‘This was the moment for indie retailers to shine’

Amid some of the toughest trading conditions for UK retail this year, Hughes Chairman, Robert Hughes, believes that consumers have rediscovered how important home electricals are – giving the whole industry “a greater sense of purpose”. Here, he chats to Jack Cheeseman.

largest independent specialist electrical retailers in the country. Speaking to ERT this month, Robert Hughes opens up about the highs and lows the business has seen so far this year, and how he is thankful that the industry is finally getting the attention it deserves while consumers are spending noticeably more money around their homes. “Lockdown was the ultimate test of our multi-


channel business model,” he says. “We sell, rent and offer service to corporates and consumers through shops, web and trade counters. All routes to the customer stayed open even if shops and trade were switched into a call centre environment.

ow with 32 retail stores dotted across East Anglia (two stores closed permanently during lockdown), Hughes is one of the

“We saw some national retailers pull down their

shutters and hide so we recognised that this was the moment for independent retailers to shine!”


Q: How has business been at Hughes so far this year, given the effect of the pandemic? Robert Hughes: At times it has felt a bit like having one foot in boiling water and one foot in freezing water! On average things have been fine but it wasn’t half uncomfortable! Shop sales all but disappeared during lockdown whereas web sales doubled nationally and trebled in the locations where we have stores. This left consumer sales unchanged over lockdown having been modestly ahead in the preceding weeks. Our trade division fell by 30 per cent during

lockdown but experienced a perfect ‘v-shaped’ recovery with everything back to normal within a week of re-opening. Not for the first time, we were grateful to contractual rental income to keep the cash coming in but lockdown presented

us with a collection problem for the 20 per cent of customers who prefer to pay in-branch. As a result, we collected eight per cent less

income over lockdown but nearly all of these arrears have now been recovered. The exception is rental agreements to hotels and catering businesses where we waived three months rental as a goodwill gesture. It has historically been hard to find a more difficult industry than ours to make money in but hospitality now takes that crown.

Q: What were your thoughts when we went into lockdown and non-essential shops were forced to close? RH: Every retailer will know where they were when Boris announced the closure of non- essential retail. Within 20 minutes the senior team were on a Zoom call and in full task mode. We were fortunate to have systems that allow

call centre, accounting and admin roles to seamlessly switch to home working. We knew that rental would lubricate the financial cogs so the main problem was keeping the operational cogs oiled for the booming web business. Thankfully, our warehouse staff have a can-do attitude and rose to that challenge.

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