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“There’s something surreal about seeing your “Peter immediately said ‘Yes Tony,


I’ll buy the business and you run it.’ It was that simple. He didn’t need to spend months or even days of doing due diligence.” Once the sale had gone through,


Bassett set to work on revitalising the store, but appearances were only one part of the problem. “We changed the name, redecorated the place, put in some new carpets, but everybody had seen the business on the decline – it was a dying duck,” he says. And in a small town of just 11,000


the shop’s degeneration was pronounced. Undeterred, Bassett has since become a well-known part of the local community, investing time and money in getting to know residents and reacquainting them with the new business. “We had to re-engage with the


community,” he says. “I came here and told people what we were doing.”


A tale of two professions Bassett credits his mixed professional background for having influenced the course of action at Sunninghill. He started at Lunn Poly in Trafalgar Square as a junior clerk before working in various independent agencies and eventually Thomson Holidays – where he first met sales manager Peter Kirk – until 1980. Bassett then decided it was time


for a change and leapt into IT, just a couple of years after the first successfully mass-marketed personal computer came out. At the age of 55, Bassett opted for


early retirement, but it didn’t last long. “I hated it,” he says. “I was bored out of my mind.” So in 2007 he bought a telecoms company. But within a year recession took hold of the UK and the business went bust. “I lost a lot of money – more than £100,000 of my own money – and when you’re in your late 50s it becomes very difficult to recover that. But you can’t afford to lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself for more than five minutes.” A desire to continue working and to recover some of the lost fortunes,


The travel agency has helped reinvigorate the high street


A new name was needed to re-engage the local community


five-year-old nephew in sole charge of a JCB” KATHERINE LAWREY CHECKS OUT DIGGERLAND, P33


a Sardinian resort is sending over one of its Michelin-starred chefs for three days of events in the village; two are already oversubscribed even though both dates and prices are still to be confirmed.


TechTalk


Company Name says xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx


Domestic drive Just Days Out is another part of the business, inspired by Kirk’s visit to York’s National Railway Museum for a special exhibition in July last year. He thought the local railway society might be interested in attending – in the end, eight coachloads of local residents booked on a tour. Building on the success of the event, Kirk and Bassett have organised day trips across the country, as well as a short weekend cruise to Guernsey, for clients in Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey. The day trip business is helping


the agency to expand its reach, as clients become familiar with both Bassett and Kirk who can cross-sell. The overall success of Sunninghill and its sister companies is inextricably linked to the duo who are attuned to the local clientele and their needs. “It’s addressing what the customers are looking for,” Bassett states. “We can shout from rooftops that we’ve had enormous growth and there’s a reason for it – there’s a mix of skills.” The business has come a long way


Bassett shares his passion for all things Italian with local chef Adriano


led him back into the world of travel, and to taking on Sunninghill with Kirk.


Diversifying the business Talk to Bassett for any length of time and it’s apparent that he has a passion for Italy. His maternal grandfather originates from Tuscany and he practises conversational Italian with Adriano at La Sorrentina. And now his love for the Latin country has transformed into part of the business. Tuscan Secrets, a sister company


Bassett and Kirk launched in January this year, started with twin-centre breaks combining Pisa and the island of Elba, and has now blossomed to


include tailor-made holidays throughout Italy. The company regularly takes a


small advert in Italia! magazine, and an Italian resort has offered Tuscan Secrets a prize giveaway, which has been given a double page spread, while Bassett also contributes editorial pieces around themes such as food and drink. In addition to this national


exposure, Bassett hasn’t dropped his focus on the local community. “We take over La Sorrentina for client evenings about three times a year and invite a tour operator to come along as a sponsor,” he says. “It fills up every time as soon as we announce it,” he says. In January


since Bassett and Kirk took over; it has become both profitable and developed into a local institution. “Since taking over we have


more than doubled the turnover and changed an ailing business into one making a profit,” he says. “Now as I walk through the village, customers acknowledge me, and other traders come along tap me on the shoulder and ask ‘how can we do this, how can we do that?’ We’ve developed a reputation for being innovative.” Adriano has his own theory on


the agency’s success: “I’ve only been here a year, but we have a turnover of 300-600 customers a week and 95% of them know Tony. You know what restaurants are like – they all talk here, but they speak highly of him. It’s a credit to him.”


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