Cole set up Cruise118 with former colleague Mal Barritt after turning down positions at Thomas Cook. "They merged with our previous company, MyTravel," says Cole. "But we didn’t want to have to move down to Peterborough. We decided to set up a cruise retail business instead."
Armed with a little black book and £1m worth of funding from their own funds, investors, a small firms loan guarantee from the bank and an enterprise investment from the government, Cole and Barritt set about striking deals with all the major cruise liners.
"We finally launched in July," says Cole. "I used to run the cruise operation for MyTravel so my contacts were invaluable. But we also had a massive differentiator that made us stand out from the crowd: customer service."
It sounds like the same old marketing puff. But, for once, this Chorley-based firm is on the level. "We decided to go for a ‘concierge’ system," says Cole. "This makes sure that our customers are properly catered for. They speak to the same customer concierge from beginning to end. None of this speaking to five different people – it’s back to old fashioned values."
The proof is in the numbers. Over ten per cent of all bookings result in unsolicited feedback – all positive. Just take a look at the "About Us" section of the Cruise118 webiste: the testimonials go on, and on, and on.
"Our customer ratings are in the high nineties," says Cole. "Our repeat booking levels are exceptional. Cruises are especially popular in a recession. Because of their all-inclusive nature, people know eactly what they’re getting for their money."
Cruise118 turned over £1m in its first six weeks and the firm is on course to make a profit this year. "Margins are very good," says Cole. "I’m very pleased with unit margins. And, despite the downturn, we’ve seen a lot of interest in six-star cruises. We’ve just launched sixstarcruises.co.uk to cater for the demand."