Oswestry businesswomen duo connect the dots to success


We all know that juggling family life with work life can be a daily battle for both Mums and Dads, top that with the pressure of sales and performance targets and soon enough you find yourself questioning your busy lifestyle and examining the flexibility offered by your employer for families.

Helen Johnson and Phillipa Wilcox, both aspired to be travel agents from a young age and their dreams became a reality at 17 where they both secured a place in the exciting travel industry on travel agent apprenticeship programmes.

They both worked hard and their career’s flourished with them both becoming successful travel agency managers working for two competing high street travel agency chains.  Over time they gained a mutual respect and as their families grew, they faced the same difficulties around the lack of flexible working.

Family commitments, school runs, and class assemblies were beginning to prove difficult to juggle as flexibility in the workplace was lacking, this prompted the duo to wonder if they could open their own Travel Agency in their loyal towns, providing themselves with a better blend of work and family life.
Whilst many high street travel agencies support flexible working Helen and Phillipa found that this was generally only available for those in non-managerial positions. Helen said, “It’s a choice that lots of women face, step down and go part time or if you want to retain the managerial position you worked hard to secure then continue to work full time”.

The pair understood the importance of choice and service after working for Tour Operator owned agencies in the past. Meaning they were extremely limited as to what they could offer customers with their current employer, something they both felt was not in the best interest of the holiday maker.

With that in mind, they chose to partner with Advantage Travel Consortium. As an Advantage member they had the independence and choice of over 300 Tour Operators matched with the same buying power as their larger competitors.

As customers were returning to the high street following Tour Operator collapse and natural disasters, it was time to bite the bullet, and with help from family, the ABTA bonded Polka Dot Travel brand was born in Oswestry in 2013.  Both Helen and Philippa ran the Oswestry branch until their success led to the opening of Polka Dot Travel Wrexham shortly after.

The bright and welcoming brand became a shining light on the high street, matched with its productivity on social media and exemplary customer service saw the brand go from strength to strength. Whereas the dream was initially to have one successful shop, the duo’s aspirations along with requests from other local business owners asking ‘Can you open in our town’ led to 3, 4, 5 stores and eventually they had their sights set on a chain of agencies.

Helen's husband, Mark Johnson joined the business as a third Director, encouraging the pair to expand the business further. Marks keen eye for suitable units, gaps on the high street along with a conscious growth strategy has helped Helen and Phillipa turbo charge the brand to further success. They now have a strong 18 branches across the North West, Wales, Shropshire and Staffordshire. Growth plans do not end there, and they now aim to have 30 Polka Dot Travel branches by the end of 2020 in their preferred locations and have picked up several prestigious industry awards.

The principles on which the business was created are still very much a part of the business today and they pride themselves on a flexible and friendly outlook when it comes to family coming first.

They continue to offer flexible working hours and a compassionate approach to employees in all positions, understanding that the benefits of a content workforce with a happy work life balance are crucial to the continued success of the business.

As one of the fastest growing independent travel agents in the UK, the award-winning brand continues to believe that the quality of service received by its customers is the companies most valuable asset, and that this women led business will continue to buck the trend on the High Street.

Pictured: Phillipa Wilcox and Helen Johnson.

  • Published on 3rd February 2020