Insights

Beyond the high street: meet the ex-retail agents now running their own successful travel businesses

The UK high street was dealt a further blow recently, as news broke of another travel giant's plan for the phased closure of more than 30 of its 562 UK retail stores over the coming 12 months. Whilst bosses were at pains to point out that the move was about having the right retail offering in the right locations, assuring staff they would be redeployed in other stores, agents will nonetheless be worried about their jobs, and some will start to consider other options.

We spoke to Leeds-base Natalie Varley, who had worked on the high street for 20 years before becoming a Travel Counsellor.

‘I’d worked my way up from the shop floor to Branch Manager over the course of my career, but I suddenly found myself facing a fundamental change to my contract, just three months after returning to work after having my second child,’ says Natalie. ‘I’d gone back part-time, but new contracts were introduced, which effectively made my working hours impossible for me to do,’ she recounts, ‘so I had to leave to find another job, which I did, at a bank. But 18 months later, I knew that I just couldn’t continue with the commute, the hours, the targets - which were just as restrictive at the bank as when I was running the shop.'

‘I was friendly with Sarah Smith,’ continues Natalie, ‘who I knew was already running a successful business as a Travel Counsellor. Sarah really encouraged me to think about coming back to travel and running my own business, so I signed up to attend a Discovery Day to find out more. I loved it, and my business went live in January 2018.’

‘I started with no customers, but my business is going really well’ enthuses Natalie. ‘My friends and family were really supportive, which is important. My Dad ran his own successful business, so he encouraged me to see the fantastic opportunities that come with being self-employed’, she explains. ‘Plus, I really love the fact that all the bookings I’m making are directly benefitting me and my family now’, she says, ‘No more making money for other people, who always want a bit more out of you, no matter how well you do, or which target you’ve smashed!

You need to have faith in yourself and understand that your skills and talents can be used in another environment, not just where you happen to be working now,’ she explains. ‘Everyone has the potential; you just have to overcome the fear factor and realise that you are worth more - that you can succeed in running your own business. There is life after retail!’ she adds.

‘I adore the fact that I manage my own time and can be completely flexible.‘I’ve got two children and my daughter Ruby, who is ten, has a poorly heart. Now that I’m a Travel Counsellor, I can take whatever time I need to attend hospital appointments or meetings with Ruby - there’s no need for me to ask for time off work, or to try to race back to the shop every time, feeling guilty. Plus, I’m now able to volunteer for two charities that are really close to my heart - the Make a Wish Foundation, and the Children’s Heart Surgery charity here in Leeds.

It means the world to me to finally be able to give back to the organisations that have helped my daughter so much’, says Natalie, ‘but when I worked in retail, there was no way I could commit the time’, she says. ‘You just can’t find that kind of flexibility anywhere on the high street!’

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‘I absolutely love being a Travel Counsellor. The support I get - both with my business, but also with my needs around Ruby - is amazing; I couldn’t ask for more. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and my only regret is that I do genuinely wish I’d joined Travel Counsellors sooner!’

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