Hickleys - All About Us
A History of 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 electrical repairs to cars became part of the 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 vehicle parts 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, the second generation, joined the Company.
After The War
In 1954 rapid expansion of both the parts sales and electrical repair business required the company to move to larger premises in East Reach, Taunton. 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. The East Reach premises had become too small and in 1961 new premises were built in St. James Street, Taunton. The company then expanded its specialist services by adding Diesel Fuel Injection repair to its range.
It was in the St. James Street premises in 1965 that another business development took place with the formation of a ‘Refinish’ operation that traded under the name Valtone. 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 refinish branch in Plymouth was opened. 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.
Our New Home
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 and within seven years the company was running out of space again.
Over a period of three years, starting in 1976, a new, three section building was erected on the Taunton site to accommodate the Technical Workshop Division (auto-electrical and diesel repairs) of the Company. This released much needed space in the main building to contain growing storage requirements. 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 established a fast-growing Garage Equipment Department and had opened a retail Autospares Shop in the Taunton branch. At the same time, the Refinish Division was making good progress particularly in the field of paint distribution. In 1975 a new refinish branch was established in North Devon.
The eighties saw the acquisition by the Refinish Division of several local competitors in order to tighten 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 Refinish Division (which had traded under the name 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 Cornwall. After a slow start both built up a significant level of sales pushing the total Company turnover past the magic £5 Million mark. In April 1995, the opportunity arose to purchase the business of a competitor in Exeter and this became our seventh branch. We now had complete geographical coverage of the South West of England.
Late in 1996 another competitor was purchased with branches in Bristol and Cardiff. 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 was purchased. By the end of 2000, total company sales had reached over £8.5 million per year.
Healthcare is Born
In 2001 a Healthcare 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 technical service.
Technological advances 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. Hickleys supplies all types of vehicle diagnostic equipment including engine diagnostic testers, exhaust gas analysers, air-conditioning testers, key-coding equipment and much more.
Farewell to Refinish
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 of consolidation, adapting to its new structure, the Company quickly started to push ahead again with consistent sales expansion.
The Garage Equipment Division was strengthened with the engagement of additional engineers to improve customer service throughout the south west region and in September 2010 the business of a local competitor was purchased, adding valuable equipment testing and calibration business. In recent years the company’s area of operation has expanded somewhat beyond the South West with two major installation projects taking place in Africa!
In the Healthcare Division sales to the care home market increased steadily, in part through an increase in sales of capital equipment including beds, hoists, and furniture. Sales through the retail shop at Taunton continued to grow and a second shop was opened in Bridgwater.
Growth of Diagnostics
But without any doubt, 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 and steady growth has continued in recent years. The Division now operates throughout the UK with sales representatives covering all regions. A comprehensive range of equipment is on offer including products from Bosch, Carman Scan, Brain Bee, Delphi, Texa, Smoke Pro and Tecnotest.
Keys and Key Programnming
One product area where Hickleys has attained national dominance is in the field of vehicle keys and key programming. The company has assembled a ‘complete, comprehensive package’ for all involved in the business of key programming. This package includes the best products on the market relating to programming, cloning, key cutting, pin code extraction and eprom reading. A full range of keys, remotes and transponders is also available. In addition, a new ‘Automotive Training Academy’ has been established and the company is proud to say that many of the auto-locksmiths operating throughout the UK have been trained by Hickleys and are using equipment supplied by the company.
At the end of 2014 the Company employed over 60 staff and annual sales turnover was over £7 million. Looking to the future, Duncan Meikle, Company Chairman, says,
‘I find it remarkable to think that the Company is now only ten years away from its centenary. If you compare today’s Hickleys with the one established in 1925 you will see only a few similarities and that perhaps is the key to our longevity. While competitors around us have doggedly stuck to ‘what they know’, Hickleys has always had a broader vision, actively sought out new markets and been brave enough to invest in new ventures. There is another very important element in our success and that is our staff. Our staff are very loyal and long-serving. We have many who have completed more than twenty five years and quite a number who are around the 40 year mark. I would never under-estimate the contribution that their hard work and enthusiasm has made to our success. We are, as always, very optimistic about the future.’