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John Hudson spills the beans on life at the helm of Hudson Sports in Gloucester

What’s the history of Hudson Sports?
I inherited Hudson Sports from my father Gordon Hudson, who inherited it from his father, Arthur Hudson. It was originally set up in 1908 by Arthur’s friend, the New Zealand rugby player Duncan McGregor of the 1905 All Blacks team. Arthur also played rugby – for Gloucester and England – but there was no money in it in those days, so he had to work.

McGregor opened the shop using my grandfather’s name because he was well known in the local area. McGregor went back to New Zealand in 1913 and my grandfather’s sister ran it until Arthur retired from the railway in 1921. My father worked in the shop as a teenager before he took the shop on after World War II, then ran it until I took over in 1983.

How has the shop changed since those early days?
When I took the shop on, it was still selling toys and Airfix kits alongside sports goods. It was also in the original, tiny premises, but in 2004 we moved to a bigger shop two doors down the road. Moving has been our biggest challenge – we went from 400 sq ft to 2,000 sq ft. The sheer size of the project and the risk involved was quite daunting, but it paid off.

How has the market changed?
It’s changed massively since I started out. There are so many different sports played now and fashion is such an important element. The style of rugby boots never used to change, but now there are around three or four new colours brought out every year. There isn’t time to sell all the stock, so something always goes into clearance.

What do you specialise in?
We’ve always specialised in rugby, but are a general sports retailer, so do a bit of everything. Rugby is getting difficult though. Players are now wearing football boots because they’re faster and lighter, but I don’t think they’re strong enough. I have some football boots, but there’s not a lot of point because I can’t compete with Sports Direct.

Who are your competitors?
We’ve got Sports Direct 50 yards away, a specialist running shop and an ASICS, Nike and Puma outlet all within the city walls. But we also run Gloucester Rugby’s club shop and website and the Barbarians’ rugby website, so we have a specialist advantage there. In the shop we try to cater for trends and sell things with a point of difference, but you still have to give people want they want. I also get involved with rugby club open days – particularly junior registration.

When was the shop’s heyday?
In the 1980s. It was before the internet and there was a lot of interest in sport and a variety of sports were played. There was always something strong going on – American football, squash, world cups, football. There’s not as much these days, particularly with our lack of success in major tournaments.

What do you see as the way forward?
To keep focused on new opportunities. The Rugby World Cup offers great potential. We’ve got four matches in Gloucester and the city council has really got behind it. I’m already selling Rugby World Cup polo shirts and t-shirts and, closer to the time, I’ll have replica kits available. It’ll be a big percentage of the business in the rugby club shops too. I’ve got my eye on other sports as well. Running and triathlon are highly specialised, but we’ve done some work in cycling and I’ll do more of that this year.

What do you like most and least about your business?
I love being my own boss, even if the real boss is the customer. Despite the hardships, it’s still in my interest to keep going – and I still enjoy it. But I’m coming up to retirement and though my daughters play sport, they’re not going to take the business on.

The worst bit is the worry. Have I ordered too much stock or not enough? Will England do well in the world cup or badly? In 2003 I kissed the TV when England won. I had 500 shirts out on the shelf and by Monday morning they’d all gone. I’m not sure how many I’ve got on order this year, but I’ve invested a fair amount of money. It will be a great day if England does well.

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