A Black Country manufacturing company that traces its roots back to 1876 is celebrating 25 years in its present form.
Locwil Limited, in Lanesfield, makes coin-operated products for washrooms. Two of Locwil’s craftsmen, John Mason of Ettingshall, and Paul Millard of Tipton, are celebrating 25 years at the firm.
The duo were presented with gifts for long service by Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, and Janet Wilson-Bett, a director of Locwil, at the Spring Road factory.
Originally Lockerbie and Wilkinson, the company specialised in abattoir equipment and architectural ironmongery including coin-operated products.
It was acquired by 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 70s the firm employed more than 250 in Tipton. In 1983, Stewart’s father, John Wilson-Bett, bought the coin-operated products business out of Lockerbie and Wilkinson, preserving the old brand name Locwil.
After John’s death in 2003 Stewart Wilson-Bett took over.
The Spring Road factory now employs seven. Locwil specialises in vending machines for washrooms and its products are in use across the UK and 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”, said Mr Wilson-Bett. “Although our customer base is strongest in the West Midlands we cover the UK and Ireland.”
Marketing manager Sally Day said: “With a good strong market share in the UK and with help from the Chamber of Commerce, we have embarked on a Passport to Export programme to explore new overseas markets.”
Locwil invented, and is still the only maker of, the “penny in the slot” lock for toilet doors, 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 have people coming in off the streets to use the toilets,” said Mr Wilson-Bett. “They can pay for themselves very quickly, and deliver a good profit. They’re also in demand in places like campsites and visitor attractions. We can adapt them to any coin or a token.
"They’re simple, robust and don’t malfunction. The basic principle of design hasn’t changed but production methods have been modernised – if it isn’t broke, don’t mend it. The locks have a heritage feel They’re solid brass and completely hand crafted – proof there is still a demand for products made by traditional manufacturers in England.”
The company also customises vending machines.
“Our basic product has to be simple, strong, reliable and robust to withstand daily use in high traffic areas,” added Mr Wilson-Bett. “So the inner shell, coin mechanism and 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 working on different shapes in strong colours. We concentrate on finding out what customers want, and make it work.”
Mr McFadden said on his visit to Locwil: “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 testament to that.
“Companies like this whose work is to make high quality products are part of a long and proud tradition. I’m delighted to honour long serving staff John Mason and Paul Millard who have worked at the company for 25 years.”
Margaret Corneby of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said: “Locwil are a real Black Country treasure. The way they have taken their product and developed it to an unmatched level of quality, something that you can see and feel, is something this region continues to be world renowned for.”
Since Stewart Wilson-Bett took over Locwil in 2003, the company has experienced a consistent growth.