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Staying a step ahead of the game

Hughes Electrical has developed a symbiotic business model in which each part of the company makes an important contribution to the overall business. Robert Hughes, MD of Hughes Electrical which won the Best Regional Multiple title in the IBA 2011, told Anna Ryland how he has managed to grow the company at a time when the industry is losing money and the independent sector keeps contracting.

H ughes Electrical celebrated its 90th

anniversary in March year. The founder of the company, Robert’s grandfather, Frank Hughes, who was an electrical engineer that “came back from the First World War without the leg and travelled to the end of line searching for the place to settle down. It was in Lowestoft where in 1921 he founded Hughes Electrical,” reminisces Robert Hughes. At first the company rewound industrial electrical motors for Lowestoft’s fishing fleet but in 1928 Frank bought his first shop where he built and sold radios. Following Frank’s death in 1947, his children took over the company. In the 1960s its expansion began. Early in his career Robert Hughes worked in the City as fund manager and in venture capital. “In the 1980s I was a bond trader. My daily turnover was £5 million at the time when I was 22. But I didn’t feel fulfilled working there,” comments Robert. “Bored”, he went back to the academic world to do an MBA at the London

Business School. In 1992, he joined the family business, to become its managing director in 1996.

The business portfolio Today the Hughes Electrical business has five areas of operations: retail, rental, service, online and B2B. Its retail brands are: Hughes, Apollo 2000 and Bennetts. In 2009, Hughes acquired Apollo 2000 and in 2011 Bennetts Retail, adding to the company’s portfolio several large out of town stores. “Apollo gave us a critical mass in white goods, and with Bennetts we gained a vast volume in the technology products.” Hughes operates 34 stores, Bennetts – four and Apollo – eight. The company’s shops are located in East Anglia (Hughes and Bennetts), West Midlands and North West (Apollo 2000). The stores of the three brands have different identities and design. Their market positioning is also different. “While Hughes stores sell CE and domestic appliances,

32 The Independent Electrical Retailer May 2012

eight Apollo 2000 stores sell more white goods than all other stores put together. Through Bennetts with its specialist buyer we entered the fast moving world of IT. It became clear that the CE market has moved a lot of volume into the technology market so we needed a foothold in this market.”

The culture of the company has been defined by the family motto: ‘own your freehold, rent your equipment and keep the customers loyal. The staff is essential to everything.’ “I am still protecting the balance sheet of the company by controlling our cost base, protecting the revenue by owning a freehold and having a contractual income from rental. And our staff is key to delivering this service. Our mission statement is: to generate profit by inspiring customer loyalty through value added services,” explains Robert. Hughes Electrical’s commercial division, Trade Electrical Direct (TED), is a business

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