Rachel Thomson is the Managing Director of Humes Outfitters in Kelso in the Scottish Borders, taking on the independent e-tailor in 2020 at the age of 28.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Founded in 1929, by Arch Hume the business grew from a gentleman’s tailoring business to country retailer both physically and online. My background was Scottish manufacturing, having worked at William Lockie, a business that produces some of the finest knitwear and cashmere in the world and I understood quality product, wholesale and different marketplaces across the globe.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Taking on a business on with a 95-year history isn’t as easy some would think, with the world changing at a rate of knots, getting this business to last another 95 years and secure it for the future generations is big shoes to fill.
How did you achieve awareness?
Firstly, we did a big exercise on who our customer was and who we were as a business. Much of the business had been led on gut feeling to this point and while it had steered it well, I was about to make some big changes and I wanted the security that they were calculated risk. Our biggest initial exercise in achieving awareness was the launch of a mail order catalogue, our customer was older in age profile and not only this, we had just entered a global pandemic where the advice was…stay at home, so I thought how do I get Humes into their homes. We rebranded to stand out more, and implemented that across many facets of the business to grown awareness mainly packaging. We also started social advertising. Sometimes when you are long established, you are slower to come to new things, but thinking about it, if I were starting Humes from scratch today then I would start with social media, so it had to be a main factor in our growth strategy.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We took advantage of the CBILS initiative during COVID to fund many of our growth strategies initially, before they were returning.
What are the key successes?
We have grown turnover and profits since taking over the business, grown our percentage of repeat customers online and now have a successful mail order catalogue going out 3 times a year with an average ROI of 12.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Our biggest challenge remains being a house of brands. Not controlling our own product and being beholding to the supply and behaviour of others. We are working to overcome these by building our own brand, offering different and unique services and really trying to own customer service.
What are your plans now/for the future?
One of our biggest plans for the future would include more retail stores, and within those stores expanding out our offering from men’s and ladies clothing and footwear to childrenswear, homeware and food and drink…a one stop shop.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
It is one of the most rewarding things and can unlock growth in yourself as a person like nothing else.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
I think people underestimate the strength involved in starting something new, that is your own and your responsibility. Surround yourself with good peoples, who’s opinions and comments will challenge you to grow. Try and drown out the opinions of those who are only trying to bring you down. It is a brave thing to do to start your entrepreneurship journey and who is around you is important.
Remember you don’t have to be the best at everything in your business, for myself personally, allowing people to do the jobs they were best at freed me up to work on the business rather than in it. We put pressure on ourselves that as the owner or manager we have to know everything and be able to do everything, an understanding and a handle of what is going on is important, but you don’t have to be the best at it.
Control the controllables – don’t waste time and energy worrying or trying to solve things that are out of your control. Control the things you can. Ok this is the hand I’ve been dealt how can I make the most out of this. It is my mantra. E.g. a global pandemic is going to force us into closing our stores – can’t control this, what I can control is creating a catalogue to reach them at home.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My dad – as a business leader himself much of what I have learnt is from him, he has never treated me as young, inexperienced or a woman, but an equal and I carry that with me when I work with others.
My mum – who is not a business leader but has taught me how to believe in myself, the importance of emotion and empathy which at times in business we are led to believe are signs of weakness, she showed me these are signs of strength.
Queen Elizabeth – Unwavering service and sacrifice for her role.
Kate Bush – she fought for who she was and took charge of her career and the decisions in it.
Chrissie Rucker – founder of The White Company and someone I aspire to in terms of how she built a brand.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails – Dolly Parton
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