SAT in his brightly coloured Olympic coaching jacket, Peter Higman pulls out a framed photograph of himself.
It shows the former world top 50 badminton player winning the Durham Open at Crowntree Leisure Centre in Sunderland in 1981.
“It is in our bones – we all play – we just love it” he says. “Our holidays have always been based around tournaments”
That love for the game, alongside his racket stringing skills and popular coaching methods, is how Higmans Sports came to life.
Peter’s first love was tennis but explains the speed of the game is why he switched his attention to badminton.
“The fastest squash serve is about 120mph, tennis is nearing 160mph, but badminton is over 300mph.
Peter began as a full time coach in 1983, working all over the UK and abroad. In that time, he started stringing rackets. He is now one of just two badminton super coaches in the UK.
“There was no internet back then, so people could not do what they do now. I had to built up contacts, and you could not run our type of business without being well known. All you need for a website is the right product at the right price.
“I did it all from home. When I wasn’t coaching, I was stringing or selling.”
“For us, it is not just about making money. It is about meeting people – we have made friends for life. Business has lost that personal touch.
“Us” refers to Pauline, Peter’s wife, whose “hard work & diligence” has kept the shop going over the years, he says.
“Before the web, everyone had their own patch. There are no boundaries anymore, people are always undercutting. Everyone suffers as a consequence and it is not good for business” says Pauline.
Their popularity is clear to see. As we chat in the café of David Lloyd leisure centre in Stockton, the base of Higman Sports, numerous people politely interrupt just to say hello to the couple.
“There are not many independents left. We are in a nice environment but it is a niche market and it is limiting.
At one stage, Higmans ran a second shop in Jesmond, Newcastle, but whilst many businesses look to expand as far and wide as possible, Pauline explains why that approach was not working for her.
“We had the Newcastle shop open for six years, but it became onerous, we couldn’t do it. It was stressful. It was nice to have two, but it was the physicality of it that was the problem.
“I had a lot of thinking time driving up and down the A19 everyday. If we found the right people to run it, who were as passionate and knowledgeable as us, it would have worked.”
Even the idea of selling online took time to become appealing to Pauline.
“Someone asked to create a website for us, and at first I said “no, what for?”
Pauline has now warmed to the idea, and she is hoping to use the platform to benefit Higman’s specialities, with a chance to discuss racket advice over the phone, and video coaching.
“We are working on a new website and it will be launched soon, but if you can’t fulfil orders, it causes massive problems and affects your reputation. The last thing we want is upset customers” said Pauline.
“We pride ourselves on the knowledge we have of our stock. A lot of sports shop now have become fashion shops. People who come to us know they are talking to an expert.
“We are proud that we have kept the shop going in a growing web climate.”
Peter added: “It takes years to be a perfect stringer. Anyone can buy a stringing machine, but it takes time, skill, knowledge and guidance to be perfect. You can tell if a racquet has not been professionally strung.
“Depending on its size, I can string a racket in 10 to 20 minutes.”
Their knowledge and passion for sport is why they believe the business has a survived in tough times for independent stores with a lack of a major online presence.
“We love sport – all sport, not just the sport’s we cover.
“I have a genuine affinity for what sport can do. It has given me so much. I just love being around sport. It is a nice environment and you meet some really nice people.
Tennis has never been more popular, or successful, in Britain. Andy Murray ended the year ranked number one in the world, as did his brother Jamie in doubles, whilst Jo Konta became the first British woman to reach the top 10 in the rankings since 1984. Has Higman Sports benefited from this success?
“There is seasonal interest – there are always more people playing when the sun comes out” said Pauline.
“We have seen players start younger in recent years. Children are picking up a racket from about three years old, they weren’t anywhere near as young as that in 1999.
“The age range has gotten a lot broader and the big names have had an effect on people’s choice of rackets.”
But when the so called golden generation, with Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, comes to an end, will the sport suffer?
“The brands will deal with it. From my point of view, I am buying for next season. When there is a surge in demand, I adjust my buying quantities. But we don’t just do badminton and tennis. We have our swimming goggles which are also very popular.
Like so many sports, tennis benefited from its popularity at London 2012. Badminton, however, was a rare disappointment, with the format of the event criticised, and two pairs disqualified for not trying in the round robin stage – in a bid to get a better draw in the next round. Does Pauline think it missed a trick?
“There are brilliant players out there. In Asia, badminton is massive. Profiles of their badminton players are higher than David Beckham.
“It was disgraceful (at London 2012). It goes back to that what is success philosophy.
‘I’m anxious and excited’: Fashion retailer reveals how he is planning to reopen stores in Middlesbrough and Durham
North-East energy business launches recruitment drive – including home-workers
County’s outdoor markets to reopen from June 1
Teesside students help with vaccine development
Loganair resumes flights from Newcastle from today
“I wish it would be a successful as tennis. The court looks smaller on TV so not as easy to televise.”
The couple are hoping this legacy will inspire school children to take up sport.
“Sport should be there to instil attitudes into children such as, fair play, respect, discipline, application, determination – high profile sports such as football has a duty to make sure this happens” said Peter.
And he has a strong message for those who love sport as much as him.
“Success is not just about winning. That is a nasty street to go down. Winning is a by-product of personal achievement. For the elite, winning and losing is everything. For those developing their skills, it’s about bettering your own performance.
Peter recalls one particular story that stands out from his coaching days.
“There was a girl called Karren who was trying to hit a shuttlecock. She had been struggling for two years to hit one. She said she wanted to play for England and I said she should maybe drop her standards. This was when she was 12. By the time she was 19/20 she played for England. It taught me to always embrace every person who wants to be coached”
But perhaps his most proud moment would be his work with Durham University, which resulted in him helping to coach the Sri Lankan badminton team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I set a program out immediately after the Commonwealth games in 2014 however I couldn’t be there all the time to monitor & evaluate the program due to monetary restraints & therefore the player wasn’t as well prepared as he should have been.
The player in question, Niluka Karunaratne, reached the quarter finals of the Commonwealth Games, and lost to the eventual gold medallist in Rio.
“During the year leading up to the Olympics the player, through no fault of his own, was suspended from international competition for five months by the Badminton World Federation due to a governance issue.
“This meant he lost valuable world ranking points which lowered his ranking. If he had been ranked higher he would have gotten a better place in the draw.”
After a two hour conversation, Peter leaves to attend his coaching duties, and the couple give friendly greetings to many more well-wishers.
It is clear to see why their personal touch approach has worked so well.