Pick Arthey to close after 36 years of service on the forecourt

Pick Arthey Garage, the longest running garage in Oundle, is closing. John Pick and Eddie Arthey joined forces and bought the garage on Station Road in 1986, setting up a Ford dealership when they were only in their 30s. Now, after 36 years, they are planning to close the business later this year and retire. The site, which has been home to a garage since the 1900s, will be sold to property developers.

The closure reflects the changing times of the motor industry. The decrease of fossil fuel powered cars on the roads will lead to an increase in the price of these fuels. This will result in less use, and is a “death sentence” for small garages.

Over many years, Pick Arthey has built a loyal customer base cultivated with personal service. In the era of email, they continue to post trademark blue postcards to remind customers about annual services and MOTs.

“The trouble with emails is that they don’t get opened or they get ignored, whereas a postcard gets opened and that sits on the mantelpiece, and people ring us up. That brings us a lot of work, a lot of loyalty,” John said.

They have worked in the motor industry for 50 years and say it has been a decent living. Most of all they have enjoyed working with many customers across town and the surrounding villages.

The garage closure has been a shock for the town. They regret letting customers down, but say they have no choice. They tried to sell the business but were unable to attract any interest. One concern is the old tanks that will need renewing at some point in the future.

“We have failed to sell the business as a going concern because small town garages are out of fashion, there are few of them about,” Eddie said.

Reasons for the closure include the fact that seventy-five percent of fuel stations have closed in the last 25 years as small garages are out of fashion, and supermarket fuel stations control the market. “They use it as a loss leader, so you cannot compete on price,” they said.

The growth of online vehicle retailers, such as Kazoo, has also put a strain on the garage. “The younger generation go on the internet, click on a car and it turns up the next day. Our customer base is ageing, they are growing old with us.”

In recent years they have also struggled to recruit a new generation of mechanics. “People are not encouraged to get involved in being a mechanic, they are encouraged to go to university instead.”

It has also been hard to keep staff. Four members have been poached to work elsewhere, and they are struggling to employ a new technician as they cannot offer them a permanent job.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the garage coped “better than we thought it would”. They followed the government’s guidelines on facemasks, social distancing and sanitising the cars.

“We didn’t have any major issues with it, and we thank our loyal customer base for their support during this time,” said John.

Once they have closed the business, they will make the staff redundant, four of whom have been working there for over thirty years. The site will then be sold to property developers.

John and Eddie have seen many changes to the car industry during their time, most notable has been the introduction of electric cars. While this is a good way to address climate change, they foresee a few problems.

“The first problem is with the electricity supply. They want you to have electrical central heating and other electrical devices as well as electric cars. The other problems are the range, the components of the batteries and storing energy.”

These refer to the lack of lithium to manufacture batteries, and the instability of the supply of cobalt. These supply problems have been highlighted recently with the microchip shortage which has slowed down the manufacturing of electric cars. The last problem with the introduction of electric cars is the tax generated by fuel usage. “Every litre of fuel you buy is taxed around 60p by the government. Multiplied by the billions of litres sold, the government is going to lose a huge amount of tax revenue.”

They are sad to be closing the business and will miss the interactions with the customers. “We will miss the friendly banter and seeing our regular customers. The customers are our friends. The lady who was here before, we had a real laugh with her about one thing and another in a twenty-minute conversation. It is more than a business relationship because we have been dealing with these people for so long. There are lots of customers like that,” John reflected.

“We have made a living out of the car trade for 50 years. We’ve had an enjoyable time and made a decent living out of it. Job satisfaction and a living, what else could you ask for?”

Olivia Pegge
June 2022