Growing miniple open its Hanley branch last December. Benjamin Coren discovers how the team are making an impact in the local community.

Polka Dot Travel is not hard to find in the town of Hanley in Stoke‑on‑Trent – its bright purple frontage and balloons really stand out.

The town has a lively high street and shopping centre, and branch manager Tasha Smith is working to woo the high footfall into the growing miniple’s new branch.

“I have two A-boards on the high street and one outside the shopping centre” says Smith. “They always have balloons on them in brand colours, green and purple. Everyone sees us, and we get people coming in as they have seen our A-board.”

She says the freedom to promote any tour operator, coupled with a competitive employee incentive scheme, inspires her and the team to raise their profile locally and match customers with holidays to suit them.

Smith says the branch draws on the services of its consortium, The Advantage Travel Partnership, so it can concentrate on serving customers.

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‘Love our independence’

“I love how independent Polka Dot is,” she says. “We care about our customers. It’s not a case of bums on seats and giving it the hard sell. It’s ‘What does your customer want?’ and ‘What do they want to book?’ You care about what they’re after.

“You’re recognised for what you’ve done for the year and each week the [joint] managing directors send out motivating emails, and every now and then they do team nights out. If I send out an email with the figures and make suggestions to increase numbers, they’ll reply ‘That’s fantastic’. Being told ‘That’s great work’ and ‘Well done’ by your managing directors – I don’t think there’s a better feeling than that.”

The team in Hanley run regular events including bank holiday bonanzas, back-to-school events, payday sales and summer party sales. “We have lots of props we put out,” says Smith. “The team wear summer outfits, we have sunglasses on our heads and customers love it. We hang up pineapples and inflatable flamingos, put out beach balls and things for the kids to play with, and set up a welcome desk with prosecco so people can have a glass of fizz when they are booking their holiday.”

The team are also active within the local business improvement district (BID). Smith says: “When we have an event, they will promote it, and we go round the shops with leaflets to promote offers.”

The branch also makes use of Facebook and Instagram, posting videos and pictures with offers.

“Customers love it,” Smith adds. “It’s interactive and we can talk to them about offers and they can see that we’re real people, not just a bog-standard social media account.”

The BID holds afternoon teas at local hotels every four to eight weeks, allowing managers from shops in Hanley to share ideas and discuss retail issues. “We promote the business that way too,” says Smith. “We booked the manager of Sharps next door but one, and I think we’ve booked nearly everybody in Card Factory.”

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‘Big on customer service’

“I’m really big on customer service,” says Smith. “My team have to be giving the best customer service. When you’re such a new brand on the high street, you’ve got to get customers through recommendation, and we get a lot of recommendations. We rely a lot on word of mouth, but we also have to go out and get the deals out there.”

To prepare each day to sell to customers, the team tries to get all the admin sorted as early as possible in the morning, answering email enquiries and updating customers on any changes to their holidays. The assistant manager deals with tickets, and Smith, as manager, deals with outstanding balances.

“We aim to get all admin done by 10.30 so we are ready to sell and serve for the rest of the day,” she says.

“We then have customers making payments, doing online check-ins and we do all of that and print off boarding passes and get the documents sorted. Then we look for offers and get them on our Facebook page.”

The team, comprising three full-time and three part‑time staff, usually call customers about two to three weeks ahead of their departure date so they can come in and collect their travel documents.

“It’s all part of the service,” says Smith.

And, of course, customers can’t miss where to go – the shop’s bright colours standing out like a beacon.

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Up close and personal

Tasha Smith, manager

Favourite destination: I fell in love with the Philippines – it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Big booking: I did a wedding to the Turks & Caicos with Beaches for 11 people for about £30k.

If not an agent: I’d work in events. I love planning things.

Courtney Charlesworth, sales consultant

Favourite destination: I love selling Turkey as it’s where most of my family holidays have been. It’s nice to share that knowledge.

Big booking: I did a £19k wedding to Turkey, it’s nice to be part of such a massive day in people’s lives.

Claire Thursfield, sales consultant

Favourite destination: I love New York – I’ve been three times and I still want to go. I love Greece too, everyone is so friendly and it’s such good value for money.

If not an agent: I can’t imagine doing anything else.