Hays Travel in talks to buy two more retailers

By Linsey McNeill
Home » Hays Travel in talks to buy two more retailers

Hays Travel Chair Dame Irene Hays has revealed the company is negotiating to buy two more retail businesses as part of its expansion plans.

Dame Irene said both companies are ‘relatively small’,  but she said that if the acquisitions go ahead, they will help to plug some of the gaps in Hays’ retail network.

“We still have lots of gaps in retail which we intend to fill both strategically and reactively,” she said. “One of the acquisitions we are looking at at the moment is strategic and one is a reaction to a business wanting to downsize.”

Speaking at the Hays Travel annual conference in Bodrum, Turkey, Dame Irene said the company was replenishing its war chest so that it has enough money to buy another business ‘without asking anyone for a penny’.

Hays bought Thomas Cook’s retail chain in October 2019 without any borrowing, and Dame Irene told the conference that ‘as it stands, Hays has never used a loan in its 43 years and we have not one penny of debt’.

Not all of the 550 Thomas Cook shops were retained by Hays for variety of reasons, including issues with the leases, extensive dilapidations or they were in ‘the wrong part of town’, but the remainder collectively turned a profit for the first time in February this year.

‘They thought we were country bumpkins’

“In 2019 people thought we were mad; they thought we were country bumpkins; they thought we didn’t understand the high street was in decline,” said Dame Irene.

She added: “We always knew that because Thomas Cook employed great people and had a fantastic training programme, it was not the people that was the problem.

“We looked at Thomas Cook’s numbers and we looked at ours and we knew that if we plugged Thomas Cook into the Hays’ business model it would work.

“Thomas Cook had expensive offices, expensive people and a multi-layered management structure. At Hays, there’s just us (the Board directors) and the people who sell holidays. When we looked at the salaries Thomas Cook was paying across lots of different management levels, we knew we could turn it around.”

Hays has since bought homeworking franchise Explorer and 20-shop Tailor Made Travel.

It made a £14.35m profit in the last financial year to the end of April after losing £34.5m during the 18 months of the pandemic.

“Our balance sheet was incredibly strong going into the pandemic, it’s growing again, but we need to replenish it because it’s still £20m down,” added Dame Irene.

In addition to looking at further acquisitions, Hays has embarked on a programme of renovating and refurbishing the Thomas Cook shops over the next 36 months, and rolling out digital screens to its 467 stores ahead of the launch of its peaks marketing campaign.

Hays also has plans to revamp. its website, which Dame Irene described as ‘tired, not user-friendly’, although she stressed the retailer has no plans to become a big OTA.

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