On the up · 30 November 2015

Family business series: A Hume Country Clothing and its quest for “exemplary” customer service

A Humes, Kelso, Scotland
Archie Hume with his wife Karen have grown their company together

Ahead of Small Business Saturday on 5 December 2015, Business Advice is running a family business special series – hearing from companies around the country about why joining forces with family members can be a powerful thing. First up is A Hume Country Clothing.

Statistics from American Express, which is the principal supporter of Small Business Saturday, show that over half (57 per cent) of small businesses employ family members and on average 16 new family businesses open every day. Furthermore, six in ten Brits would consider going into business with a relative and joining forces with a partner or spouse (44 per cent) was the most popular choice.

A Hume Country Clothing is a third generation family run shop currently owned by Archie Hume with his wife Karen, and has been on Kelso Square since 1929.

Archie’s grandfather opened A Hume in 1929, originally as a tailor where men could get their clothing made. All suits and jackets were made-to-measure in-house by his team of five highly-specialised tailors using the finest tweeds and cloths – a service the shop still offers to this day.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s when Archie’s father, Jock Hume, took over that ready-to-wear collections were introduced to the traditional tailoring business. Jock ran the business until 1987 when, following his passing, Archie took over at the age of 23. In 2007 Archie’s wife Karen joined the company to develop the online business and launch A Hume’s first ladies wear range.

Archie said: “Without local businesses, villages and towns will lose their individual character that makes them so special. Shopping small is a way to ensure the high street continues to be vibrant.

“We’ve found that people are looking for individuality so we stock artisan brands not readily available, because customers want to look different. We’re also passionate about supporting our local suppliers and stock local brands.

Karen added: “We work well as a family business. I’m the operational one working behind the scenes, while Archie is creative and customer facing – we know to keep out of each other’s space! Everyone in the A Hume team is passionate about what we do and will always go above and beyond for our customers.”

When asked how the industry has changed over the years, Archie explained that competition is tougher and the business has to make sure it stocks brands not readily available on the high street, as well as ensuring the retailer offers “exemplary” customer service. “It is more important than ever that our staff go the extra mile for our customers. We have had to embrace technology to stay ahead of the game as customers expect a multichannel retail operation and we have to cater for all,” he explained.

On the subject of enjoying the process of running the business, and deciding on its direction, he mentioned the challenge of being successful in a competitive marketplace but says it all comes down to having the drive to succeed and do something for yourself. The feeling of satisfaction when an idea you have had comes to fruition and helps grow the business.

In our interview, we asked about the benefit of operating as a family business that other companies don’t enjoy. He said: “We control all decision making and how we invest in the business.  With a small tight-knit team, we can be agile in our project work and what we prioritise. Decisions can be made quickly and action taken as we do not have to seek approval from layers of management.

But on topic of drawbacks, he added that there is always a fear of failure if a bad decision was to be made – as that failure would be their responsibility. “Ensure you have clear responsibilities within the business and are strict to adhere to them,” he added. “Keep work at work and do not discuss the business during leisure time.”

With Small Business Saturday appearing for the third consecutive year on 5 December, we wanted to know why promotion of family businesses throughout the UK.

Karen said: “Many consumers shun retail chains and independent retailers need to really raise their game and see this as a huge opportunity. Small Business Saturday is a fantastic way to show what independent retailers can do to enhance a consumers shopping experience by offering products,  service add ons and exemplary customer service resulting in an amazing experience for the consumer who will in turn become a loyal customer.”

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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