A Scouse entrepreneur has told the roller coaster story of how he made over a million dollars in sales before losing everything in the 2008 economic crash – before remaking his fortune to now lead his very own successful travel empire.
Starting from humble beginnings growing up in Wavertree, Paul Harrison’s mum once had to pawn her beloved sovereign necklace just to afford his school uniform.
Following decades of ups and downs, Paul, along with partner Steve Witt, are the founders of two multi-million pound franchise and travel businesses, The Travel Franchise and Not Just Travel. Together, they run an operation enabling hundreds of people to start work-from-home travel consultancies across the UK.
Paul said: “I have earned money most people would only dream of and I’ve lost it. It was shattering. I have built it all back, and more, through determination, experience and skills.
“I want to leave a legacy. I never want to go back.”
Safe to say, it’s not been an easy ride for Paul.
He said: “I didn’t do very well in school – I only got one GCSE, so my mum made me stay on for another year, when I got three more – so she let me off then.
“We just had a normal upbringing, really. I remember when I was about 10, going into Milton’s Pawnbrokers and my mum pawning her necklace to buy our uniforms.”
Straight out of school, Paul gained his first job in banking in 1989 at Wavertree Technology Park, where he would stay for around a decade.
He said: “I hated that job. I was just a number. It was horrendous with a rubbish salary and no time off. It lost me ten years of my life, but it got me going, I suppose.”
Having learnt about network marketing during his spare time while working at the bank, Paul soon caught the “entrepreneurial bug”. And it would be in network marketing – an ‘Avon-style’ business model relying on person-to-person sales by independent representatives – that he would soon make his fortune.
Three years after leaving the bank, Paul began working in holiday sales, and soon launched partnerships with Premier League football clubs, allowing him to launch Everton Holiday Club – offering fans cheaper travel and deals.
He was put in touch with other clubs such as Wolves and Preston North End – before a deal by travel giant Thomas Cook with the Football League in 2005 put an abrupt end to Paul’s first major business venture.
He said: “They did a deal so the clubs weren’t able to have a conflict of interests. It stopped the project in its tracks after only a few weeks. It was going well and had major potential – but was nipped in the bud before it could reach that.
“It was devastating. I’m an Evertonian, so to tell all of my mates ‘I run Everton Holiday Club’ and then for this to happen, I was gutted.”
Soon after, a concerned friend contacted Paul to invite him to join another network marketing company – this time for a US company selling a fuel catalyst pill to help reduce vehicle emissions.
“It was $500 to join,” Paul said, “but I didn’t even have $500. So I asked my mum in front of her mate Doreen if I could borrow it.
“My mum said no – as I already owed her money, but Doreen said ‘I’ll lend you it – use my credit card and I won’t get the bill for a few weeks’.”
Seven days on, and Paul had paid back the $500 to Doreen. A month later, he had made $2,000 – and within a year, $500,000. He would eventually make over $1m, with the job seeing him travel all over the world.
He said: “This was my big home run – it was incredible. I went to Brazil twice, and was a key note speaker in 12 cities there over a two-week trip. At one point I stood in the middle of the Amazon rain forest in a hotel with thousands of people trying to get my signature. I thought ‘if only my mates could see me now’ – it was mental.”
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To capitalise upon his newfound wealth, Paul, together with a business partner friend, and like many in the years prior to the financial crash of 2008, moved into property sales – buying up an entire apartment block in Spain. They soon sold dozens of units – making tens of thousands of pounds on each sale.
But around the same time as the global economic crisis, the Spanish property bubble, in which prices had grown astonishingly between 1996 and 2008, came to a swift end – and house prices plummeted.
The pair of budding investors lost everything.
Paul said he spent two weeks in bed crying, as depression “hit hard”.
He said: “I had been a millionaire on paper but I went into half a million pounds of debt – mainly to my mum and sister as I was borrowing money to keep the business going in the hope that all the apartments would complete.”
In that darkness, he met his now-wife Jo, and recalled spending one of their first dates eating fish fingers and canned carrots on the floor of his parent’s old house, which he had bought from them previously.
With a fresh lease of determination and Jo now by his side, the ever-determined Paul managed to pick himself up yet again.
He said: “I’d spent two weeks feeling sorry for myself then I just thought ‘You know what, I’ve done it before, so I’ll do it again. I know what to do – I’ve got the contacts, the knowledge, so I just need another business opportunity’.”
Not long after, Paul returned to network marketing and used his talent to increase European sales for the fuel catalyst company by almost 900%, gaining considerable commission and steadily building back the wealth he had lost.
Paul was still keen to branch out back into travel given previous disappointments, and in 2010, launched Not Just Travel and The Travel Franchise with his business partner, Steve.
Now a multi-million pound nationwide firm, the pair claim their business model is “different to anything else in the industry”. With headquarters in Bournemouth, it currently has over 750 franchisees working from home as travel consultants, aiming to provide “concierge-style” services at low prices.
The “all-encompassing” company supports franchisees, manages them, develops relationships and helps them find customers.
Together, the two firms employing 50 people in total have won multiple awards, and the entrepreneurs were recently recognised by Lloyds Bank as among the Top 50 most ambitious business leaders and “ones to watch”.
Paul said: “I never thought I’d bounce back that many times. It’s mad when you think about it.
“I was 27 when I left banking, earning £900 a month take home pay. I just hated it.
“I never believed I’d get this far, and it hasn’t been a straight line to success. It’s been mental, and taken me all over the world and it teaches you resilience.”
So will the latest bump in the road – the coronavirus pandemic – have a severe impact on the firm, like it has with multiple other travel companies?
Paul said: “It hasn’t been bad to be fair, because we’re not just a travel agency.
“Travel’s been one of the hardest hit industries, but because we’re a franchised business as well it hasn’t been so bad.
“We’re recruiting strongly right now as people know there’s going to be a rebound. You can’t cage 65m Brits for seven months and not expect them to go mental when they’re allowed out. Soon, there’s going to be a frenzy. People are getting ready for that, so business is quite strong at the moment. We are now so optimistic for the future.”