A COMPANY that started out as a tiny travel agents 15 years ago now has an annual turnover of £120million.

Reader Offers opened in Colchester’s East Hill in 1995. It now sells cruise holidays to hundreds of thousands of people each year, by advertising in the national press.

The company takes 500 to 600 calls a day and employs 122 people at its head office, at Lexden House, London Road, Lexden.

It is also the fourth biggest newspaper advertiser in the UK, behind Tesco, Morrisons and Asda.

Chairman Peter Beadles got the idea for the business after he started advertising holidays in local newspapers.

He said: “It just seemed like a good idea to specialise in cruises, so we concentrated on a couple of ships and started to promote them in the regional papers. It became apparent if we wanted the space in the position we wanted it, we would have to pay for it. From the beginning, our view was to try to give the client the full information about the cruise on the page.”

By 2005, the company’s annual turnover had increased to £12million, and it decided to specialise in the cruise market, which was blossoming in the UK and Europe.

Mr Beadles brought in Jeremy Dickinson to take over some of the management of the company.

He said: “That took the cork out of the bottle. I was the person stopping the business going any further because I did everything.

“He took over marketing to start with and between 2005 and 2010, we went from £12million to £120million – a ten-fold increase in sales.

Most of the growth was while the company was still based in East Hill.

Last year it moved to Lexden and its new upmarket office features croquet lawns, table football and picnic areas.

Its customers hail from across the UK. Each couple spend on average £4,000 on their cruise holiday and the company is the leading seller of Cunard cruises in the world.

However, although the core of its business has traditionally been affluent retired couples, it has experienced a boom in demand for family cruises in recent years.

Mr Beadles said: “Nowadays, the bigger ships have unbelievable facilities. They are a resort in themselves. You can do rock climbing, there are shopping centres.

“As everything is included, they have to be incredibly competitive, so the standard of service is amazing.”

Such is the company’s success, it was one of few to see growth in the recession. Business was up 20 per cent for Reader Offers during the economic downturn.

Yet he believes the company is still little known in Colchester.

He said: “If you went out and asked 100 people in Colchester whether they had heard of us, you would be lucky to find one person who had.

“We want to attract people and staff locally and put something back into the community.”

To raise its profile, Reader Offers has become the main sponsor of Colchester United, as well as giving its backing to schools and other community sports clubs. Plans for the future include doubling the size of the business, from £120million to £250million, in the next five years.