Locwil Limited, based in Lanesfield, Wolverhampton, a well-known manufacturer of coin-operated products for washrooms, is celebrating its 25th birthday in its current form.
Originally called Lockerbie and Wilkinson, specialising in abattoir equipment and architectural ironmongery, including coin-operated products, the company was acquired by the present Managing Director Stewart Wilson-Bett’s grandfather, Davis Green and his brother Walford, in the early 1900s.
The business continued under the leadership of Davis’s wife Sylvia, who died in 1965, passing control to daughter Janet, Stewart’s mother. In the 1970’s the firm employed over 250 people at its site in Tipton. In 1983, Stewart’s father, John Wilson-Bett, bought the coin operated products business out of Lockerbie and Wilkinson, thus preserving the old brand name Locwil. Following John’s death in 2003 Stewart took over the company. The factory now employs seven people. Locwil’s products are in use all over the UK and parts of Europe, including railway stations, cafes, motorway service areas, conference centres and commercial offices.
“I’ve concentrated on re-focusing the business, streamlining the operation and exploring new markets”, says Stewart Wilson-Bett. “Although our customer base is strongest across the West Midlands we cover the whole United Kingdom and Ireland.”
Marketing Manager Sally Day added: “With a good strong market share in the United Kingdom and now with help from the Chamber of Commerce we have recently embarked on a ‘Passport to Export’ programme to explore new overseas markets”.
Locwil invented, and is still the only manufacturer of, the ‘penny in the slot’ lock for toilet doors, which was launched in the 1880s. The locks are hand-made from solid brass by locksmith Paul Millard. A niche market item, they are still in demand for public toilets. “They are also popular with high street bars and restaurants that experience a footfall of people coming in off the streets just to use the toilets,” says Stewart. “They can actually pay for themselves very quickly, and even deliver a good profit. They’re also in demand in places like campsites and visitor attractions. We can adapt them to take any coin, or even a token. They’re simple, robust and don’t malfunction. The basic principle of the design hasn’t changed but production methods have been modernised – if it isn’t broken, don’t mend it!”
The company also customises its vending machines. “Our basic product has to be simple, strong, reliable and robust to withstand daily use in high traffic areas”, says Stewart. “So the inner shell, the coin mechanism and the front cover have to be tough. But we can customise the interior to fit any type of small packet such as pain relief tablets or mints etc. We are also working on different shapes at present in strong colours. We concentrate on finding out what our customers want, and then make it work.”
During a visit to the factory, Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, said: “Sometimes people argue Britain is purely a service industry economy but that’s wrong. Manufacturing is still a critically important part of our economy and our national story and companies like Locwil are a testament to that. Companies like this whose work is to make high quality products are part of a long and proud tradition.”
Since Stewart took over Locwil in 2003, the company has experienced consistent growth. He explains: “Locwil has seen just about every kind of market condition since its foundation, so we are experienced in handling and adapting to change. We have a good order book, we understand our client base and we are looking into Europe to grow the business further. We’re looking forward to the next 25 years.”