Special Report: New dawn for Baldwins Travel under new ownership

Owner of Inc&Co tells Lucy Huxley about his plans for the agency and how it could form part of a new broader travel group

Jack Mason, 31, is founder and chief executive of Inc & Co Capital, a company that describes itself as a “business collective which is building a dynamic portfolio of retail, property, digital, food & beverage and logistics brands”.

Three weeks ago, it added travel to that list.

Inc & Co bought Baldwins Travel, the 126-year-old, award-winning retail agency chain boasting eight branches in Kent and East Sussex.

More: Baldwins Travel owner plans ‘super-brand’ role for agency

The deal saw Inc & Co take 100% ownership of the miniple, with director brothers Nick Marks and Chris Marks staying on as managing and commercial director respectively.

It also saved the jobs of all 52 staff, brought everyone back from furlough immediately and reopened all stores.

Inc & Co was only founded in 2019. The name derives from its guiding principle of being “inclusive and collaborative”. Its website says: “It’s what our name stands for but also what we stand by.”

Mason told Travel Weekly: “My background is digital marketing and tech but I had an idea to create a business collective supporting businesses with their top-level strategies, such as marketing, HR, recruitment, finance and sales, allowing them to focus on their core services and products.”

Alongside business partners Dave Antrobus and Scott Dillon, Mason’s initial aim was to acquire “ambitious digital agencies”. That was certainly the format for the company’s first six months, supporting growth in the team to 23 people.

But then Covid hit and, over the past 18 months, Inc & Co has diversified into sectors such as commercial property, logistics, retail and food & beverage.

Its brands now include salad bar Chop’d, dry-cleaning app Laundrapp, oat milk brand Gut Instinct and luggage label Knomo, to name but a few.

“I never thought we’d go into retail, but we now have a number of brands so have established Inc Retail Group,” said Mason.

And travel was always on his radar. Mason said he had been known to take more than a dozen holidays a year, and had dreamed of owning his own hotel – something now achieved having just bought his first, in Turkey.

‘Great fit’

Owning a travel agency chain, however, was not a target – but he was approached to invest to support Baldwins through the pandemic.

“Our creative director Ben Perman lives in Tunbridge Wells, where Baldwins is based, and knew what a good brand and business they are,” said Mason.

“After several conversations with Nick and Chris, we realised we could absolutely fit Baldwins into our business model. There were synergies that meant it would work perfectly.

“Their team is at the forefront of their business and they have a close connection with their customers.

“It’s an old family business which works for us because we like to acquire a business and bring the leadership team on board to run it. We don’t hyper-manage; we just give businesses a new lease of life.”

The first thing Inc & Co did was pay off all Baldwins’ debt.

“We paid off their CBILS loan (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme), all their customer refunds and their suppliers. They are now debt-free,” said Mason. “Most businesses in travel will be saddled with loads of debts for a long time to come, but we have made sure Nick and Chris can get on with running their business without that stress.”

Inc & Co is also looking to install new technology to facilitate online bookings so Baldwins can “attract a new, perhaps younger, audience”, he continued.

And it has more ambitious growth plans. These involve extending the Baldwins brand beyond the southeast and into new travel and retail concepts. These ambitions would support the formation of another division, Inc Travel Group, within the overall business.

Scope for expansion

Baldwins managing director Nick Marks said: “The Marks family have really just been the custodians of the Baldwins brand since 1991. To get Inc & Co to come in as the new custodians and move the business forward is very exciting. Baldwins has always been part of a family; now it’s just part of a larger family and to bring our team along on this journey is amazing.

“The opportunities now available for growing into other areas are huge.

“We always wanted to do it, but just didn’t have the resources. For example, before Covid we had two people in marketing; Inc & Co has 35. We are going to be able to do so much more and that’s extremely exciting.”

Marks stressed nothing would change for existing customers.

“We don’t want to change the ethos of Baldwins Travel. We’ve got an older generation of people that use us and we’re not going to change what works. But we can add bits on to get new business,” he said.

“The core of Baldwins will always remain, though – and that is all about service, both in our leisure and corporate businesses. Our high levels of service will stay the same.”

Inc & Co’s designers are already preparing to “spruce up” the branches to “make them into destinations where people want to go to book a holiday”, said Mason.

It is also going on a “hiring spree”, looking for “at least seven” new recruits to join the team.

“But with everything that’s going on, that could be more,” Mason added.

Corporate travel

Inc & Co is also targeting growth in Baldwins’ corporate travel arm.

“We want to expand the business travel side more rapidly over the next 18 months,” he said. “Businesses haven’t been able to travel and suppliers need to see their customers. There’s going to be an influx of people wanting to travel again – they’ve all got Zoom fatigue and face-to-face meetings are going to be vital.”

Marks said that prediction was already being borne out.

“The world is opening up and we’re doing a lot of work with our corporate clients,” he said.

Mason added: “We have lots of exciting plans but we’re in this for the long game. It’s going to be a struggle coming out of the pandemic if you’re on your own, so having a support network is crucial.

“Working collaboratively within our group, and creating an end-to-end experience for our customers, make sense. It’s such an exciting time. People are not going to stop travelling – in fact, it’s going to boom – and we have a lot of years ahead of us to make this a success.”

More: Baldwins Travel owner plans ‘super-brand’ role for agency

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