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A love for travel leads to The Travel Franchise

  • Name: Matt and Ashley Phillips
  • Location: Lincoln
  • Franchise: The Travel Franchise – (Not Just Travel is customer-facing brand) Date launched the franchise: April 2022

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying your The Travel Franchise business?

Matt: We had always worked in the corporate world for big blue-chip companies but, when Ashley had a massive car accident and had a near-death moment in 2017, we realised we had had enough working long hours for other people. We wanted to invest our time in our own business and began looking for something to buy.

We looked at all different sectors and random businesses from B&Bs and pubs to catteries and kennels. In the end, as we have worked a lot in hospitality, we decided to buy a fish and chip shop in the Lake District.

Ashley: Our friends thought we were mad because we sold our house in two days and gave up really good jobs in the city in 2018, putting everything we had into it. We ended up having multiple fish and chip shops and two mobile vans, and even won an award for the second best chippy out of 10,500 shops in the UK. After three-and-a-half years we sold the business, took some time out to do some travelling and realised that travel was what we’d like to do next.  

Why did you go down the franchise route?

Matt: You are your own boss, it is your own business, and you’ve got the autonomy to put your own stamp on it. But you have those training wheels there at the beginning and can take them off at your speed. We don’t really need any business help but we do need training in travel, also having the branding, buying power and infrastructure of a large business backing us gives us a much better position in the market.

What made you choose the travel industry? 

Ashley: We are passionate about travel. Lots of our friends come to us for advice for holidays anyway, so when we came across The Travel Franchise we thought, why don’t we offer it as a service and make it a business?

And why did you choose The Travel Franchise?

Ashley: We like the brand. The training and support that The Travel Franchise/Not Just Travel (NJT) offers, and the fact NJT is geared towards those that are new to the travel industry. 

How did you raise the finance?

Ashley: We sold the fish and chip businesses, which gave us the money to buy the franchise and book a few nice holidays for first-hand experience.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?

Matt: There is an initial online induction which at the time took a week, and then plenty of ongoing training. For example, I try to do one or two webinars every working day and Ashley might do one in the evenings. We have got a couple of FAM trips from them and find them really insightful and engaging. As for support, NJT Business Development Managers are on standby to help, plus other consultants are always ready to talk about their experience and give some advice. Travel suppliers are also really helpful and will happily do a lot of the legwork creating itineraries in destinations that you may not know inside out. 

How would you describe your day-to-day role

Matt: No two days are the same, but we try to be as structured and organised as we can. We keep a diary listing all the essential jobs for the day which include customer calls, holiday research, webinars, social media and fitting in unexpected enquiries too. I work full time and Ashley works 2-3 days a week but will be full time soon. As we are new to travel we do a lot of webinars to improve our knowledge of the trade. We always say you have to chalk your hands up to climb the mountain, and build up your knowledge bank to be as informed as possible. We also travel a lot on FAM (familiarisation) trips with NJT and its travel suppliers. The good thing is you can still work while you are away. I took five bookings while I was in Vietnam recently. 

What challenges have you had to overcome? And what are your key successes to date 

Ashley: At the beginning it was finding customers. As we don’t have a massive friends and family base we literally 'opened shop' so to speak with nobody, so for us we had to use different techniques to find customers. Things like leaflet drops and posting on various social media. However, NJT tells you how to grow your customer base and as you gather momentum you get repeat customers. NJT has a Money Back Challenge whereby you get your franchise fee back if you reach a certain amount of bookings in a year. We are around 80 per cent there after just 8 months so we must be doing quite well. 

Has becoming a franchisee/travel consultant changed your life, if so how?

Matt: We are always abroad! We just returned from Iceland which was phenomenal. Prior to that we were on the NJT (Cruise Mastery) cruise onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s luxury NCL Norwegian Prima ship. In three weeks’ time we are going to Mexico, January we are off to New York for a serious shopping trip, then in late 2023 we are going on safari in South Africa and on two more cruises. We love to travel and it’s easier to sell somewhere that you’ve been – you’re simply more informed and passionate about the destination.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

Matt: I tend to start around 8.30am after walking the dog. I need to physically go out of the house to then come back into my office with my NJT hoody on in order to get into ‘work mode’. I stop for lunch and normally finish around 5.30pm but we are available for customers outside of those hours if they really need us and sometimes work in the evenings. As it’s our business, it’s down to us how much we do…  initially you have to work hard to build a customer base and anyone wanting to do well in any business has to put in the hours to start with. However, moving forward it’s important not to get burned out. We have got better at not working all hours but we are always on hand for our clients if they need us.

Can you tell us about any community involvement? 

We have various Partner in Travel charities, such as a LGBTQ rugby club, local charities, and the Lincoln Football Club. We think it’s really important.

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give someone looking to buy their first franchise?

Ashley: If you have passion for something, do it! 

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?  

Matt: Passion for the business, whatever that is. Plus, the grass is greener the side you water… the more effort you put into a business the more it will grow. A successful business does not fall into your lap. It is incredibly rare that you don’t have to put in a lot of hard graft.

It’s not necessarily the money you put into a franchise business, but the time you are prepared to spend improving your own expertise and knowledge. 

What are your plans for the future?

Matt: More holidays and customers!

The next goal is for Ashley to come onboard full time and, in the long term, to move abroad and to keep working from overseas.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?

Matt and Ash: Nothing, we live by the choices we make that seem right at the time. No point in second guessing and thinking what could have been.

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