"Who's had their fingers in my Piccalilli?"
We never did find out. But we do know that when you ask for stories about Sharron Roat, you get tales of pickle pilferers, pranks and underwear, and real admiration for the contribution she makes as a colleague and a friend.
She joined us as Senior Travel Consultant in 1994 and she's now the Manager, so this is an anniversary worth celebrating.
In Julian Abbott's words: “That’s longer than most marriages - and happier. In fact, we probably spend more time together than most couples. We know each other as well as our own family and we have seldom had cross words.”
Does she remember getting the job?
"I had to stay local and wanted to work for an independent. I spotted an ad in the travel trade press, typed up my CV that night. I was interviewed the next day."
And the first impressions of Julian?
"His blue eyes! Seriously - I knew there was a lot to do and I had a good feeling about him and the office."
Julian remembers that day and asking himself if she could do it.
"On offering her the job I said I would be taking a huge risk," he recalls.
Sharron had been away for seven years, raising her family, but as Julian says, "Deep down I knew she would be a very valuable member of the team."
He was right. They formed a partnership that took a successful business to a new level. Sharron brought some of the tricks of her previous West End job to the high street.
Back then, the business was different...
"It was still pick 'a' or 'b' from a brochure. We had to write airline tickets and calculate fares manually! The internet revolutionised everything so we had to keep up, to be able to guide people. We reinvented ourselves into more of a luxury, tailor-made agency without really knowing it."
“She treats the business like her own,” says Julian. “I have never been concerned about leaving her in charge. She takes the reins and tells me only what I need to know. There is nothing but full trust and respect.”
When asked to cite another quality, Julian says: "Her ability to network and build strong business relationships with suppliers."
"I understand the value of networking and enhancing relationships," she says. "Never more so than when problems need to be dealt with. It is so important to get out there and connect with people. I consider that to be a vital part of what we do and to the business. So much hard work has gone in over the years, especially to keep things going through recessions and keep our levels of service at the forefront."
It's a huge part of the job, working with the team to keep updated and in touch with clients and suppliers, mirroring Julian's ceaseless commitment to the business.
Sharron proved her worth. So when Julian broke his leg and the previous manager gave him an ultimatum, “it’s me or Sharron”, there was only one clear option: “It will always be Sharron.”
Needless to say, Julian has never questioned his decision. Yet that still makes it sound too easy.
“Sharron is a fantastic Manager. She contributes so much," says Shelley.
Rose agrees, remembering having to administer pain relief when Sharron decided to work despite a fused disc in her neck.
“Sharron has never let circumstances, personal or otherwise, deter her from giving her best at work, always displaying admirable stoicism and determination. We could all learn from her meticulous attention to detail and her unwavering 'quest for the best' whether at home or at work… and she does a mean job of cleaning the kitchen."
Julie's first encounter, at her own interview, took place with Sharron on crutches after breaking her hip in Hong Kong but insisting the show must go on.
That doesn't always work.
"We had to sit a travel-related exam in two parts", says Julian. "The first was for all members of staff and the second was just for myself and Sharron. Guess who failed having spent every night for a week prior to the exam revising?
"I have never let her live it down!"
Leanne is a former colleague who gave us both the piccalilli story and another angle: mentorship. Sharron shares her knowledge, insight and fussy tea drinking habits with everyone.
"She was my mentor at Abbotts," says Leanne, "and customers often mistook us for being mother-daughter. Sorry, I mean sisters! I honestly think she is one of the best agents in the business. Some of her customers have been with her from the beginning and this really highlights how fantastic she is at her job!"
Julie echoes this, saying: "Her attention to detail and very high standards certainly help to make Abbotts Travel the successful busy agent that it is today and her excellent management skills have helped me no end with confidence and product knowledge."
"I remember her taking me under her wing and being patient with the new girl," laughs Sophie.
Carly had a great first impression: "I remember being so nervous and, if I’m completely honest, scared of Sharron. I could tell she was a very strong character and an extremely hard worker, and when something needed to be done I would jump on it straight away to avoid getting told off! Now I see all the hard work she puts into networking for Abbotts Travel, arranging training and client nights. I don’t think we realise just how much work goes into these events - getting suppliers and companies on board - but through Sharron’s networking and our reputation they are dying to get through the door."
Nicky couldn’t agree more: “I worked with Sharron many years ago and came back to the office last October. Sharron is exactly the same in her work ethic. They say people slow down as they get older, but not in Sharron’s case. She is a little rocket.”
Hollie works from home, but even she appreciates Sharron’s tenacious approach.
“Danny put me on the staff email list so I could keep in the loop with what’s happening in the office. My inbox is usually bursting with emails from Sharron. From networking events, to travel offers, or a fruit selection for the team and cream cakes in the fridge. Sharron doesn’t miss a beat and it didn’t take much time to realise that she loves her job and absolutely adores the team.”
Danny takes it further.
“Sharron is one of the most determined people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Her strength, resolve and drive to get the best out of herself and on behalf of clients, colleagues and for the company is admirable. She is one of life’s doers. The way she has coped with adversity and personal setbacks over recent years is an inspiration. She is a queen event (and people) organiser.”
Enough with the praise...
"She speaks so loudly on the phone that people in Sainsbury's can probably hear her," admits Julian.
"Every time she bends over you get a flash of her knickers," added two of the team, so it must be true.
"She walks way too fast," claims Leanne.
“‘Waiting For Sharron’ is high on my list of potential book titles,” says Danny.
One last story says it all, and will resonate with many.
"She used to deal with Mr and Mrs [name redacted], who were the customers from hell," says Julian with a shiver.
"She would have to write out the luggage labels, request a hardboard for the bed, make sure only a certain member of staff would meet and greet them in Tenerife. They once threatened to cancel because Sharron wasn’t present to write out their luggage labels, or the design of the ticket wallet had changed since the previous year. And they wouldn’t travel on any other day than a Friday because of the wife's bowel movements."
Oh, the glamour.
A final question: Sharron, do you still get a buzz out of the job?
"I love it. Every single day I get a major buzz from what I do and I never thought I would say that. I am extremely lucky – I wake up and want to go to work. I have total pride and passion for and in the company.
I am fiercely protective of my staff and want them to succeed and grow. Travel is also such a great education – there is so much to learn.
"I get the biggest buzz from a satisfied client when their trip has had no glitches and they have great experiences and memories – nothing gives me more pleasure."
Not even your sterling work as grandma to Dudley the dog?
“She used to hate dogs,” claims Julian. “Dudley and Polly (Abbotts resident pooch) changed her into a dog lover.”
What could be more exciting than honouring Sharron’s 25th year with Abbotts Travel? Learning that she is expecting to be grandma to a human baby in November!
Congratulations Mrs Roat - here's to the next 25 years!
The Abbotts Travel Family