures, but there are no traditional brochure racks.
Ryan says: “It’s the first point of contact for customers. People still want brochures but this stops the ‘grab and go’ culture.”
Customer services manager Zak Bihmoutine says the welcome desk also helps build strong customer relationships.
“We encourage people to come back in and tell us about their holidays,” he says.
One of the most noticeable changes since the store relocated has been the change
in clients’ addresses, highlighting that Westfield Stratford City attracts customers from far and wide.
This is backed up by the fact that footfall is “well over double”, according to Ryan,
what it had been in Cook’s previous Stratford store, which was based in a 1970s-built shopping centre.
Ryan says: “We used to get all local postcodes (E15). Now we have started to get postcodes from Southend and Chelmsford, and further into Essex and Kent.
“Before, we were a traditional high street retailer. Since Westfield was built, our demographic has changed. Our booking conversions are up and opportunities for business growth here are much greater.”
For Ryan, the love of the job comes from seeing “magical” moments, such as when a young girl ran into the store to see Cook’s kids’ club mascots Lollo the giraffe and Bernie the bear, visiting the store for the day.
“She had hugged Lollo on holiday, so rushed in when she saw her in the shop,” he says. “It was touching, quite magical. It’s exciting when dreams come true and memories are made.”
Meet two of the team
Denise Hart, senior travel consultant
I’ve been in my job at Thomas Cook . . . for 27 years.
I’m a specialist in . . . Canada.
The best part of my job is . . . the customers. A lot have become friends.
Quirky requests . . . In 1993, a couple wanted to go to Israel, but the wife wouldn’t fly. It took weeks to work out car routes, ferry crossings and hotels. She still books with me.
My favourite destination is . . . Canada: I’ve been at least 27 times.
Sarah Spicer, travel sales consultant
I’ve been in my job at Thomas Cook . . . for 20 years.
I’m a specialist in . . . family holidays.
The best part of my job is . . . my regulars. I’ve got old couples who come in just to see me.
Quirky requests . . . It’s quite funny when clients ask whether I want to go on holiday with them. Clearly, I’ve still got it!
My favourite destination is . . . the Caribbean. It’s got everything for kids – and I’ve got two.
Juliet’s day at Thomas Cook
Manager Peter Ryan commands respect and his enthusiasm rubs off on his friendly team.
The shop boasts plenty of standout features, from mood lighting and window screens (one showing Thomas Cook’s heritage on the day of my visit) to its globe and powerful destination images on the walls.
In-store technology isn’t overwhelming. There are gadgets –
I found myself in a swanky holiday resort wearing a virtual-reality headset – but they are not thrust in your face.
What stood out for me was the shop’s text message system. This is what modern-day retailers should be doing. It demonstrates a flexibility and the level of service customers expect.
I was similarly impressed by the store’s kids’ zone. With a blackboard for scribbling on, a table to play at and a TV screen to watch kids’ clubs entertainers Lollo and Bernie on, it’s ideal for keeping little ’uns occupied. Every shop needs one of these.
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