In 2015, Calor celebrated its 80th year in business. Here we invite you to look back over the company’s history – how Calor started out, how it has survived and flourished throughout two tumultuous centuries.
The 1930s wasn't a promising time to start a new business: Britain was still recovering from the Great Depression, unemployment was high, and there was worrying political unrest in Europe. But it was against this backdrop that Richie Gill founded the Modern Gas and Equipment Co. Ltd in January 1935. The brand name "Calor" was coined in 1934, but the company only became 'official' on 2 August 1935 when Calor (Distributing) Co. Ltd was formally incorporated. The main product was butane, sold in cylinders to rural homes, but the new business expanded quickly as customers realised its many other uses. By 1939 the company had a head office in London and five regional offices around England.
Both flexible and portable, bottled gas was ideal for use in wartime. Despite various supply issues, Calor went from strength to strength – emerging poised to take advantage of the renewed optimism of the post-war years. The exceptionally hard winter of 1947 led to a major change in distribution with the signing of a contract to deliver cylinders by road instead of rail. In 1948, Calor received national recognition when it fuelled the Olympic flame at the London Games. Production was stepped up, transport links were improved and, on 2 November 1948, Calor became a ‘public company’ – entering a new phase of its history.
This new era of post-war prosperity marked a major change of direction for Calor with opportunities opening up in the industrial market. Butane, especially in cylinders, was unsuitable for the job but propane looked promising; in 1955 Calor commissioned its first bulk propane tanks and formed the Industrial Division on 1 January 1956. Although the Middle East crisis and the closure of the Suez Canal in 1956 caused major supply difficulties, the pace of expansion at Calor quickened as the company moved into many promising industrial markets.
1963 saw the formation of Calor Ltd and in 1966 a new head office was acquired in Slough, which soon housed over 300 employees. In 1967, Calor was granted a Royal Warrant for the supply of LPG to Her Majesty the Queen. Without doubt, the theme for Calor in the '60s was the meteoric rise in bulk sales to industry, but Calor was soon seeking new opportunities in the ‘Autogas’ and domestic bulk markets. By the end of a difficult economic decade, Calor was in good shape – yet constantly on the lookout for further applications for its increasingly versatile products.
The 1970s were characterised by recession, industrial disruption and severe supply difficulties; despite these issues, Calor continued to prosper, thanks to its constant efforts to keep evolving. No single development defined Calor’s success in the '70s better than the Super Ser cabinet heater, which emerged as the company's best-selling appliance of all time – rapidly replacing the paraffin heater as the nation's number one choice for spot heating. There were big increases too in sales of domestic twin cylinder installations, as well as the markets for fork-lift trucks, automotive gas (Autoblend), commercial catering and disposable cartridges.
A series of exceptionally mild winters inspired a new focus on ‘year-round business’ with attention shifted to the domestic central heating market and the leisure market. New initiatives such as "Best Kept Village" and "Calor Caravan Park Awards", coupled with the opening of direct sales outlets on the high street and increased advertising spend, greatly increased Calor’s visibility – allowing it to maintain its market-leading position in the face of stiff competition. The company’s successes made it an attractive investment prospect; in 1988, the privately owned Dutch company SHV acquired 40% of Calor's shares.
The 1990s saw significant changes in the operation of the business. ‘Alfresco’ sales boomed, and a greater emphasis was placed on the community and the environment. In 1997, Calor became a wholly owned subsidiary within the SHV Energy Group and moved to Warwick. The internet was now an important marketing tool and new technology enabled the company to centralise many of its regional functions. Yet as strategic developments gained pace, Calor continued to build a socially responsible policy with the introduction of “Calor in the Community™” to foster links between employees and local communities.
Calor entered the new millennium as a streamlined company ready to embrace the opportunities offered by increasingly sophisticated technology. There were significant changes within the business structure, with the creation of Calor Gas Direct – a partnership between Calor and its major dealers – and the expansion of the Calor Centre network. The end of the decade saw CalorForce, Calor’s specialist installation and maintenance division, move to Tachbrook Park, and the formation of a dedicated National Accounts team. At the same time, the company was paying increasing attention to its social responsibilities: with the introduction in 2009 of the FREE campaign, Calor’s Sustainability Commitment and the partnership with the Woodland Trust.
Meanwhile, Calor’s flexibility allowed it to move into the 21st century alongside renewable technologies such as solar, gas heat pumps and combined heat and power as THE rural fuel of the future.
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Read about our local initiatives like Start from the Heart and the Calor Wood
Find out more about our fundraising activities for Mind, our current corporate charity