Marking a 40th birthday is a milestone for anyone and for a business it is no different.

While other town firms have faltered Rapid Electronics, based on Severalls Lane, Colchester, has gone from strength to strength.

Later this month the firm’s 130 staff will gather and raise a glass to its success.

Rapid is a leading distributor of electronic components, cables and connectors and electrical products.

Customers can walk in off the street and purchase goods at the trade counter and have them in a matter of minutes.

The firm is also a key supplier of educational products to schools and colleges helping to kit out laboratories up and down the country and has been at the forefront of the coding scene.

This year it will expand further launching its own electric vehicle charging brand.

For a firm which started in a converted room above a garage in Kent it has come a long way.

It was founded by Mike Lee and Chris Stevenson in 1979. Its first premises in Essex were at the Hill Farm Industrial Estate, in Boxted, which was sometimes at the mercy of the elements.


  • Some of the staff pictured in 1988

During the Great Storm of 1987 the warehouse was badly hit and staff were asked to bring in hairdryers to dry out the stock.

In 1989, it moved to its first purpose-built site at Heckworth Close, on Colchester Business Park, and then in 2000 the company moved to Severalls Lane.

And while it has had many different homes in its 40 years, some of its staff have remained throughout.

Lynn Evans became Rapid’s first full-time employee when she joined in 1983. She joined just a few months after leaving school after answering an advert she saw in the paper.

She said: “I lived in Boxted so it was ideal for me. I went for an interview on a Friday with Mike Lee and he rang back and asked if I could start on the Monday.”

Lynn picked and packed orders but it was a lot different in the ‘green shed days’.


  • Lynn Evans at work in the 1990s

“We had no part numbering system. We literally had to work out what part the customer wanted from their own description of it and learn it,” she said.

“You just had to hope you got it right and usually we did.

I took orders over the phone, picked and packed, helped back the computer system up on floppy disk and used those old credit card swiping machines. It’s all changed today.

Denise Bird, HR manager, joined the firm in 1985. She started out as a sales clerk and has worked in a variety of jobs including as an admin manager and IT manager.

During her time she has also spearheaded the firm’s wellbeing policy organising workshops for mental health and first aid.


  • Denise Bird on her 10th anniversary presentation

“It’s been my life, my passion, and I feel lucky to have been on the journey and seen the company grow,” she said.

“As a small team we pulled together and did all we could to make sure orders went out, whatever the circumstances.

We may be a little bigger now but the principles are still the same – the customer has always come first

Rapid has been at the forefront of helping schools and now has a dedicated team who work on a host of projects.

The firm co-founded the Toyota Technology Challenge in 2004 getting pupils to create environmentally-friendly electric model vehicles.

Since 2012, it has also co-ordinated the VEX Robotics competitions with hundreds of pupils taking part nationally. Most recently it saw the team mentor North Primary School for the world championships in Kentucky.

Chris Calver from Brightlingsea, started at the business 20 years ago and now leads the firm’s work with schools and STEM subjects.

In September, the business will launch training for teachers on science and technology subjects.

“There are really important curriculum changes and there is very much a focus on STEM subjects,” he said.

We have built a teacher training facility. Teachers will be able to use equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters - stuff which is not necessarily in schools - and give them ideas for lessons

“We are trying to upskill and show how it can be done.”

There will also be workshops for primary schools. Chris, who went to Colchester Sixth Form College, is now helping to inspire the next generation of engineers.


  • Pupils involved in the Toyota Technology Challenge

“It is absolutely the most rewarding thing you can do,” he said. “One of the members of staff is someone I mentored in Year 8 at school. To have that person as part of my team is incredible. There are also people I’ve mentored who are now doing Masters degrees in engineering.”

Jim Rugg is part of the electrical vehicle charging team.

The firm works with Schneider Electric and EO, suppliers of charging products, to offer products to customers.

Jim, who drives an electric BMW i3, said the electric car business was an exciting area to work in as the public become more aware.

“Electric vehicles have come so far in five years,” he said.

“When I got my car it could only do 80 miles, now the new model does 180 miles.

“We need to build the understanding and work on the education and also focus on the opportunities it provides. Everyone is interested in it and everyone wants to know more.”

The firm is in the process of installing charging points at its Colchester base for staff.

So what is the key to longevity and reaching a milestone birthday? Managing director James Bates said it is forward-thinking and diversifying.

He said: “I see a really bright future for Rapid and it is in a good place to deal with any opportunities.

We have an amazing focus on customers and we have employees who care so much about the company.

“We are proud of the culture we are able to foster among our employees – the fact that we have so many long-standing members of staff is testament to this.”

As part of its celebrations Rapid is holding a business networking event at its offices on July 26 from 2pm to 4pm.