Nathalie Thouvignon has switched from homeworking to open her own shop – in the same street her mum opened an agency in the 1970s. She explains how history has repeated itself
Q: What’s your family’s background in the travel industry?
A: My late mum Sandra used to have three travel agencies, one on the street where my agency is now. Before that she was a courier for Wallace Arnold and so was my dad. Both of them were in travel all their lives. My mum opened Airedale Travel in New Road Side, Leeds, in 1973.
Travel has always been in my blood. I worked for my parents from the late 1980s until the early 1990s when my mum decided to give up the business because the industry was changing, and the multiples were increasing. I spent about five years in advertising and marketing but decided to get back into travel. The money is not great, but it’s a lifestyle choice; you either love it or hate it.
Q: Why did you decide to stop homeworking and open on the high-street?
A: I was office-based. We converted our garage into an office for me to work in, but I wanted a shop front. A lot of my clients like to come in, look at brochures, and talk. If you have detailed itineraries you need to work through them and it gets lost in translation via email.
I put everything I had into opening a shop. The process has lasted more than two years and cost me thousands, but I feel it’s the right place to be. There was a need for an agency in this street and I would not have gone into this without an existing client base.
Q: Did you specifically set out to open a shop in the same street where your mum had an agency?
A: I wanted to be here [New Road Side, Leeds]. I wanted to go back to my roots and that’s the reason I took a leap of faith and did it. I had planned to do it [earlier] with my mum but sadly she passed away suddenly when I left Top Choice Holidays to become a homeworker. I am the only agency on the street, and my mum was too.
Q: How did you promote your shop when you opened a month ago?
A: I had an open weekend for clients to come in and gave away ‘golden tickets’ to collate email addresses. I had prizes from suppliers and £500 Holidays By Design vouchers. I changed the name of my business when I moved to the high-street from Your Travel Solutions to Holidays By Design so people could see what I do.
Q: How do you manage the shop on your own?
A: My daughter is 12 now, but I couldn’t have done this six or seven years ago; that’s why homeworking works for so many mums. It’s difficult to have a shop and kids because you are tied to opening hours and can’t be ill. You have to have a certain work ethic, which I have because I have worked in the family business.
The shop can be really busy for a few weeks but there’s peaks and troughs and I have a network of people to help me. A lot of people go into travel thinking it will be easy and glamorous, but it isn’t at all. It’s been tough and it takes a long time to build your client base. It’s all about trust and people wanting to come to you.
Q: What would your mum think?
A: My mum would be really proud of me. She’d love the shop. A lady came in the other day who told me her friend had worked for my mum. It’s so nice to think there are still local people who remember her.
2016 to date: Owner, Holidays By Design, Leeds
2014-2015: Started homeworking business Your Travel Solutions, Leeds
2013-2014: Homeworker, Designer Travel, Ramsbottom, Manchester
2005-2013: Travel adviser, Top Choice Holidays, Meanwood, Leeds
2002-2004: Manager, Co-op Travel, Leeds
1997-2002: Travel adviser, assistant manager, Going Places, Leeds
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