Customer Stories | Hargreaves of Buxton

By Sarah-Louise James, Feature Writer

If you’ve never had the chance to visit 154-year-old high street institution Hargreaves, let us set the scene…

Situated in the pretty spa town of Buxton in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire, a handsome shop front leads into space brimming with contemporary and classic design pieces – from the latest designer chair the Insta pack will love, to crystal-cut Champagne flutes. 

At the back, sits a cookshop filled with the latest in high-tech gadgetry, and upstairs, sits an Edwardian tearoom, which oozes old-world charm and rightfully has its own Instagram page #hargreavesedwardiantearooms.

With its charming blend of old and new, it’s not hard to see why it has become a destination store, as popular with tourists and out-of-towners, as with locals.

History boys and girls 

The business’s earliest record comes in the form of a black and white photo from 1865 of founder Mrs Alice Hargreaves, standing proudly outside the shop before its grand opening. The shop was an instant hit and traded successfully for over 30 years.

However, in the early 1900s, Alice passed away – which is when Martin’s great grandfather was brought in as store manager. A move that saw him relocate from London, managing a department store in Brixton, called Quinn & Ecton, to the Derbyshire hills.

“He brought his three sons with him, one of whom was my grandfather,” explains Martin. “And that was how it all began for our family.”

Time for tea

In 1913, the family opened an opulent Crystal Showroom on the shop’s second floor. Such was its exclusivity that customers were invited by private invitation to shop. “That was the done thing back then. It was very glamorous and became a real destination for out-of-towners,” says Martin.  

In the mid-1980s the Crystal Showroom became Hargreaves’ now-iconic Edwardian Tea Rooms, containing many of the original showroom’s fixtures and fittings.

Stepping inside the tea rooms is like stepping back in time. Glass cabinets brim with antiquities. Swag curtains offset tall windows and lace tablecloths add to its vintage charm. 

Customers love that it’s a total one-off – it regularly receives 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor – and is a space where they can switch off from modern life for the entire time it takes to indulge in one of its winning cream teas.

“The tearooms are a bit of an institution,” says Martin. “We see generations of the same families come through our doors. My mum and dad, who are both now nearly 80, still work a few days a week, and the customers love it. Many of our customers have become close friends.”

Location, location, location…

With all the doom and gloom stories about the death of the high street, it’s inspiring to hear of an independent business that’s not only weathered the decades but is thriving in today’s tough economic conditions.

“We’ve survived two world wars, the miner’s strike – and Brexit is looming – but you have to adapt,” says Martin. “We’re fortunate that we’ve always been heart of the community. 

“There’s a clothes shop around the corner from us called Potters, who started around the same time as us and are also a family run-business. The locals say that if either of us go, that’ll be the end of the town,” he laughs. 

Hargreaves’ ingredients for success…

“You have to evolve and stay current,” says Martin. “We’re proud of our history, but we’re a forward-thinking business first and foremost.” 

So, what are the secrets behind running a 100-plus-year-old business? 

In Martin’s own words: 

  • Staying on top of trends “I’m always reading, researching, attending trade shows and sourcing products you can’t find anywhere else” 
  • A good website “This is essential”
  • Top-class products “We love to support British brands but also have a love of modern Danish, French and German lines”
  • Embracing social media “It’s been an amazing marketing tool for us and has directly led to increased sales – way better than print advertising”
  • Hard work “My husband and I rarely switch off”
  • Being passionate about customers “We go above and beyond for our customers”
  • Being eco-conscious “We have a responsibility to do as much as we can, and customers expect it. We stock a lot of eco-friendly lines and our new paper bags have been tested to hold a Le Creuset casserole dish and withstand a Buxton rain shower!”
  • And the ingredient money can’t buy… “We just love our business”

Being a Bionic business 

Martin also credits Bionic with helping the business over the years.

“I’ve been using Bionic (formerly Make It Cheaper) for eight years and it’s saved us £1000s over the years,” says Martin.

“We initially used the service to get a better deal on utilities. Before that we would talk directly to the suppliers, ourselves – but you can spend a whole week on the phone doing that and time is of the essence when you run a business.”

Hargreaves now uses Bionic for its business insurance, too. “It’s always been a complex area for us because we’re two companies under one umbrella – retail and a working kitchen – but Bionic made it easy for us and were able to deliver a bespoke combined insurance package, which has been been a big cost saver for us. We trust them 100%.”

All eyes on the future

It would be easy for Hargreaves to trade on its history and tradition but that’s never been Martin’s vision.

“We have many plans bubbling away in the pipeline to carry on evolving the business,” he says. “Recently we brought in an expert to give a KitchenAid demonstration. It brought in customers from all over Europe and our tills were singing that day.”

His hard work has been paying off in profit – and awards. In February 2019, Hargreaves won Britain's Best Family Business Award in the Housewares Innovations Awards – an achievement that has made Martin chuffed to bits.

“I think my ancestors would be very proud that we’ve evolved and kept the tradition of Hargreaves going in spite of all the changes over the decades,” he says. “We’re still here, we’re still successful – and it’s that sense of pride that’s followed through down the family.”

And we’ll raise a cup of tea to that…

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