Interview with Rachel Thomson, Managing Director of Humes Outfitters

Read our interview with Rachel Thomson, Managing Director of Humes Outfitters, and find out how she has made a big impact in the business during the last three years.

While weathering the Covid storm, she won the Draper Rising Star Award in 2021 and led the brand to win the Drapers Multichannel Independent of the Year in 2021 and 2022.

What’s your career background?

After studying Psychology at Edinburgh University I moved back to my home town to join the knitwear industry. Hawick, a small town in the Scottish Borders has been home to textile manufacturing since the 18th Century and has a reputation for producing some of the highest quality cashmere and knitwear on the market today.

I joined the long-established William Lockie with a view to working in their sales department, however along the way carved myself a role in marketing. The company to that point had no look books or brochures, up to date imagery, social media or communication around it’s fantastic history. A gap that I filled, which was a huge learning experience as I had little to no experience in this area, but thoroughly enjoyed it.

At the end of January 2020, my family bought A Hume Country Clothing, a business with two retail shops and online business based in another small town in the Scottish Borders, Kelso. Little did we know at that point that six weeks in, the entire country would be in lockdown and the shops would be closed.

Needless to say there were a few sleepless nights around the uncertainty of the future of the business at that point. After a few months of lockdown, our online business began to pick up and from there we were able to motor on with the big plans we had entered the business with. 

How does it feel to have won Drapers Rising Star in 2021?

I was thrilled to even be recognised by Drapers as part of their Rising Star nominees and to win the award really was a pinch me moment.

It was a confidence boost that I needed at that point, having made a fair few changes to the business since taking it on, the pat on the back from the leading publication in our sector allowed me to move forward and keep progressing in the way I had been to that point.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

The demographic of our customer is slightly older and so in the first year of having the business we launched a mail order catalogue, the concept was a coffee table catalogue, one that had a sophisticated, stylish look and feel that could sit in homes for months or even years.

We carried out all of the work in house including design and worked with a local printer to produce the catalogue. The initial one went out to 40,000 people and due to its success in 2021 we followed it up with another Autumn/Winter Catalogue and a Christmas Gifting Catalogue.

Again, due to their success, in 2022 we did our first Spring/Summer catalogue along with the other two. It is clear our customer appreciates a more traditional form of communication and appreciate it is printed on sustainable paper. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Truthfully, coming in as a new owner/management into a third generation family business was difficult, especially in such a small town. It was tricky to put my own stamp on something that had been rowing in the same direction under the same ownership for a long time.

I had to really play the long game. Things along the way helped, putting more of our stamp on social media, styling photoshoots, changing photographer to one I worked with at William Lockie, growing our own product offering and in particular re-branding. It was important that the business still spoke about and was proud about its heritage but finding the right balance between that and moving it forward in my own way.

And your proudest moment so far?

There have been a few. I loved getting that first catalogue in my hands, opening our new ladies store and winning our Drapers Awards. But honestly, it was a moment on my own, close to 18 months in, and I just thought ‘I am doing this’.

There were so many times before I came to Humes where my heart would sink and I would think I am not going to be able to do this, and even in those initial weeks, that horrible feeling of being out of my depth. I was proud for getting myself to a point where I could run this business, and confidently. 

Why is work so important to you?

I think it is important to distinguish between why work is important from an owner/management point of view and a personal one:

  • From an owner/manager: Work is important for the staff, the team, the local community, and economy.
  • Personally: I love structure, I love collaborating, I love growing and I love seeing others grow.

What does your typical working day look like?

This is a difficult one. I don’t essentially have a typical working day. But what I do is manage my time so that I can be efficient and productive. I thrive off to do lists.

Generally, my day-to-day role covers staff management, email marketing, social media, blogging, working with all three of our digital marketing agencies on a weekly basis, buying, communicating with brands, working with our e-commerce platform, catalogues and photoshoots.

I do at points spend time on the shopfloor, speak to customers on the phone and via email, it is important to keep touch with all of these aspects to listen to what our customers are saying.

Who inspires you?

My dad. He has been the Managing Director of a knitwear manufacturer for 30 plus years. His knowledge of textiles, brands, fashion, quality and retail are so invaluable.

The qualities I admire the most in him are his work ethic, the man never stops working so incredibly hard and his ability to allow others around him to try new things, bringing in people around him with better skills in different areas than he and allowing them to flourish.

He is always looking at the bigger picture, a perspective I believe has led him to 30 plus successful years managing 125 workers, he doesn’t get bogged down in the day to day. He inspires me constantly and I feel fortunate to have had this influence for my whole life. 

How do you balance your work with your family/leisure time?

It is tricky, but something as time goes on I am finding easier to do. Many believe that to have or run a business you should be committing to a life sentence of late nights, early mornings and long days. Don’t get me wrong, they happen still, a lot, but we have made a conscious effort in the last two years to work smarter, not harder.

Letting our systems do the things they were built to do, delegating, recruiting so that when we are in the office, we are focused on the things that will make a difference. 

I work with my husband and so the above is difficult. A lot of people talk about work/life balance, but what is that in reality? We have a more fluid approach, we talk about work at home, in the car, over dinner out. This might be controversial in today’s world, but it is our passion and quite often is the times when we have the most inspiring conversations about work.

But equally, we can sit in the car in silence, we can be engrossed in a tv programme, or lost in a conversation about the dream house we would like to build. We don’t put pressure on the work/life balance and at the moment that works for us.

We do work hard that ensuring time away from the office is spent doing productive things, like seeing our family, friends, working out, taking the dogs for a walk. It can be easy to balance work with doing nothing but doing things like the above is more re-energising. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Make a plan

Sit down, take some thinking time and make a two year, five year and 10 year plan and document what your business is and what it stands for.

Sure, things will change along the way, but if you know where you are going you will be able to make more concise decisions, does this fit with my plan, or doesn’t it, does it fit with the business model and values or doesn’t it, or do I need to adapt and tweak the model and outcomes.

2) Back yourself and drown out the noise

If you can make a plan, then follow it up with this. There are too many times we doubt ourselves, and reign ourselves in. Step out of your comfort zone, you know where you are going and where you want to be and only take heed from those who really matter.

3) Try new things

When you are looking at where you and your business are in two, five and 10 years’ time, be ambitious. It is amazing how when you pen something down and visualise it you can make it happen. Keep pushing yourself and those around you, if you are standing still, you are moving backwards.

Learn more about Humes Outfitters.