Strictly Business: Amanda Matthews, Designer Travel

I got into travel… by doing a travel and tourism course at college while working a full-time job at WHSmith Travel in Coventry. I then moved to Travelcentre in Rugby, which got taken over by the Co-op. I became one of the youngest managers at 18 and worked my way up to regional manager, operations director and eventually managing director, where I was responsible for running 500 shops and call centres.

I set up the company... with my then-colleague Karen Pocock in 2008. United NorWest Co-op merged with the Co-operative Group and there was an opportunity for us both to take a good redundancy package. I’d always wanted to work for myself. We sat in Hyde Park in London and talked about how it was going to be so easy – little did we know! We started with a shop in Ramsbottom in Manchester, which we still have, and a couple of homeworkers. We’ve now grown to about 105 homeworkers and have an additional admin centre in Ramsbottom.

We grew our reputation… on recommendations. We saw an opportunity to go into the luxury market, where service was still a valued commodity. Because we weren’t going for mass volume, we never did any big campaigns to recruit loads of people; we’ve grown steadily over 13 years and it’s nearly all been on word of mouth. We turn away more people than we take because we are looking for people who want to promote luxury holidays in a way that is aligned with our values.

The area of the business growing the most is… our homeworking division. It’s continued to grow in the last two years as we took people on from Thomas Cook and during the pandemic. The retail shop is going from strength to strength, but our plan is to continue to grow our team of home-based agents.

We adapted to the pandemic by… having a glass-half-full mindset. We’ve ramped up our social media and marketing and found new ways to encourage people to commit to booking. And because of that, we have done millions of pounds’ worth of business, we’ve got loads of forward bookings and retained a lot of what was impacted. Don’t get me wrong, we’re up against [the success of] 2019 and it’s been hard mentally as well as from a business perspective, but in everything that we do, we’ve got to look on the bright side.

My proudest career achievement is... Finding a job that I love. The Co-op gave me an amazing foundation to achieve what Karen and I have at Designer Travel. I say to my kids that if you find something you love, it doesn't feel like work.  

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