Spotlight: Hobbs of Henley
"If you’re competing with bigger businesses you’ve got to give a reason for people to come back and keep using you. It’s all about customer service"
At OX we love small, local businesses who display a true passion for attention to detail, artistry and pride in what they do.
Each month, we shine our Spotlight on a small-to medium-scale enterprise who we think embody these values and celebrate the best of Oxfordshire’s small business. For March, we’ve spoken to Jonathan Hobbs, director of Thames boat hire specialists Hobbs of Henley.
Hi Jonathan, how did you get into the boat hire business?
It’s a family business that stretches back to 1870 – I’m the fifth generation of the Hobbs family to be at the helm of the business. It was started by my great-great-grandfather Harry Hobbs, and he started hiring boats from a hotel called The Ship in Henley, and my family have been doing it ever since.
How have you seen your industry changed over the decades?
I want to say considerably, but essentially we’re still hiring boats like we did 147 years ago. We’ve certainly increased our fleet over the years – we have the largest fleet and largest variety of boats on the Thames. We do passenger boats for up to 150 people for river trips and parties, and then we have luxury holiday boats that you can take from Oxford and go down to London, then we have a big fleet of days boats. We have a huge selection of ways to enjoy the river, and I suppose that’s how we’ve diversified.
How has Oxfordshire treated you as a business environment?
The Thames runs through a lot of Oxfordshire, so I’d like to think that a lot of local people can enjoy the river at various parts of Oxfordshire through our business. Over the years we have had boatyards in other towns like Goring and Whitchurch, and had bases in all towns that have branchlines off the main railway line, so people could even hire boats in a little town.
How has the actual structure of your business changed over the years?
We have 12 full-time employees, and that increases to about 50 in the high season when there are regattas and festivals. At the peak of the 1950s and 60s we might have had 25 full-time employees.
What, in your opinion, makes a good small business?
Good service, quality products and attention to detail. If you’re competing with bigger businesses you’ve got to give a reason for people to come back and keep using you. It’s all about customer service, and that’s something that we’ve kept in mind all the way back to my Victorian forefathers – that standard of service has come down through generations, and we really like to look after people and make their trips on the river as perfect as possible.