The Orford supply, a family run company, is retiring after an impressive 72 years of business. They are an auto parts store in Woodford Green, and also had other businesses in Essex. I had the pleasure to interview one of the owners, Patricia, who spoke to me about the fascinating origins of what was originally her father’s business. She also shared stories ranging from her biggest struggle in business to an alarming emergency in the shop! Continue reading to find out more.

How did your family business originally start up? ‘My dad, Peter Hills, was a busy man who originally sold WD goods in a van. Around April 1948, he decided to rent a shop in Mill Lane. The business grew and he bought the shop, as you see today. At one time, we had a workshop with over 10 men working as hauliers and repairers. He bought surrounding properties and converted them into workshops and the next-door cottage into an office. Later on, my brothers and I helped my dad with the business.’

How did you start working with your dad? ‘I became sick of taking the train to work, so I decided to ask my dad for a job at his shop. Originally, he said no as he did not want any women working there as he felt it was too dangerous. I pushed for it and ended up being able to do a bit of office work and stayed on for 60 years. My husband, Bob, came here before he could find a job in engineering, but ended up staying. At one time we had 30 people in our workshop. We opened shops in Chelmsford and Harold wood. My dad then retired, and Me, Bob and my brother Peter continued. Our longest-serving employee, Steve, started here on a youth programme and has since stayed with us for 34 years.’

What has been your biggest struggle in business? ‘When my dad passed away, we found out that he hadn’t paid his VAT bill. It was stressful trying to get the money together so that we could pay it off, so I decided to write to Margaret Thatcher and asked if we could pay it off monthly. She didn’t get back to me personally, but her team did and agreed that we could. I think that we were one of the first people who were able to pay it off monthly.’

What is the most eventful thing that has occurred in your shop? ‘We’ve had a few burglaries, once they knocked down the outside wall to get in. We also once had a man who had a heart attack, which was really worrying. He had all this froth coming out and I didn’t know what to do. A young man standing behind him, about eighteen, gave him the kiss of life. The people from the ambulance said he saved his life. We thought he had died; it was really scary.’

How has business changed from 72 years ago? ‘It has changed a huge amount. Where cars have got more computerised, you just can’t work on them yourself anymore. And with electric vehicles coming in as well now, it’s killed this trade really. With cars years ago, they used to be able to mend them but you can’t do that now, especially as everything is done on computers. When you fit stuff, the car has to be reprogrammed and we haven’t got the information and the facilities to do that.’

What would be your biggest tip for people who plan on running a family business? ‘You’ve got to have loyalty and honesty within the family and not to take your problems home. My husband and I do not talk about work at home, we worry and talk about it here but once we are home, we leave it. Except for on family occasions, we rarely socially interacted outside of work which I think helped, as if you’re working all day together, you don’t need to be outside socialising as well so much.’

Finally, Pat, Bob and Steve would like to give thanks to all of their customers over the years. Although they are ready, they are saddened to leave and I am sure Mill lane will be sad to see them go too. Perhaps after reading this, you are interested in starting your own family business like the Orford Supply Company. With dedication and a strong family bond, you could make this dream come true like Pat’s father once did.