As a family owned British Countrywear brand, Hoggs of Fife started making top quality leather footwear for the local Farming and Fieldsports community over 130 Years ago and have gradually built the brand and extended the collections so that today, they have a great reputation for providing hard wearing, good value clothing footwear and accessories across the globe. Paul Andrews spoke to fourth generation Managing Director Robert Gibson to find out more.
When was the business founded?
What does it do?
We provide good value and fit for purpose clothing and footwear, predominantly for people who live and work in the countryside, but really for anyone who is enthusiastic about outdoor life.
Tell me a little about the history of the business?
The business was started by Andrew Hogg, a cobbler, in the small Fife village of Strathmiglo. Initially he made boots and shoes for the country folk of Fife, but soon this expanded to all corners of the UK, as he was an early pioneer of the concept of supplying goods by post. After his passing (in 1928), the business evolved into high street retailing, and then in the 1970’s, responded to a demand from other retailers, by opening its own trade business. Clothing had been added to the Hoggs of Fife product range in the 1950’s, so this combination of hard wearing country clothing, as well as the established range of footwear, became very popular with country retailers across the UK.
What generation are you and what are your first memories of the family business?
I am 4th generation. I guess my first memories are when my father would bring home boxes of catalogues, for us to ‘stick and stuff’ before being delivered to the post office for despatch to the thousands of customers on the company’s database.
I also remember the beginnings of our Trade business, when I worked helping to pick orders in our very first warehouse (which was a disused cinema, whose only claim to fame was that it had held the Scottish premier of the film Brigadoon!).
I remember my father telling me how important it was that everything carrying the Hoggs of Fife name, whether it be the product or a catalogue, should be fit for purpose and presented professionally, with all the details correct.
Are there any other family members working in the business?
Although she hasn’t settled on a career path yet, my eldest daughter has begun working part-time in the business.
How important was the business in your life as you grew up?
To be honest, in my early years, the business was more ‘something my dad did’ and living on the family farm, I was influenced more by farming, as a child. Of course, this background was to help enormously in my understanding of the wider country market, as my interest in the business developed later on.
What was your journey into the family business and what do you do now?
I studied with a local accountancy firm and, on leaving, took up a supposedly temporary job in the business, and never left. I got the bug! I’m now the 4th generation of the family to run the business.
As a long standing family firm, what has helped your firm stand the test of time?
Although we realise that the value of a brand name stands a business in good stead, we have never tried to take advantage of this fact by becoming greedy. We have always believed in making sure that the price we charge properly reflects the worth of the product. In some ways, our brand name stands for honesty, fairness and trust and hopefully this is how our customers view us.
What values are important to the family and the business?
As stated above, honesty and trustworthiness are important to us. At Hoggs of Fife we also have local responsibilities to make sure we keep safe the jobs and livelihoods of the people who work for us, as well as wider responsibilities to try and take the correct environmental and ethical decisions.
Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?
Only very marginally, as we still think talking about the quality and value of the product is what is most important. It’s not really in the Scottish psyche to talk about yourself! More recently however we have begun to understand the importance of letting people know who we are, and trying to share our heritage with our customers, by including this is our point of sale, catalogues and social media.
What do you think makes working in a family business special?
Not having to be concerned about following corporate rules and procedures, just for their sake alone. Everything we do has to have a clear reason and end goal.
Are there any disadvantages associated with working in a family business?
There can be long hours as well as extra responsibilities to other people such as to our employees.
Have you taken any particular steps in terms of governance to help protect the business for the future?
We make sure that we are not in debt and never take risks with the future of the business, always growing organically in small manageable steps. Maintaining a good reputation in the marketplace, for the quality and endurance of our products, is of course the best way to assure the future of the business is looked after. And having the right people in place in key positions is also vital.
Is there a next generation in the wings?
There may be, but it is too early yet to say. As mentioned above, the eldest of my daughters is working part time in the business, and my youngest is in the middle of a business degree, but it is too early yet to know where their careers will take them.
What advice would you give to anyone in the next generation considering joining their family firm?
Be prepared to learn on the ‘shop floor’ about how the business works, and to experience as many aspects of the business as possible, so that you have the respect of all your colleagues in the business. Remember also that without loyal customers, there would be no business, and never take our customers for granted.
If you could talk to your younger self before you joined the business, what would you say?
Be prepared to learn from those already in the business, and don’t think you automatically ‘know it all’
Work hard but also try and leave business at work, and have time to unwind and relax.
If you could sum up the family business in three words, what would they be?
Effort, achievement, satisfaction.