After seven years of successful trading QTS, the independently owned warehouse equipment provider, has won itself an envied reputation for its flexibility as a supplier of roll cages, wire mesh decking and anti-collapse systems to the UK warehouse and transport industry. QTS works with some of the best-known names in retail and distribution, providing a flexible and innovative product range, backed up by first-class service.
Founded in 2003, QTS started out selling roll cages to end users, which it still does, but now it also sells racking accessories and a growing number of other storage-related products both direct to end users and through distributors. In recent months, QTS has been investing in developing additional new products, increasing its production capacity in China and opening a new warehouse in the UK which will enable it to hold a larger stock of new and existing products, reduce lead times for major orders and capture a wider audience. Bringing the story up to date, November sees QTS making its debut as an exhibitor at IMHX 2010. Shaun Ingram, Managing Director of QTS, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – First of all, Shaun, what do the initials ‘QTS’ stand for?
QTS stands for Qube Transportation Supplies Limited, the formal name of our holding company. We use QTS as the trading device. ‘Qube’ refers to how our equipment helps users to maximise use of space – the cube – in the warehouse and in the supply chain. The transportation element of our name comes from the initial products, which were generally centred on roll cages.
WLN – Who were the founders of QTS??
I founded QTS in 2003, with a business partner. In 2007 I took the daunting steps of buying out the partner as part of our push into new products and markets. QTS remains privately owned by myself.
WLN – What were you doing before that?
I had previously worked in the office interior business until the late 1990’s, after which I got involved in the storage industry, utilising my knowledge of low cost engineering products coming from Eastern Europe and the Far East and bringing them to the UK market.
WLN – What does your role as MD involve?
My role as MD differs daily, if not by the hour. Ultimately along with my management team here in the UK and in China we are constantly looking at areas to improve our offer to the customer and develop QTS into a worldwide brand.
WLN – Who else is in the senior management team?
Abi Owen has recently been appointed General Manager for the UK, and is a name many of our customers will recognise. Abi and her team have a great understanding of the requirements of the customers, and aim to offer a first class service as well as a first class product. Abi’s promotion now allows me to spend a little more time on developing our manufacturing facilities in China, in readiness for future growth.
WLN – Where is your UK headquarters?
QTS’ UK headquarters is now based in Hinckley. We have moved from our traditional base in Lutterworth, as we took the decision to undertake our own warehousing as opposed to using third party storage as part of our development.
WLN – How fast are you growing?
QTS, like most in the industry, had setbacks during the recession. However, what is pleasing for me is that our flexibility has allowed us to continue our plans for growth. With the new products we are launching at IMHX, we expect 2010-2011 to be the best year ever. Directly through our Chinese operation, our products are now becoming established in Australia, North America and South America.
WLN – You’ve come a long way since 2003, when you started out selling roll cages to end users. It’s a great success story. Can you talk us though it?
Our success has been down to good honest business practices, with good customer service at the forefront of everything we do. The main ingredient for me is the people I have employed who share my vision and enjoy coming to work, as this can be seen in our day-to-day dealings with customers. We have a low cost supply base in China, and I am convinced that our customers appreciate this, coupled with our service culture. We have gone one step further than most by investing in China with our trading office in Shanghai and factory in Nanjing, which gives us greater control over quality and lead times.
WLN – You’ve also got ISO9001:2008 accreditation. What difference does that make?
We gained the ISO9001 in 2007 under the old 2003 version and in 2008 updated this to the new version, along with many of our procedures. It is an important part of our business, as we have encountered the “oh is it made in China?” scenario, but once people really understand our quality control procedures and network in China, they are quickly assured that the products we supply will meet their requirements and in many cases exceed them.
WLN – Can you talk us through your current product range? Which are your biggest selling products?
QTS has generally been seen as a mesh-based manufacturer, and as such our largest sellers are the Easyshelf™, a high quality wire mesh deck system and our Q system™ Anti-Collapse mesh. Roll Cages of course are a big seller, but generally we only sell these on a project by project basis, not day to day like our other products. Our new ranges of upright protectors and barriers are developing well, and we expect our longspan system to be as successful in the UK as it has been in Australia and South America.
WLN – Do you also make ‘special’ products to meet specific customer requirements?
Yes, we do. Our customers have often asked us what other products we make. We see ourselves as supporting the racking industry and have good relationships with many of the European manufacturers of racking. Our aim is to support these manufacturers and their distributors with ancillary items vital for a successful project which are expensive to produce here in the UK. Such products include our Easyshelf™ and Q System™, along with our new range of racking protection in the form of barriers and upright protection. When developing new products we try to design them with all the major racking manufacturers in mind, and as such our products are then available to a wider range of customers. In addition to our own range of products we welcome volume enquiries for Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) products to match specific requirements.
We pride ourselves on our flexibility. It was once said to us that a shelf is a shelf, and to us that is like saying a car is a car. Of course we have stock product available from our warehouse for general requirements, however we believe our products have little about them that is “standard”, as it is all down to how they will be used and we design these products accordingly.
WLN – What are the minimum order quantities for specials? What are the lead times?
We don’t have a minimum order requirement, having our own factory. Our lead time is generally anywhere between six to eight weeks for specific manufactured products and one week for stock items.
WLN – Do you sell your products direct, through distributors or both? Can people order your standard products on line?
Our products cross over all sales channels. For instance 99% of our roll cage sales have gone direct to the customer, as the market is so competitive and technically specific there is little room for a distributor to operate. For our racking accessories such as the Easyshelf™ and Q system™, we recognise that these will form just one element in an overall project, so they are generally sold through distributors. We are working on a new website at the moment which will have the ability for some online trading, but this will be for small volume requirements, as we feel our customers get the best value by talking to us so as we can then specify exactly the right product for the application, and not just an off the shelf product.
WLN – Do you supply your equipment on long-term hire?
We try to avoid long term hire of our equipment as we have seen and heard of horror stories where a customer has hired 200 cages, only to return 100 after one year’s rental, and then being charged full market rate for the lost 100. We understand the commercial reasons for suppliers to do this, but we feel such situations can damage a long-term relationship.
WLN – Do you supply your equipment with tags of any kind, so it can be tracked and traced?
All our products are distinguishable by our own in-house systems: each order is tracked from manufacture through to delivery and the items are traceable in the event that the customer has any questions. We are careful with our branding so as to not affect our distributors’ relationships with their clients.
WLN – Do you offer a maintenance and repair service?
We do offer a repair and maintenance service on our roll cages, and also on other manufacturers’ equipment if required. The level of service is dependent on individual customers’ working environment and requirements, but we can generally suggest a cost effective workable solution.
WLN – Where are your products designed? Where are they made?
Our products are designed in the UK using up to date AutoCad and Solidworks design programs. Our products are then made in our own facilities in China, with the whole process being managed from the UK.
WLN – When did you open your China factory?
We originally started sourcing product from China in 2004 and like most people did this through a Chinese-based agent. Although we had success with this method it took a lot of management time to achieve the results we wanted. I took the decision in 2007 to begin the process of opening up a new company registered in China – an interesting experience in itself – to represent QTS and provide support in managing our orders from third party factories. As our demands for manufactured product grew, we realised that again we need more management time to control this. We therefore took the next stage and invested in our own plant which serves QTS here in the UK and nominated distributors in other areas of the world.
WLN – You’ve also just opened a new UK warehouse. Can you tell us about it – where is it? What previous facility does it replace?
As our product range developed, we found that our third party warehouse, which had served us well over the last five years, would find it difficult to accommodate the increase in stock, as well as the increase in tasks. Without moving too far we found a modern warehouse with office facilities in Hinckley, Leicestershire, which now houses all our stock.
WLN – What difference will the new warehouse make for you and your customers?
The new facility allows us to hold more stock of our existing range to serve more customers on our one week lead time, as well as to house the new products we are launching, such as barriers and upright protectors. We have also allocated some space in our warehouse for assembly and packing. This allows us to assemble longspan frames before delivery, if our customer wishes.
WLN – How do you sum up the QTS proposition as it now stands? What sets you apart from other warehouse equipment companies?
QTS is a service driven company who are passionate about getting it right first time, every time. If we do not meet our customers’ expectations for any reason, we never walk away, and I believe this distinguishes us from other suppliers in the industry. QTS is a rapidly developing company. The products being offered to existing customers is increasing at the same time as new markets become available.
QTS has embraced the low cost manufacturing facilities that China can offer by investing in facilities and people to ensure the service driven culture we have is maintained. I know other companies use China for manufacturing, but I do not know of any in our industry that have gone as far as we have in having our own setup in China, which brings greater flexibility and control of product and lead times to our customers.
WLN – What effect has the recession had on your business? Is business picking up now?
We have been affected by the recession, as we saw the larger projects we were working on being put onto the back burner. The good news is that these projects are now appearing on the radar again, so we are very optimistic for the future. Other areas such as Australia were less affected by the recession at the same time as us but have subsequently found things tougher as things here have started to pick up, so all in all our strategies have helped us over the worst and well positioned to push on.
WLN – You’re exhibiting at IMHX 2010. This is your first time at the show. Is this part of stepping up your marketing activity?
This is the first time at the IMHX as exhibitors for QTS, and it has been an eye opener for us with all the organising. We felt it was the right time for us to be exhibiting, given our expanded range of products, which I am sure will be well received by our customers new and old.
WLN – What are you exhibiting on your stand at IMHX? What are you hoping for from the show?
We will of course be showing our regular products such as the Easyshelf™ and the Q System™, but with a twist! We will also be showcasing some of our new product ranges such as the new longspan system, upright protectors and barriers. I am looking forward to welcoming our customers onto our stand, and using the show as a springboard to build upon our success to date.
WLN – Finally, where do you see QTS going from here?
We have a five-year plan for steady growth. The areas of growth we are looking for are in areas that we have yet to become established, such as mainland Europe. I am also expecting some good growth of the new products into our existing markets, and hopefully we will be at all future IMHX’s with more new products and stories of success.
QTS Tel: 01455 203 201 www.qts-ltd.co.uk