If you’ve been keeping an eye on our blog, or have visited the Newmarket Holidays Facebook page recently, you’ll know that we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary. But have you ever wondered how it all began? And what it was like? During the celebrations, we were lucky enough to find a quiet corner to sit down with company founders and current directors Jeremy Griffin and Toni Frei, to find out ‘the way things used to be’.
Thanks for taking the time to do this. You’ve been working together for a long time now, but when and how did you meet?
TF: We met in 1977 – Jeremy came to stay at a flat I shared for two weeks, and stayed for six months!
Where did the idea for the ‘Newmarket model’ come from?
TF: Jeremy and T [Teresa Taylor, current UK Product Director] had adopted the idea of ‘reader holidays’ while at Grand Metropolitan Hotels, and Jeremy ‘imported it’ to the fledgling Newmarket.
JG: I can remember a series of long evenings sitting in Youngs pubs, with me drinking pints of Ordinary, and Toni – who thought he had the stronger constitution – drinking pints of Mixed, discussing the same idea over and over. And it seemed quite a good idea, but it was really when Toni came back from a holiday to America and announced “I’ve quit my job” that I realised we were really going to take the leap and try to make this happen.
Why that particular name for the company?
TF: Lost in the mists of time, but we thought we were entering a “new market”… and we were!
Any customers who have popped in to see us recently will have noticed our shiny new reception area. But what was the first Newmarket office actually like?
TF: It was a flat in Putney with one telephone – an extension line. Jeremy worked in the bedroom, and I worked at the dining room table that still serves as my office desk today.
JG: I think I worked in the dining room and Toni in the bedroom, but it was a long time ago…
What was the first holiday Newmarket offered, and how many people went on it?
TF: It was a weekend in Paris in May 1983. From memory some 41 people joined, all readers of ‘Ms London’ magazine. It was a great success, but my girlfriend [now wife!] and I had to pay to join the tour ourselves in order that we didn’t lose money on the very first trip!
Newmarket has sold many different holiday packages over the years, to a lot of different destinations, but which is your favourite?
TF: Paris. No question.
What are your fondest (or funniest, or both!) memories from Newmarket over the last 30 years?
TF: Too many to mention, but the early sight of Jeremy trying to extricate himself from the wrath of two ladies that we had sent on a day trip to France when it was closed (it was a major Bank Holiday) springs to mind. Thankfully things are better organised now!
JG: Many years ago, sending coach groups to see the bulbfields of Lincolnshire only to discover that the tulips had all been cut just before our customers arrived! Fondest – even though it sounds obvious – is the accumulation of the loyalty and hard work put in by the Newmarket team every day for the past 30 years, and the tremendous loyalty of our customers. Without them Newmarket would not have stood the test of time.
Obviously the company has grown and changed a lot over the three decades. What, in your view, are the major milestones on that journey?
TF: Number one, Simon’s involvement from the beginning [original and current Managing Director, Simon Hibbs]. Without his financial control, we wouldn’t have lasted six months. His joining us in 1984 was the very best thing that happened. T and Adrian [Adrian Barry, current Sales Director] joining in 1985, Evelyne [Evelyne Badaire-Reeve, current Hotels Director] in ’86, Phil [Phil O’Sullivan, current Group Marketing Director] in 1990, and a whole host of others too numerous to mention – without that brilliant team, we would be nowhere today.
More recently, the embracing of the digital age in 2007 (later than most, I know) and the arrival of the website marked another major milestone. From that standing start we’ve reached a point where ‘online’ is now 30 per cent of our business.
Three decades ago you started a company that has weathered five Prime Ministers, multiple recessions, 9/11 and a volcanic eruption (among other things!) in a single unbroken run. That alone is quite an achievement, but what about Newmarket makes you most proud?
TF: The people who work here and the literally millions of happy customers who have enjoyed our holidays over the years.
Where would you like to think Newmarket will be as a company in another 30 years?
TF: Still here, though I doubt I’ll be alive to see it! If I keep cycling I just might!