Entrepreneurs Steve Witt and Paul Harrison didn’t know each other at the time, but when both invested in a friend’s overseas property company and were left thousands in debt in 2010, they teamed up for the next opportunity.
The co-founders have since built a multimillion pound travel business by training hundreds of people with no previous experience in sales or travel and turning them into homeworking, concierge-style travel agents.
“Adversity often spurs you on,” recalls Witt. “It gave us a lot of life lessons about patience and how business works to make better decisions.”
Dubbed "the entrepreneur factory", Not Just Travel disrupts the high street offer alongside its recruitment arm, The Travel Franchise. It is now, says Witt, a very significant nine-figure turnover business.
Franchisees are also seeing the benefits. Take Ami Wood, a mother-of-two who quit her "boring" job in accounts after two decades and launched her business last January. She made £50,000 in sales in her first week and has just hit the £1.5m sales mark, according to the company.
“Naively when we started we thought it would be easy,” says Witt. “The only place I had been to was Lanzarote. We had limited training and support and so when we turned our travel business into a franchise company 12 years later we took those lessons and knew there was a better way to do it.
“Today, you don’t need lots of experience to make it work. You just have to have a passion for travel and everything else can be taught. Attitude can’t be taught, skills can.
“We needed to do it in such a way that you could take anyone off the street and turn them into a successful entrepreneur. Hopefully we have proved that model works pretty well.”
Witt had first created UKDomains, one of the first virtual hosting companies, in 1998, the likes of Freeserve and Demon Internet telling him his subscription business model would never succeed. He later sold the UK's fourth-largest domain names company for an undisclosed sum in 2007.
Witt had originally launched his travel business the day before 9/11. The company had been one of the top Teletext advertisers but Witt and Harrison, having later joined in 2009, were both hungry for more opportunities. “I’m the shy retiring one, Paul is the loud salesperson so to speak. Inside our core beliefs are identical,” Witt says of their business partnership.
Launching a franchise gave them more ways to grow and diversity. Originally Witt had used a 2,000 sq ft warehouse as an office in Bournemouth, wiping condensation off computers and huddled around one heater. It came at a time when every holiday they sold, 10 more brochures were sent to the office. “We were selling up to 40 holidays a day and the warehouse became a dumping ground for brochures,” smiles Witt.
Word of mouth subsequently saw locals turn up to the warehouse wanting to book holidays as opposed to their local travel agent. Witt soon acquired a cafe in the middle of a business park and converted it into the company’s first travel agency.
They then hit upon the right package, messaging and price point after several years testing their franchise programmes. “It snowballed and that allowed us to build the story of the success of the business,” adds Witt, a former windsurfing champion and firefighter.
“Most who join are individuals and operate under their own. Our business model is simple and we suggest by starting out with friends and family, not by making life difficult and attracting a whole new cold audience."
The recruitment arm now has over 1,000 franchises and is officially the highest-ranked travel franchise in the UK. Witt also believes they are the number one franchise across industries in terms of the numbers sold per month.
“Travel is a fun industry," says Witt, "but for us it’s the buzz of seeing someone come in, perhaps mums who are coming back to work or even their first career, to see them join the business and evolve and learn new skills.”
The pair’s travel business — they are finalists in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2023 — now has 90 staff, more than double over the last 12 months. Witt says around 2,000 people are making enquiries looking for home working opportunities, while it recruited 140 franchisees during the pandemic, at a time when no one was travelling.
Witt says: “It shows the hunger for people to do something like this. People are so interested in taking control of their own destiny. Some will take years to decide it’s for them, some will take days.”
Behind the brand: Co-founder Steve Witt on…
A franchise network
“You can launch things that much quicker and get more enthusiasm and buy in from home operators than potentially you would from employed sales people.
It’s the excitement of being self employed but having that template to follow to give you that confidence. Whether it’s travel or any franchise, it’s a proven model and it’s nice to have the hand-holding experience and the excitement of being your own boss."
“It’s not until you hit challenges until you learn how to be a leader. You don’t get it right all the time, but when you are surrounded by 90 staff and hundreds of travel consultants all looking to you for inspiration, you have to figure it out pretty quickly.”
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