There were whoops of delight as travel agency staff were told their boss would be awarding them a cash bonus - with of them planning to treat themselves to a holiday.
Hays Travel has confirmed its turnover this year has topped £1billion, with each of its workers to be gifted £100 for each full year they have worked for the firm as of the end of last month.
It comes as the firm told the Echo it will make Gilbridge House in Keel Square its new head office after signing the deal last week.
John Hays broke the news as he returned to his shop in Church Street, Seaham, where he launched his venture in 1980 with a counter in the back of his mother Peggy’s children’s wear store.
Among the staff to benefit from the bonus is branch manager Sharon Clyde, 44, from Seaham.
She started at the shop after leaving Seaham School and even met her future husband, now 51, as he cleaned windows in the street as she waited to start her first day of work.
It’s a great thank you for all the hard work, which was started here by John, and it makes you proud for the customers you serve.Sharon Clyde
Sharon, who plans to take her husband and their daughter Anna, eight, on a summer holiday said: “I sort-of knew the billion pound was coming and it’s a brilliant achievement, but when it came to the bonus, I was absolutely blown away.
“It’s a great thank you for all the hard work, which was started here by John, and it makes you proud for the customers you serve.”
Jonathon Woodall, 28, from Peterlee, signed up as an apprentice after leaving Shotton Hall school in 2004, and is now group head of commercial.
“I knew what today was for, but I didn’t know John was going to do for the staff,” said Jonathon, whose partner Leighton Johnston, 28, is a travel cruise partner for Hays.
“I was shocked, I didn’t know about it at all.
“I think we’re going to look at going to the Philippines.”
Gabrielle Hogg, 24, from Hetton, joined as an apprentice six years ago.
She said: “It’s a nice place to work, everyone is so friendly, we’re like a family.
“When we were told, I was buzzing, I couldn’t believe it.”
Mr Hays said of the £1billion milestone: “It’s amazing really, from starting off here in Seaham. “I was always ambitious and I always knew I wanted more than one shop, but if you’d asked me all those years ago, I would have no idea that 10 years ago it would become the largest independent travel agent - and it still is.”
Of the bonus, he said: “When I saw the faces of the people, they were just absolutely delighted.
“It was my idea, because there are a lot of people who have been with us for a long time, many since school, and I wanted to thank them for their dedication.”
Customers will also be in line for a share of the celebratory cash, with £10,000 up for grabs during this week through a prize draw of £1,000 in holiday vouchers per winner.
LOOKING BACK TO HOW IT ALL STARTED
1980 - John Hays opens a travel agent counter at the back of his mother Peggy’s childrenswear shop in Church Street, known to many as the Ladybird shop because of the brand of clothing and the small ride it had outside
1982 - A second shop is opened in Vine Place in Sunderland, where its head office stands today
1984 - A third shop opens in Washington
1987 - Expansion plans see it run seven shops across the North East
1990 - The first Hays Travel call centre opens
1995 - Hays Travel Independence Group is formed
1997 - The company introduces homeworking
2006 - Hays Travel is recognised by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 best companies to work for in the UK
2008 - John Hays is honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Agent Achievement Awards
2009 - John Hays picks up the outstanding achievement award at the Globes
2010 - The company marks 30 years in the business as its boss is inaugurated into the British Travel Industry Hall of Fame
2012 - Annual sales reach £500 million
2013 - The firm acquires Bath Travel, the south of England’s largest independent travel agency
2014 - The company expands into the North West with 17 shops in partnership with Just Go
2016 - John Hays is awarded the Freedom of the City by Sunderland as it makes the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to work for list again
2018 - As it hit its £1billion annual turnover, it now has five call centres, more than 220 home workers and employes more than 1,600 members of staff.