Special Report: Reader Offers charts profitable course

Special Report: Reader Offers charts profitable course

Maintaining high standards and investing in staff have played a big role in the success of cruise specialist Reader Offers. Lee Hayhurst visited its Essex offices to find out more

When cruise specialist Reader Offers moved into new headquarters four years ago, it could not have predicted the far-reaching implications of the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers.

The move from cramped offices in the centre of Colchester to the expansive Lexden House outside the Roman town was completed just months before Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, triggering the worst global economic meltdown since the 1930s.

However, the company’s determination to focus on quality since its launch 17 years ago has helped Reader Offers to negotiate skillfully the choppy economic waters that followed.

Managing director Jeremy Dickinson passionately believes that high standards should be at the heart of any retailer selling an upmarket product such as cruise.

“You cannot sell a luxury product in a cheap way; you have got to do it properly, not extravagantly, and with the right amount of staff to give the service needed to people who are spending, £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000,” he said.

Staff are extremely important to Reader Offers. Indeed, underlining its focus on service, the company actually employs more people to deal with clients post-booking than in the core sales team.

This is backed up by a team of 14 marketing professionals who put together Reader Offers’ signature national newspaper adverts. These focus on the product rather than the price – a style that has been copied over the years by rivals.

Although returns on traditional press advertising are said to be diminishing, Reader Offers has stuck to its guns, maintaining its share of space in the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. It says it is a strategy that still works, despite cheaper options available online.

“On the web it just becomes a price war – the people who are successful online are those who stack them high, sell them cheap,” added Dickinson. “The national press is an expensive route to market, but it still works, it gets to the right people with the right message. There will always be cheaper ways, but they do not do the cruise justice.”

The move to Lexden House coincided with Reader Offers creating its own in-house staff awards programme, Signatures of Distinction, that culminates in an awards night for all 100 employees.

According to Dickinson this, and regular training sessions, is all about making sure Reader Offers is doing more than the bare minimum.

“We have built the infrastructure where we are doing training and development continuously. In terms of staff numbers, we have not grown so much over the last couple of years so we have consolidated the staff we have.”

A sign of this consolidation is that a large room at the top of Lexden House next to the staff kitchen continues to house pool tables and vending machines despite being wired up to accommodate more sales people.

If Reader Offers continues to expand its business as it has over the past year, it might not be long before this floor is occupied.

But Peter Beadles, the agency’s founder and chairman, who works two days a week to support Dickinson, insisted the 5% on offer from Carnival UK since last year’s commission cut is not enough to do the job properly.

“We have always understood the cruise lines want profitable partners. We are financially
secure and we want to stay that way, and to do that, we need to earn a sensible amount of money,” said Beadles.

“We want consumers who come to us and stay with us, and a key part of our job is using our expertise to direct people to the cruise that suits them best.

“New clients are expensive to find. We spend a lot on advertising and promotions so you want them to repeat with you so you get more than one sale out of them,” he added.

“We have always sold more at the top end of the market than the average agent. It’s fair to say when the commission rate changed, we
had to look at how we could continue to do that and make money.

“Other cruise lines saw an opportunity and so did 
we, so we
will continue to sell at the top end,” added Beadles.


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