Small business legends in Leicester

posted on 16/07/2015 11:53:34 by Emily Farnan

The Midlands has long been a hub of activity for British businesses, and Leicester is no different. With more than 500,000 people living in its urbanised areas and 27% of the population aged nineteen or under, the UK's tenth-biggest city has huge potential for both existing and aspiring business owners.

The world-famous Thomas Cook Group is the result of one Leicester resident's hard work and innovation.

Yet it's not just the future that's bright for Leicester. For decades, the city has been home to many a great entrepreneur - including the likes of Thomas Cook and Henry Curry. Plenty of businesses have started life at Leicester’s local market stalls before becoming famous up and down the country, so let’s take a closer look to see what the entrepreneurs of today can learn from these original small business legends. 

Thomas Cook

Who he was: Born in 1808, Thomas Cook was a religious man who used to organise meetings for his fellow Christians, with attendees coming from as far as Loughborough. The only problem he faced was how to get his congregation of 540 to the meetings he held in Leicester. 

What he did: Thomas Cook set up the now world-famous travel company, Thomas Cook Group, in 1841, when he organised the first one-day excursion from Loughborough to Leicester for a shilling a head. He met with the Midland Railway Company and suggested a special transport route that ran from Loughborough to Leicester. A train was subsequently arranged, and on the 5th of July, 1841, about 500 passengers were transported in open carriages between Loughborough and Leicester. The day was a great success and, as Thomas later recorded, 'thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, and the social idea grew upon me'.

How he did it: Following his initial success, Thomas Cook regularly met with the railway company to negotiate suitable prices for himself and other groups of train travellers. His idea appealed to the masses, and by identifying what people wanted, Thomas Cook had procured his fortune before he even realised.

Tips you can take away: Don’t be afraid to approach the bigger companies with an idea. Thomas Cook made a deal with the Midland Railway Company agreeing that he would bring them passengers in return for a fraction of the ticket prices. Had he not taken that chance, then one of the largest names in the travel industry may not be what it is today. Never feel daunted by the idea of the bigger companies or even reaching out to your small business friends to work together to boost sales for the both of you. 

Henry Curry

Who he was: Born in 1850, Henry went on to found the well-known electronic retailer Currys in 1884. At this point in time, it was just Henry in his garden shed, building and selling bicycles to Leicester residents. 

What he did: Henry opened his first shop in 1888 then moved to larger premises just two years later in 1890.

How he did it: He worked with his sons for better financial backing – becoming H. Currys & Sons in 1897 - and floated on the stock exchange in 1927. By this time he had begun selling electrical items including, radios, toys and gramophones. He stopped selling bicycles in 1932.

Tips you can take away: Keep it in the family. When opening a small business it’s great to get your family involved - not only can you keep costs down, but your trust level is already established and you can create a legacy for your family– just like Henry Curry did.

Bill & Jean Adderley

Who they were: The founders of the Dunelm Group.

What they did: The couple started trading textiles in a Leicester market stall in 1979. The first Dunelm store opened in Leicester, Church Gate in 1984, and the first superstore in Rotherham in 1991.

How they did it: Bill and Jean focused on providing customers with great value for money, finding the right balance between price and quality.

Tips you can take away: Start small, keep offering value for money and continually strive for better results. Bill and Jean Adderley ran a small market stall 36 years ago, and now they have over 140 Dunelm stores across the UK. 

As you can see, even some of the biggest players in their respective industries started small at first. So whether you specialise in travel, electronics, homeware or anything else – your business could grow to be the next leader in your field. Leicester has a history of producing inspirational entrepreneurs whose small businesses grow into national companies - could your business be the next Leicester legend?

Let us know if you have taken any inspiration from these guys on Twitter.

Emily Farnan

Emily is a Content Producer for Make it Cheaper, with a passion for creating fresh and useful content for small business owners. You can email Emily at

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