Readers' lives: From keen starter to award-winning Cook manager

Readers' lives: From keen starter to award-winning Cook manager

Even at the age of 16, it was clear John Stewart had an enterprising streak.

John, who was this year named high street manager of the year at the Agent Achievement Awards, started out in an accounts role at an independent travel agency.

There, he decided to work out the best advertising periods for travel companies relating to when customers booked.

“I took note of all the key holiday dates in Scotland and looked at the periods leading up to them to see when people bought holidays,” he says.

John used the information to advertise travel deals at key booking times in local newspapers during his apprenticeship at Lunn Poly in Dundee and then St Andrews.

“I would put our number next to a deal for north Africa and the phones would ring. Other agents were not doing that at the time,” he says.

Later in his career this idea even led to John producing a local guide of holiday times, including school and university holidays and important council dates, in conjunction with the Dundee Evening Telegraph, for customers to collect in store.

“It was free PR,” says John, who continues to use press advertising to bolster agency sales. This also means using events, even if run by a rival, to his advantage.

“Last week one of the local independent agencies held a cruise evening with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. I did an advertorial to target people in the next day’s paper with a voucher they could bring to us for a special cruise deal,” says John.

He has now built close ties with clubs and organisations. These range from offering members of a local gym Thomas Cook vouchers and discounts, to giving away signed Dundee United FC shirts and a holiday discount in a local newspaper draw.

He credits this proactive approach with helping turn around the fortunes of Thomas Cook’s Dundee store, one of the group’s top performers. “We continue to show growth in these challenging times,” he adds.

John says maintaining staff morale is key to the shop’s success. As well as regular social nights, he takes his 29 employees away twice a year. “When you walk into the store you can feel it; we are united as one team.”

John's CV

  • 1986-89: consultant, Lunn Poly
  • 1989-91: consultant, Thomas Cook
  • 1991-2003: manager, various Cook stores
  • 2003: manager, Cook, Dundee
  • 2009: Superstore manager of year, Cook
  • 2011: Wins Agent Achievement Award

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