This week marks 60 years since 14 and 15-year-old siblings took over a Spalding business which their family has turned in to a local High Street icon.
Hills Department Store & Hills Furniture Store has been built up by the Turner family ever since and they’re celebrating six decades of serving the town on Friday, November 8.
The shop, then called Hill and Co, and sited where Lloyds the Chemist is now, was bought by Fred Turner for his aforementioned son and daughter David and Elizabeth.
“Our father had a Saturday job at Hills when the Bradshaw family owned it and Mr Bradshaw wanted to retire,” said the now 75-year-old David who remains as the chair of the company. “He asked my father if he would be interested.
Elizabeth added: “Our father asked us if we’d be interested after we’d finished school and when we did, we went up to Leeds where our grandparents lived and trained for three years.
“I remember father telling me ‘if you make a mess of it you can sell it on’”, David said of the business. “We learnt what we learnt and went into it with a certain amount of naivety
“There weren’t report forms or technology like now. You looked at the bank statements and if you were in the black you were ok and if you were in the red you weren’t.
Hills was a much smaller business when the siblings fully took over the running with David’s wife Angela coming on board as a buyer
While in 2019 cosmetics and the fashion floor are big sellers, back then it was underwear and linens (which still performs strongly today) and what was for sale was kept in drawers
As the business grew, so did the need for new premise.
In the 1970s Fred (who had the nickname Sheddy) had purchased what is now The Ivy Wall (Wetherspoons) pub but David had his eyes on something grander, the former Greyhound Hotel at the top of Spalding’s Market Place.
“I heard the council were selling it, so I offered to swap the buildings,” David said. “My father was on holiday in Egypt or Cyprus at the time and when he came back I had to tell him I’d sold the building he’d bought for us.
“When he was back we went to have a look at the state of the Greyhound. When we opened the door it was absolutely swarming with rats.
“That’s why we decided to knock the building down and completely re-build what you see today.”
Further expansions included a greater range of products being provided and the creation of the popular cafe followed. The family has also expanded too.
David and Angela’s daughters Katie Freeman and Emma Allmand as well as Elizabeth’s sons Richard and Edward Hall look after proceedings.
Edward and Richard have been responsible for the Furniture store initially set up in May 1994 in St Thomas’s Road. It’s now situated on Bridge Street.
Katie, who is also the Market Place store manager, said: “We’re all directors but you end up doing so much and helping out where you can. That’s the job really.
“Like any family business the next generation have picked it up but we still have the older generation to ask advice of. I don’t think we’d want it any other way. Just recently I’ve had to ask my dad about trading internationally again because of Brexit.”
The family say adapting to the changing times throughout is the biggest challenge.
David says: “We were there before VAT, before decimal currency and computers.
“The first threat, they said was catalogues like Freeman’s in Peterborough, then it was Queensgate going to take all the trade, followed by the out of town Springfields Outlet and for the last two decades the internet.”
“The business has grown and we’ve grown with it,” his sister Elizabeth adds.
Emma said: “With our customers, staff and suppliers we’re all one family really.
“We’ve gained a lot of loyal customers over the years. People become friends and it’s the same with the staff too.
“We have been extremely lucky to have had the support of a great number of loyal staff, some of whom have been with us for over 40 years and have watched the current generation grow”.
Katie added: “A few of the staff still with us used to babysit us as kids”.
The Turner family already had a strong history in the town with their great, great grandfather Captain John Turner a harbourmaster when Spalding had a port, while their great grandparents were landlords at the former Angel Inn in Double Street. And the family’s fish and chip restaurant Sheddy Turners has been serving the town fish suppers for more than 100 years.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the support for a local family business,” Katie continued, “without that support from our fantastic customers we would not have been here for the last 60 years, nor the next 60.”
Richard said: “While we always need to keep changing we’re also trying to make sure we continue serving our customers the best we can by making shopping in Hills a nice, personable experience so they want to come back.”
“We strive to give a service we would want to receive ourselves,” adds Edward, “we are proud that we have been able to serve the community over the years and look forward to many more.”