Opinion: Thomas Cook's cluster management plan could lead to more store closures

Opinion: Thomas Cook's cluster management plan could lead to more store closures

Miles Morgan, a former Tui boss and now owner of his own high street chain, says previous attempts by big companies to bring in a cluster model have been tried and failed

Three Thomas Cook agents’ jobs have been saved recently and by the time you read this they will be running the newest branch of Miles Morgan Travel in Abergavenny, Wales.

Thomas Cook’s loss is my gain. Other independent retailers will no doubt also be benefiting. To me, the opportunity to recruit such knowledgeable, experienced and professional staff clinched the deal for my latest shop.

But I worry about what will happen to Thomas Cook on the high street. My fear is that Cook’s decision to restructure and employ cluster managers, overseeing several high street branches, will not work effectively.

The company is already losing a lot of its best staff as a result of this reorganisation because they had to do something to cut costs quickly. I understand that.

Very few larger companies have not tried the cluster model at some point or other. Any consultant brought in to assess ways to cut costs will suggest this – but it doesn’t work. We tried it only as a small trial at Thomson. You stretch people too thinly and they do an ineffective job overseeing several shops.

These poor managers are floating around different shops, some with very large geographical patches to cover, which is hard and requires very different skills to running a single branch.

Meanwhile, the assistant managers are effectively managing the shops. However, there’s a reason they were not appointed managers in the first place – because they are not ready for the step up.

What galls me most is that I believe this restructure will lead to more Thomas Cook agency closures on the high street. The ailing high street and online retailers will be blamed by Thomas Cook for these closures when in fact it’s nothing to do with that – it’s the way it’s being managed and the loss of phenomenal numbers of talented staff.

They could be bitter but, in my experience, they are not: they are passionate about Thomas Cook and very sad to be leaving.

The high street is not in decline – there’s been a move back to the high street from online where customers have been disillusioned.

Online service levels are not as personal, so people are moving back to get the old-fashioned levels of service face-to-face.

I firmly believe high street agents have the edge: they can be online, with a great website to pull in customers, while offering a face‑to-face service to back it up.

Retail travel on the high street is all about the people behind the desks. I invited my new staff to meet the builder at our new store to help with the shop fit and generally involve them in what will become their shop. Making them feel involved makes a difference in keeping, happy, motivated and loyal staff.

It was great to see them so excited on the eve of the opening. I have every confidence they are what will make this new shop a success, and it’s a delight to have them on board.


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