Sharon Fleming, director of Thompson Travel International
Grab every opportunity – that has become a bit of a motto for me, especially this year.
Richard Branson once said: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
And that is exactly how our diversification from travel agent to grocery store owner happened.
Our agency is on the outskirts of Portadown in Northern Ireland, and for the past 25 years we’ve worked hard to ensure our customers keep coming back to us and continue to book.
Earlier this year, an empty shop next door proved the ideal opportunity for us to bring new customers to our travel agency – and to try something new. We opened our own Costcutter franchise.
If you’d have asked me five years ago whether I would ever own another business, I think this would have been the last one that would have sprung to mind. It’s been an exciting opportunity – and there are a lot of similarities between the two sectors.
Choosing the right suppliers for the Costcutter is no different from choosing the right ones in travel. It’s just a different product.
The Pepsi challenge
‘Open all hours’ and ‘a free cruise with every sandwich’ have been among the jibes from my lovely travel colleagues since we opened the Costcutter. It has been great fun juggling the latest cruise deal with the cost of a six-pack of Pepsi.
We’ve been simultaneously managing both businesses, but luckily the day-to-day running of the Costcutter has been down to my husband, while I remain focused on the agency.
It has turned out to be a perfect balance and we’re successfully juggling both ventures.
The footfall has benefited both businesses. Those coming in to talk about their holidays often end up popping next door to buy a few bits and vice versa.
Chatting to customers in both shops has brought new business to the agency and all of our travel customers are keen to support our new venture.
Putting staff first has been my policy for nearly 25 years and they, in turn, look after my customers. This is now the case for both businesses.
Once you have mastered the skills of delegation and teamwork in one business, it is easy to apply them to another.
The key is to work smarter, not harder. Networking with suppliers from a different industry has given us travel bookings, new media platforms and a new customer base.
Our grocery store offers non-perishable food, with some fresh produce and a bakery section. We focus on low-fat and gluten-free fresh foods to give us something a little different.
Nowadays you need to specialise to give you that edge over your competitors. The risk is low, and in a way, it’s a lot like the travel sector, as we are the third party for both businesses.
We will celebrate our 25th year in the travel industry in 2017 and our first in the grocery trade.
So if there is a vacant property next door, and you want that extra footfall, I’d recommend trying something new. What’s holding you back?
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