Percy Nicholls – A man with no plan but a business brain like no other

Today we launch a series of articles exploring the history of our third-generation family business, TRU7 Group. Here we delve right back into the family archives to find out more about Percy Nicholls who set up as a sole trader in 1964 with no idea that in doing so, he was forming the foundations of the multi million turnover enterprise his son and grandson run today.

Percy Nicholls was one of 13 siblings and grew up in the heart of the Suffolk countryside.

The youngsters rarely went to school and their father Robert, who was always exploring ways to make money, took full advantage of the availability of his large brood as he tried to get new enterprises off the ground.

This meant that Percy – like his brothers and sisters – was usually drafted in to help and when the family started buying up farms around Suffolk, he was among the children sent off to manage them, living on site without parental support when he was young as eight or nine.

As Percy got older, he joined his dad as the family started buying up garages – setting up in the motor trade and supplying many with their first cars after the war.

There was a captive audience – with only two competitors in the whole of Suffolk – and throughout the 60s, they started to smarten their showrooms up to become the premium choice in the county, naming the company Nicholls Car Sales.

While business was booming, Percy, who had recently married his sweetheart Shirley, had started to get itchy feet.

He was doing the lion’s share of the work and was frustrated at taking orders from someone else.

So, a year after his son Guy was born – in 1964 – he left the family firm to set out on his own.

Guy said: “I’m not sure he really had much of a plan. He had knowledge of machinery and he had business prowess he had picked up from his father. He had also set aside money he had earned through the motor trade.

“So, at the age of 31 he cashed in £1,000 of premium bonds – which was an awful lot of money in those days – and started up as a sole trader buying and selling vehicles, trucks and diggers.

“He quickly worked out how to use the skills from the motor trade to spot a bargain and had an incredible ability to turn pennies into pounds while working every hour under the sun. He was amazing to watch.”

And watch he did. From the age of three, Guy would join Percy at work and would spend all his time getting grubby cleaning vans and machines.

“Dad always had a new Mercedes and I remember being bundled in the boot at the end of every day,” said Guy. “He never wanted me to get muck on the interior.”

Percy’s wife Shirley would despair. After all, the couple had set aside money to send Guy to the private school Everton House in Ipswich – which closed in the early 80s – and she was keen for him to get an education.

But Percy was adamant that reading and writing was surplus to requirements and that Guy would learn more by getting his hands dirty. As soon as school was finished, Guy couldn’t wait to get to officially join his dad.

And so, Guy remained by his side and was aged nine when, in 1973, Percy bought a yard in Felixstowe Road from a Mr Prentice called Prentice Aircraft and Cars Ltd.

On the yard was a lot of plant and Percy decided to move away from buying and selling vehicles into hiring out plant.

Due to some contractual obligations, he was stuck with the Prentice name so informally called his company Guy’s Hire until in 1977 when he formed his own limited company.

The business became Fork Rent – the real foundation for what is now TRU7 Group.

Guy said: “Everything my dad did seemed to happen by accident, but he was very clever and he could spot an opportunity. This allowed him to adapt so as it grew, Fork Rent included tipper hire and plant hire.”

In the 1980s, Percy managed to convince his daughter Trudi to join him and Guy in the family business.

She said: “Dad was an absolute workaholic. We never went on holiday, and he never took a day off. He used to tell Mum that ‘holidays were things other people did’. He loved every single minute of being on site. But it’s likely this contributed to his very premature death.”

At just 64 years old, Percy collapsed and died of a stroke.

He left behind wife Shirley, son Guy, daughter Trudi, youngest son Jason, grandchildren Holly and Jake, and a fleet of 140 vehicles.

That was 25 years ago. Percy would have been extremely proud at what came next….

Tomorrow, we explore the next step in the TRU7 Group story.

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