CuparNow KnowHow – Hoggs of Fife
Hoggs of Fife … or Fife Country? We hear folk speaking of both. We wanted to know what connects the two and, to that end, arranged to meet with Hoggs of Fife’s Managing Director, Robert Gibson, at their HQ on the Eden Business Park to discover more …
Robert Gibson’s grandfather married into the Hogg family – hence the name difference – but it is still very much a family business. He oversees the day to day operations of the Hoggs of Fife brand as well as Fife Country – the mail order and retail side of the business that also trades from its own shop in Strathmiglo.
Robert explains more on his involvement and the company’s history, saying: “I was practically brought up in the business – it has been in my veins since I was born! Today, I am the fourth generation of the Hogg family and we have owned and managed the business since it was launched in 1888.”
Picking a career …
Robert graduated in Business at Edinburgh University and gained work experience elsewhere but, by the age of 24, had started to work full time for the family firm. “In the early days, my main task was picking and packing. Over the years I worked in several different departments to build an overall knowledge.” His father and his father’s cousin – Uncle Ronnie Hogg – were joint MDs. When they stepped down in 1994, Robert took on the role, becoming Managing Director at the age of 31.
The origins of the business were in footwear. Founder Andrew T Hogg – Robert’s great-grandfather – was a cobbler who made and repaired footwear. In 1888, he launched his original ‘Boots by Post’ service with a small range of FIFE boots. Robert says: “The boots were handmade by himself and he delivered his footwear to addresses all over the country. It was quite revolutionary.”
To this day, the company remains the oldest mail order business in Scotland. Some of their historic catalogue front covers are shown below …
Robert adds: “My grandmother took over this business in the 1930s – and continued it through the Second World War. That was a ground-breaking achievement for a woman in those days. When my father took on the business, he expanded it considerably, closer to the business it is today, whilst also running the family farm.”
Hoggs of Fife
Like many heritage brands, such as Barbour and Hunter, the origins of the business were built on selling their own brand – Hoggs of Fife – directly to the public. As the business grew, other brands were added to the collection and offering.
Robert says: “It got to the point some 45 years ago where it made sense to split the two businesses.” From then, they sold Hoggs of Fife branded products to specialist retailers. The retail and mail order businesses became ‘Fife Country’ … selling their own branded products as well as others to their growing customer base. He adds: “Since then, we have been lucky enough to see both businesses thrive.”
Inspired by successful marketing stories, Robert cites his family’s business as one that “exemplifies this perfectly“, adding: “We have been serving people who live and work in the country, originally with the famous FIFE farm boots, and evolving over time into a comprehensive range of country clothing and footwear.”
To this day, it is his great-grandfather’s founding principles that hold fast – “fine quality, fit-for-purpose clothing and footwear … representing great value” – enabling their products to become “Scotland’s finest collection of clothing and footwear for country professionals and country enthusiasts alike“. Predominantly, their Hoggs of Fife customers are farmers, field sport enthusiasts, dog walkers – and those who love time out in the great outdoors.
Alongside and supporting the family brand is Fife Country. They have established a large database of customers who look for good quality country wear – not only from Hoggs of Fife but, as Robert explains: “Our collection has now been extended to offer other leading country and leisure brands including Didriksons, Grisport, Jack Wolfskin, Joules, Meyer, Pinewood, Rieker, Seasalt and Weird Fish.” You can read more on the brands they stock via this link.
Robert says that understanding the consumer, and appreciating the strengths and weaknesses of the different brands they stock, helps them to understand their own position and strengths, adding: “Seeing the consumer trends first-hand can help us to react to changes in the marketplace.”
Achievements & challenges …
We asked Robert what he sees as his biggest achievements. On a personal level? “Bagging over 60 Munros and cycling widely across Scotland including several West Coast Islands and half of the Trossachs over recent years. I have a keen interest in photography, so exploring the more remote parts of our beautiful countryside is becoming an obsession of mine.” He adds: “In my younger days, I played rugby for Dunfermline up to Scottish Division 2 level and was proud to maintain a single figure golf handicap for a few years. Having said all that, away from work I’d definitely be categorising my two daughters as a ‘greatest achievement’. My wife and I are very proud of them. Our eldest, Kirsty is currently living in Australia and the youngest Jennifer, completing her final year at Napier University.”
On the business front? “Managing change within the business, as shopping habits change, as new technology develops and as market conditions fluctuate both up and down. Continuing to keep the business successful through all these challenges has been an achievement.” He adds: “I still remember when I took over the business. In my first year, the company made a loss of £100,000. That was a daunting beginning for me. I had to learn quickly!”
The company “very much operates as a team“. Robert singles out two for particular mention: “Steve Jepson, our Head of Marketing and Sales, drives the strategy and brand positioning – as well as sales – for the Hoggs of Fife brand. Scott Taylor oversees the product development and logistics. They have had the biggest influence on our resurgence in recent years.”
Best sellers …
As Robert explains, the market place is forever changing. “Fife Country’s focus is on ‘country lifestyle’. The strengths of the Hoggs of Fife brand is in field sports. And yet amongst our best selling lines are a Neoprene welly, a waterproof green smock and a performance fleece gilet … very much products for those ‘working the land’.”
The heritage of the Hoggs of Fife is never underestimated. Robert highlights the oddity of their market, explaining: “There are very few British brands operating in the British Country wear market, it’s usually French or Scandinavian brands we are competing against. That seems weird, but its true!” He says: “There are several factors that set us apart from our competition – and our Fife heritage is by far our greatest asset … 135 years of supplying trusted country wear to people is a very handy thing to have ‘under our belts’. The fact that we are family owned and now on the fourth generation adds to this confidence.” He adds: “Plus many footwear and clothing businesses tend not to support their retailers by holding stock. Having a head office and a warehouse together, right here in Fife, gives us a Unique Selling Point in our sector.”
As with all who feature on our Blog profiles, we asked Robert what he would recommend for anyone visiting Cupar for the first time – or for the first time in a long time: “When we get our biggest customers up to Cupar to see our new collections, we make sure that we show them the new waterfront area of Dundee as well as St Andrews of course, its great for us to discuss the heritage of the brand when we drive through the beautiful Fife farmland. Where possible, we like to drive them though Cupar too. Us locals tend to take it for granted, but there are some beautiful old buildings in the town centre that are great to ‘show off’.”
For Fife Country products, visit their online store via this link. They have a special offers page that can be found here. You can also order by phone on 0345 607 6632 (open Mon to Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm).
Their own shop is in nearby Strathmiglo where they stock a wide range of Hoggs of Fife products plus a large number of styles which are not shown on their website or in their catalogue. In particular, they have an extensive range of ladies wear.
Not on their mailing list for the Fife Country catalogue? Then follow this link to sign-up. And you can follow them on social media to see their latest products and offerings – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Hoggs of Fife
Discover Hoggs of Fife stockists via this link. The Business’ HQ is on Cupar’s Eden Business Park (KY15 4RB). You can call them on 01334 653733 or email via this link. They are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Thanks for reading!