Alison Shaw was named leisure manager of the year at the Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Awards 2015. Here she explains what it takes to win one of the industry’s top accolades.
Q. Were you nervous about being interviewed by a panel of judges after being nominated for the award of leisure manager of the year?
A. I didn’t think about it; I just went for it. The way I looked at it, I had to be myself and take it in my stride. Deep down, I wanted to win. It was a hot day and they were firing questions at me but I talked about my sales performance, trading since I took over the Hempstead Valley store and my experiences. I was totally honest – it all came from the heart about why I am so passionate about my job.
Q. What was it like receiving the award on the night?
A. It was one of those ‘is this really happening?’ moments. I had to wait until 11.15pm and I was sitting next to Salman Sayed [Thomas Cook UK managing director], who was desperate to see whether I had won as Thomas Cook had already picked up three awards. I was so proud of myself and my team. My peers got me here; if it wasn’t for my area manager believing in me, I wouldn’t have won this.
Q. You were tasked with turning around your store’s fortunes three years ago. What did you do?
A. When I took over, I needed to revolutionise the store. It wasn’t performing exceptionally well. We are open to the public from 9am until 8pm and there were seven shift patterns. We realigned them to three. We undertook one-to-ones with staff – there are 26 under me – on what they wanted and what we needed to do. We started with the basics: getting to know customers better. We shared our customer service experiences and that helped boost morale and taught us what to do next time. There was a bit of pain, but we lost only one person. Once they started to see the results coming through, they could see it was reaping rewards. We are now in a good position and one of the top sales performers in the south for Thomas Cook. But we still have a long way to go.
Q. What makes a good manager?
A. It’s knowing individual staff. I understand what makes my staff tick. Some are motivated by money, some by selling holidays. We do a lot of team-building and go out together. In the first year, I spent a lot of time looking at how to motivate staff. I tried to get as many on educationals as possible.
Q. What success stories have you had at your agency?
A. We ‘took over’ Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre on a Saturday to run a holiday fair. We had 16 tour operators promoting their holidays in the mall. We had Jamie Johnson from The Voice speaking, recommending Thomas Cook over the public address system. We charged operators and did a lot of press activity to promote it. The operators’ staff would take people back to our store to book and enjoy a glass of Buck’s Fizz. We had people who had never booked with us who said they’d heard about it on the radio. You wouldn’t believe the buzz it created. It was shattering but it was very rewarding – and we’re doing it again next year.
Q. What makes you get up and feel so enthused about going to work every day?
A. Every day is different – that makes me get up in the morning. I wonder what will happen and how we will achieve our goals.
Alison’s sales tips:
Believe in yourself:
Have the courage of your convictions. Failure is not an option
Don’t be afraid to say no:
Making a decision that your team does not like can be justified if it gets the right results
Lead by example:
It’s the best way of gaining the respect of your team
2012 to date: store manager and deputy area business manager, Thomas Cook, Gillingham, Kent
2010-12: multi-site manager, Thomas Cook, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
2006-09: business development manager for Kent, Surrey, Sussex and London, Sandals Resorts
2005-06: business executive for southeast England, Stena Line
2001-05: store manager, Thomas Cook, Chequers Shopping Centre, Maidstone
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