Getting to know the family behind Dawson & Sanderson
Established in 1962, Dawson & Sanderson is still a family-run business, and family involvement remains at the core of the company.
Here Tom Dawson, founder, Graham Chambers, and David Chambers talk about the importance of family representation within the business, the company restructure, and how the future looks for Dawson & Sanderson.
Dawson & Sanderson is one of the North East’s most well-known names in travel. How did it all begin?
Tom: I worked down the mines in Ashington, and I used to book for my family to go to France every year to visit our family and friends. I purchased the flights from a local man who sold travel out of his house, paid the deposit, and, closer to the departure date, discovered he had not booked my flights.
The nearest travel agent to Ashington was in Newcastle. Due to the gap in the market, I decided to open a travel agent in Ashington to ensure everyone in the local community could securely book holidays.
How has Dawson & Sanderson grown into the successful travel business it is today?
Tom: Once the business grew and became profitable, I opened shops in Morpeth and Blyth, so the business covered a more significant portion of the region. From there, I brought one of the previous managing directors into the business, who had a great deal of experience in the industry, and we were then able to expand the business to cover the North of England.
The main success of the business is down to our customers as they have always been very loyal to the brand, and we have seen bookings continue through multiple generations of families in the towns and cities we are based. In addition, we have always been fortunate with our loyal and experienced staff, who have been an integral part of growing the business into what it is today.
Have the core values of the business changed over the years?
David: The company's core values have never changed, and the fact that we are a family-run business remains at the heart of the company. Every member of the Dawson & Sanderson team is part of the family and there is always an open door for anyone in the company to discuss anything, no matter how big or small.
We always have, and always will, ensure our customers get the perfect holiday that they deserve. We pride ourselves on our outstanding, award-winning customer service, which will always be a core value we monitor and improve upon.
Tom: The core values have remained the same since we opened. We value customer service, trust, and treating every staff member as part of the family.
How have changes in the travel industry and consumer buying habits changed the shape of business over the last 60 years?
David: Over the last 10-15 years, consumer buying habits have changed due to the accessibility of travel products online. As a company, we have had to create an easy-to-use website for package holidays, and this is an area we are continuously looking at improving and investing in.
Although the Internet has taken a considerable share of the market, we feel customers do not get the same level of service online as they do in-store. Travel agents are there for the customers from start to finish and there is always someone available to speak to at any time during the entire holiday process.
Many people may find working with family members difficult. How do you manage to work closely with each other?
Graham: Given the recent climate post-covid, it is even more important now to work closely together and achieve the goals we set for each other. With regard to family working together, we all have our areas of expertise and trust each other's processes.
David: Although we all work within the same business, we work in different departments. This allows us to concentrate on our specific areas of expertise without having any conflict in decision-making. When any major business decision is made, the entire family and board are involved, and with a great working relationship between both parties, a final decision is always agreed upon.
Besides the family involvement, there is a strong leadership team in place. What qualities does the new leadership team bring to the company?
Graham: As well as the family involvement, over the last 12 months, we have restructured major elements at a senior level, including bringing in a new Managing Director, Annelene Hutton, which we see as a natural progression. This has helped take the business forward and ensures the company is in a strong position to evolve further over the coming years.
David: Our leadership team is extremely strong, and we now have a range of strengths across all business areas. When all of these strengths come together, the best ideas and decisions can be made.
How important is family representation in the company and on the board of directors?
David: Family representation on the board of directors is extremely important to us so that they are aware of every decision and understand how the business is performing. The family are spoken to daily about what is happening within the business, and any questions they may have are always answered before we proceed with any changes.
Graham: We have such a proactive MD overseeing the restructuring transition and a loyal and experienced team. Including family members at the board level allows significant changes to be carried out in line with the strong core family values of the last 60 years and ensure everyone is part of the new and exciting direction of Dawson & Sanderson.
Besides the retail business, what other businesses do you run?
Tom: I have had a few businesses other than the holiday retail business, but we currently have our corporate travel division, foreign exchange division, and Longhirst Golf Course. I wanted to build a golf course where anyone from any background could join and enjoy a round of golf.
I used to travel to Florida often to play golf and loved the style of the course and noticed that we didn't have anything similar in the Northumberland area, so I decided to build one!
David: The core of Dawson & Sanderson is, of course, the holiday retail business, however, there are three other divisions of the company. We have our foreign exchange division which provides the best exchange rates for our retail customers as well as other customers who come to us for foreign currency. We also have a corporate travel division that provides many businesses locally and nationally with travel deals to suit their needs, and we have Longhirst Golf Club.
Graham: Away from the travel side of things, we have Longhirst Hall Golf Club just outside Morpeth in Northumberland, established in 1997 after Tom took up golf. The club has since grown into two championship courses, a driving range, and a clubhouse and has also hosted the PGA Europro Tour on Sky TV for nine years.
How is Dawson & Sanderson transitioning through the generations to secure the future?
Graham: With the changes made over the last 12 months, it seemed a perfect opportunity to have David step up from his previous role in the business to work closely with Annelene. The long-term plan is for David to handle the company's running to preserve his Grandad's business ethos and help Dawson & Sanderson evolve.
David: We continuously work with some of the biggest operators in the industry to ensure that we put all of our efforts in the right place to attract customers of all demographics. The average age of our customers is increasing but young professionals with busy lives use us as we make finding and booking a holiday much easier and save them a lot of time and effort.
Modernising our marketing has also been an essential step as we want to inspire all demographics to book the best value holidays with us, so we have moved to image-led email marketing, which always has the best deals going on that day.
What does the next 60 years look like for Dawson & Sanderson?
David: We are planning for the next 60 years to be just as successful, if not more successful, than the previous 60 years. We have a fantastic business foundation with a huge customer retention rate and a well-known brand.
We have been recruiting recently, bringing highly experienced people to our team to help modernise the look, feel, and processes of the company both internally and externally across all departments, including IT, accounts, marketing, digital, commercials, and sales.
All of these changes are helping to transition the business to a very positive place readying the team for future growth.