Hughes Company History
You Can’t Do Business Out Of An Empty Wagon. (Family Motto)
The year was 1920. Young Harry Hughes was very ill with asthma. He had also fallen while ice skating, and they thought he might have tuberculosis of the bone. The doctors told Harry’s parents that they should leave Indiana to find a healthier climate. Clarence and Mother Hughes packed all their belongings in their brand new Overland Model 75 and left for Florida with their two sons, Harry and Russell.
When the Hughes family reached Orlando, Harry’s asthma seemed to get better. So Clarence decided that Central Florida would be a good place for their new home. Harry spent his days playing alone. “The kids didn’t want to play with an invalid, so I spent my time rowing on Lake Eola. It was still surrounded by bushes and wildlife in those days.”
While Harry regained his health, his father Clarence and older brother Russell worked as electrical contractors wiring houses and buildings. They even wired the original Orlando High School (now Howard Junior High). Sometimes it was difficult to complete a job. They could never get all the supplies they needed from the one electrical supply house in town.
Russell complained, “They acted like they were doing you a favor by selling you something.” He wanted to start his own electrical supply business. But, times were hard and Clarence wasn’t sure. They would have to borrow the money to get started.
Mother Hughes, a lady of great spirit and conviction, intervened, “Clarence, I think you ought to let him go ahead.”
In 1928, Clarence and Russell Hughes went before the board of the First National Bank of Orlando and asked to borrow S10,000. One member of the board wanted to know when they planned to pay it back. Russell quipped, “When we make it.”
In those early days, Clarence and Russell operated their electrical supply business out of the garage behind their house on Central. As the supply business grew, electrical contracting was phased out. Eventually the business was too big for the garage. So they moved to new headquarters in Concord.
While Clarence and Russell were building the business, Harry was attending school at Rollins and working a paper route. Then the depression came and everyone had to tighten their belts. Harry quit school and joined the business.
Harry joked, “In those days we were nothing more than hucksters. We used to load all our supplies on a truck and take turns driving it around the state calling on customers.”
The family motto became, “You can’t do business out of an empty wagon.” The Hughes’ always prided themselves on providing their customers with service and all the supplies they would need to do any job from start to finish.
Harry became the super salesman, outgoing and friendly to everyone. Harry didn’t know a stranger. He was responsible for bringing in Hughes Supply’s biggest account, the Florida Power Corporation.
Russell was the tough-minded business manager nicknamed, “the Bull,” because of his forceful nature. A long time employee said, “The Army missed out on one of the best top sergeants they could have ever had when they overlooked Russell. He could walk into a room and if folks were standing around in a bull session, they would scatter like doves. Why, once we had a young fellow in shipping and Russell sent word that he wanted to see him about a delivery of some sort. When the boy opened his office door and saw Russell, he fainted flat on his back.”
Known affectionately as “Mr. Outside” and “Mr. Inside,” Harry and Russell had opposite but complementary personalities. Harry was the best PR man Hughes ever had. He was good at meeting people of importance all over the state. Russell had a powerful personality and the uncanny ability to make the right decision in an instant.
The hurricane of ’35 blew the roof off the building on Concord Street. Russell’s son, R.V., remembers, “Dad, grandfather and I drove out during the hurricane looking for another place to move. The wind was blowing like crazy.”
Hughes Supply moved to a new location on Hughey Avenue where the police station is today. The only heat in the Hughey Avenue store was a big old pot-bellied stove. Everybody used to stand by it in the morning to warm up.
Those were happy times according to former employees. The operation was small and family-oriented. Even Harry’s wife, Bunny, would help out when the secretary or bookkeeper wasn’t there. The whole family would pitch in during inventory.
Bunny, Harry’s partner for 52 years, said with a twinkle in her eye, “Harry always said he married me because I had a good job. I was working for a CPA when he met me. He said I married him because he had a convertible with red wire wheels.”
When World War II started, Hughes Supply was involved in the war effort making bomb casings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One of the problems during the war years was in getting supplies from the north. Always ready to turn a challenge into an opportunity, Russell Hughes decided to buy the company’s first long-distance trucks. They would haul fruit and produce northbound and return with supplies for inventory.
From humble beginnings in the back of a garage on Central Boulevard, Hughes Supply has grown steadily.
In response to growing demand from customers who performed electrical and plumbing work, Hughes Supply added plumbing supplies to its distribution in the 1940s.
HAJOCA and USCO History
In 1858, William S. Cooper invested his life savings of $200 to start a business grinding key stops for plumbers in Philadelphia. Later, he was joined by a couple of partners named Jones and Cadbury. A foundry where plumbing brass goods could be manufactured was opened, but still not under the HAJOCA name. That didn’t happen until Cooper left the firm and William Haines joined Jones and Cadbury. The last names of the three partners were used to create the HAJOCA name.
William H. HAines, Thomas J. JOnes and Joel CAdbury: HAJOCA for short.
In 1949, the Plyer family started Union County Supply Company affectionately known as USCO. USCO was born in Union County, North Carolina and expanded its reach throughout the Carolina’s distributing plumbing supplies, pumps and well supplies. During the Bicentennial year of 1976, USCO expanded further by opening a new location in Statesville on 1840 Shelton Avenue where it is today. In 1986, Hughes Supply acquired USCO with 10 locations in North and South Carolina. Hughes operated under the HD Supply name for several years before coming back home to Hughes.
On September 12, 2011, we were welcomed back home by the Hajoca Corporation. We’re proud to be a part of the USCO, Hughes Supply and HAJOCA legacies.