Corporate Information - Our Company History
An Introduction to Hickleys
The story of the Company now spans three generations. In 1925 Mr H. N. Hickley started a battery service in Billet Street, Taunton. At about the same time Mr L. W. G. Meikle started a similar service in a lock up garage behind the Crown and Sceptre Inn on Station Road, Taunton. In 1932 the businesses merged with Mr Meikle joining H. N. Hickley as a partner. Including the partners, there were just four staff.
In the early thirties a Mr Harold Towler joined as a fully trained auto-electrician and so electrical repairs to cars (carried out at the roadside) became part of the new services offered. The Company sold Lucas batteries, Lucas ignition and various other spares. In 1938 a small Jowett two cylinder van was put on the road wholesaling to customers in Wiveliscombe, Wellington, Ilminster, Chard, Bridgwater and Burnham on Sea. In 1939 Mr Hickley decided to retire and Mr Leonard Meikle took over the business.
In 1939/40 Mr John Meikle joined the Company before war service and took over the van run.
After the war sales of parts expanded rapidly and a second auto-electrician was taken on. In 1948 the firm became a Limited company. In 1954 larger premise were found in East Reach, Taunton. Sales continued to grow and the company now had four auto-electricians. In the mid-fifties came further expansion with the opening of a branch in Bridgwater. Throughout the fifties, sales turnover moved ahead at about 20% each year.
The early sixties saw further changes. East Reach had become too small and in 1961 new premises were built in St. James Street, Taunton. The company then added Diesel Fuel Injection to its range of services.
It was in the St. James Street premises in 1965 that the Valtone story began. It had become apparent that nobody was offering a service to the Vehicle Body Repair Trade. A van was put on the road selling just car bodyshop consumables. The new venture took off like a rocket and, recognising the potential, a new Company was formed. What should it be called? Since Taunton is located in the valley of the River Tone; why not ‘Valtone’? This became known as the Refinish Division. Soon the area of operation was expanding fast. A branch in Plymouth was opened and in Bridgwater we had the opportunity of moving to larger premises in Mount Street. The move was made and the Bridgwater branch was able to further develop both its sales and workshop activities.
After seven years, the Taunton branch outgrew the St. James Street premises and it was time to move again. Large new purpose-built premises were erected in Castle Street, and opened in 1968. Initially the volume of business was not quite good enough for the size of the premises, however, continued expansion took care of this problem within a year or two. The greater space gave a tremendous boost to all our activities, profits were good and within seven years we were running out of space again.
Over a period of three years, commencing in 1976, a new three section building was erected on the site to accommodate the Technical Workshop Division of the Company. This released much needed space in the main building to contain the growing storage requirements of both companies. The seventies saw the arrival of the third generation of the Meikle family. First Duncan and then Andrew Meikle joined the firm, both having been away to college to obtain management qualifications.
As well as its traditional business, Hickleys now had an established and fast growing Garage Equipment Department and had opened a retail Autospares shop in the Taunton main building. At the same time Valtone was making good progress particularly in the field of paint distribution. In 1975 a Valtone branch was established in North Devon with the purchase of an existing business in Westward Ho! Later this branch moved to premises in Barnstaple.
The eighties saw the acquisition by Valtone of several local 'Paint Factor' competitors in order to tighten its control of its markets. In 1988 the combined turnover of all three companies was a little over £4.5 million and growing steadily.
The late eighties saw continuing changes and more difficult trading conditions in the company’s traditional markets. To streamline both companies’ administration and management structures it was decided to merge Hickley's and Valtone and form a new single Company. The merger took place on 1st May 1989 and Hickley Valtone Ltd was born.
1993 saw further expansion of the Company with the opening of two new Refinish Branches. In May a branch was opened in Bristol and then in August a second was opened in Bodmin, Cornwall. After a slowish start both built up a significant level of sales pushing the total Company turnover up to the magic £5 Million mark.
In April 1995, the opportunity arose to purchase the business of a competitor in the refinish market in Exeter and this became our 7th branch. We now had complete geographical coverage of the South West of England. In 1996 the Cornwall branch moved from Bodmin to St Columb.
Late in 1996, the opportunity arose to purchase a DuPont Paint Distributor with branches in Bristol and Cardiff. The purchase took place on 1st December 1996. Hickley Valtone now had its first branch in another country! The total turnover of the Company had reached £6M p.a. and it employed over 100 staff. Two years later another Cardiff competitor, Hill & Co, was purchased.
Also in 1996 Hickley Valtone achieved the ‘Investors in People’ award demonstrating the Company’s commitment to the training and developing of staff. During 1997 the Company turnover continued to rise and the financial year closed with sales in excess of £7M.
By the end of 2000 sales had reached over £8.5 million per year.
In 2001 a new Healthcare and Mobility business division was set up aimed at selling a range of products to the Care Home industry. This was a significant departure from the company’s motor trade roots but in line with the policy of diversification into new specialist market areas. In 2006 a healthcare retail store was opened at Taunton.
Rapid advances in vehicle technology have required ongoing investment in equipment in our Technical Workshop Division and a rigorous staff training programme. Highly sophisticated engine management systems and the latest common-rail diesel technology have presented both challenges and opportunities. The challenges have always been met and the opportunities continue to be realised. We have great confidence in our ability to offer our customers a highly-skilled, professional service.
Advances in vehicle technology were also behind the creation of another specialist division of the Company. The Diagnostic Division, now nationally recognised, emerged from the company’s close connection with vehicle electrics and electronics combined with its involvement in the garage equipment market. Nearly every fault on a modern vehicle requires electronic diagnostic equipment to identify and rectify the problem. Hickleys supplies all types of vehicle diagnostic equipment including engine diagnostic testers, exhaust gas analysers, air- conditioning testers, key-coding equipment and much more. The full range of Bosch and Technotest diagnostic equipment is available. Expert advice, demonstration and after-sales support are an essential part of our professional service. The Company is the sole UK distributor for Advanced Diagnostics key-coding devices, the Carman Scan range of hand-held diagnostic testers, the Smoke-Pro range of leak detectors and the Zed-Bull transponder coding device. Training programmes are provided for the end-user on modern vehicle electronic systems and the use of diagnostic equipment.
By 2007 the Company had a sales turnover of almost £10 million per year.
In early 2008 the Directors made the decision to move out of the Refinish market. For some years trading conditions had become increasingly difficult with a contraction of the body repair market and increasing levels of competition. On March 28th 2008 the Refinish Division of the business together with the name Hickley Valtone were sold to a Leicester-based company, Hex Holdings Ltd. Hex took over the refinish staff, stock, and vehicles.
The other Divisions of the Company: Automotive Parts, Garage Equipment, Diagnostics, Technical Workshops and Health and Mobility were moved into a new Company trading under the name of Hickleys Ltd and operating out of just two locations – Taunton and Bridgwater.
After a short period adapting to its new structure the Company quickly started to push ahead again with consistent sales expansion.
In 2009 in the Technical Workshops over £120,000 was invested in new diesel test and calibration equipment at the Taunton branch. Very strong sales growth in air-conditioning business has taken place in both the car and commercial vehicle markets.
Additional engineers have been added to the Garage Equipment Division to improve customer service throughout the south west region and in September 2010 the business of a local competitor, Addtronics, was purchased adding valuable equipment testing and calibration business.
In the Healthcare Division, retail shop sales increased steadily and sales of capital equipment to the care home market - beds, hoists, furniture, etc – grew significantly.
The division showing the fastest growth was Diagnostics. In the space of six years, turnover moved from zero to over £3 million by the end of 2010. Further expansion is anticipated with the addition of new staff and new products and, following the appointment of an Export Manager, the Company intends to build new business in the European market.
At the end of 2010 the Company employed over 60 staff and annual sales turnover was back up to over £6 million. The Directors and staff of Hickleys look to the future with confidence.