Tank firm tastes success in China

A fast-growing transportable tank business based in West Lancashire has seen a huge increase in turnover after developing a win-win solution for its operations in both China and the UK.

UBH International has seen its Chinese licensee become the world’s largest manufacturer of standard tank containers, while its UK manufacturing operation is driving the production of high value specialist tank containers.

As a result UBH, based in Burscough, has increased turnover by 25 per cent to £12.3m and recently purchased its £2.6m premises as part of a strategy to develop the facility and expand its 76-strong, shareholding workforce.

UBH is the UK's only manufacturer of inter-modal tank-containers that can be used interchangeably for road, rail and sea transport of bulk products, including liquids, chemicals, foodstuffs and gases.

The firm’s tank containers have major ecological advantages because they are reusable, with a service life of more than 20 years. The tanks are damage-resistant, minimising the risk of leaking harmful pollutants, and inter-modal transport flexibility means they are an efficient and environmentally friendly option for moving goods.

“In the late 90s, we were the world’s second largest producer of inter-modal tank-containers,” explained Tom Harding, sales and marketing director at UBH.

“We recognised the threat of low-cost manufacturing in China, but instead of battening down the hatches, we embraced the situation and licensed our standard tank container designs to a Chinese company. In a spectacularly successful 10 year alliance, we have seen our licensee become the world’s largest manufacturer of standard tank containers.”

At the same time UBH’s UK business moved away from the standard market to focus on building higher value, specialist tank containers. This strategic switch involved UBH exploiting its longstanding industry expertise to build a new, highly profitable niche business.

The company has been in manufacturing for fifty years and became an employee-owned enterprise in 1999. Its Burscough operation comprises a 100,000 sq ft state of the art production facility on a four-acre site.

“Our decision to purchase the site was based on the need to invest in developing new, more sophisticated tanks, including higher pressure gas tanks and cryogenic vessels,” said Tom. “At the same time, we wanted to use our healthy cash reserves to secure the long-term future of production on the site and reduce operating overhead.”

UBH has been advised by accountancy and business advisory firm Moore and Smalley in a number of key areas.

“As well as providing a seamless audit experience, Moore and Smalley have also provided strategic support when looking at potential development opportunities,” added Tom. “Support comes in many guises, whether it is tax advice or providing us with specific contacts relating to our future project needs.”

James Treadwell, partner at Moore and Smalley, said: “UBH is a great example of a company that is focusing on its key strengths to grow business at home and abroad. The company has differentiated itself from the competition domestically by focusing on higher-value products. By licensing its product in China, the company has also successfully minimised the impact of competition from a low cost manufacturing base.” Martin Beardsworth, head of commercial property at Napthens solicitors, also advised UBH on the acquisition of its premises.