On a recent visit to EventCity in Manchester (our venue for the 2018 Movers & Storers Show), we managed to find the time to pop in to Unique Van Bodies in Warrington and meet Rob Hampson, the new General Manager. We had a fascinating chat with Rob about his engineering background, his plans for the future of the company, and the challenges facing the removals industry.
Of course, when we say Unique Van Bodies (or UVB for short), you’ll be forgiven for thinking of Terry Sinnott as the man in charge. However, Terry has been mostly retired since April this year and is now just doing the odd day in the office to assist Rob. We also caught up with Terry by phone to find out a bit more on the subjects of his career, his memories of the industry, and his retirement plans.
Anyone who has met Rob Hampson will know that he has a relaxed and friendly demeanour, but a sharp strategic business acumen lurks just beneath the surface. His background is in mechanical engineering for the automotive industry, but when we asked him if this meant he was on a steep learning curve, he chuckled and pointed out “a truck’s just a bigger version of a car”. He gave us a tour of the UVB factory, and both his technical understanding of the build process and his passion for the product were evident. Furthermore, although this is his first time having the words ‘General Manager’ on his CV, he is no stranger to leadership roles. He has managed departments throughout his 32-year career, built technical operations from the ground up, and in his last role he was in charge of a 140-strong team.
So what attracted him to the role at UVB? Rob explained to us that he was head-hunted for the position, but before making the move he had several discussions with Robert Bartup (the owner) about his vision for the future. Rob Hampson could see that the business had recovered from the recession and was moving forwards again, and that with a good workforce and plenty of drive, it had huge potential. Rob clearly wanted to be at the helm of a company that was growing and moving forwards, and obviously Robert Bartup was fully supportive of change and development.
So where is the growth going to come from? We asked Rob if UVB would be sticking to the same high-quality GRP builds that they are known for. “Cheap is cheap for a reason” he replied. “Our builds will still be top quality – 100%”. However, he went on to explain that he was looking at new technologies and processes, and working closely with his suppliers to offer a more cost-effective build solution as well. He understands that movers are under pressure financially, and is keen to offer great quality options to suit more budgets. Not everyone is in the market for a body that will last for twenty years, and UVB are keen to supply vehicles for a wider range of moving firms in the future.
He will, however, still be producing the model trucks that UVB are also famed for. “In fact, we’re working on two right now”. So the plan is clearly to continue specialising in bodies for the removals industry, although Rob is keeping an open mind – always with quality at the forefront though.
“We’re doing more vehicles for fine art movers with eighteen builds for Constantine, and we’ve also started working for the royal movers as well. We’ll keep an open mind on haulage builds too.”
So what challenges are facing the industry in Rob’s mind? ULEZ’s are definitely a big issue, with fleet upgrades being demanded quicker than originally planned. Rob explained that UVB builds can help with this, as they are so durable they can be put onto new chassis quite easily, which is cheaper for movers in the long run. He is doubtful about the disruptive potential of electric trucks (having worked with Toyota on the hybrid project), but believes hybrid or dual fuel hydrogen cells could be the future once a refuelling infrastructure is in place. However, he wasn’t gloomy about the future of diesel. “I still honestly think diesel can have its day. It needs cleaning up, but it still has time to run before it gets phased out completely.”
Importantly, Rob seems to have forged a really good working relationship with Terry, who is still coming in regularly. “His industry knowledge is unbelievable” Rob says warmly, and we’re left in no doubt that the new boss sees the former boss as a great asset, and someone for whom he has enormous respect. All in all, it seems like the future is bright at UVB, and there are likely to be some changes and exciting announcements in the near future.
There can’t be many people in the removals industry who don’t know Terry Sinnott. His 53 year career has been totally devoted to building trucks for movers, so you’d be hard pressed to find someone with more knowledge, skill and passion than him when it comes to removals body building. Furthermore, he has regularly attended conferences and trade shows to meet movers – often with his wife Sue who also worked at UVB – so he has been a familiar (and friendly) face on the industry events circuit for many years.
Terry’s career began at the tender age of 15 with Marsden Coachbuilders where he completed an apprenticeship. A lovely reminder of that time is a wall cabinet currently in the UVB offices (picture below), which was built by Arthur Rathbone, who Terry refers to as “the father of the industry”. He created it out of the back end of a vehicle, and one of Terry’s first jobs as an apprentice was to pass him the tools as he built it. The cabinet got taken to conferences to demonstrate Marsden’s work, and we got the impression that Terry would happily have it in his house if only Sue would agree to it!
In 1972 Terry moved across to VanPlan, but in 1986 when it became Marsden VanPlan, he ended up back in the Marsden family. He remembers that period of career with pride, particularly an episode in 1988 when vehicle body builders were pressured to achieve BS5750. According to Terry, this sent the management into something of a panic. “We were all good at building trucks, but we weren’t so good with paperwork,” he said. He stepped up, and with dedication and a lot of hard work, he was successful in achieving the standard for his company.
When the company closed in 2005, Terry went to work for MI Commercials, but when the MD Chris decided to sell in 2007, he found himself at a critical moment. Keen to continue building removal trucks and determined about the potential of the industry, Terry approached Robert Bartup for funding for his new venture – Unique Van Bodies. Of course, almost as soon as UVB was up and running, the catastrophic recession of 2008 struck. It’s clear that this was an incredibly challenging time for the business, but Terry speaks of Robert Bartup’s support and commitment with huge respect and admiration. “He stuck with us, and he didn’t have to” he said, and went on to explain how they used the quieter times to make product improvements and develop the boat tail vehicle body, which delivers significant fuel savings.
Another major challenge in Terry’s career was the need to obtain Vehicle Type Approval, which once again saw him drowning in paperwork, but he proved more than capable of meeting the challenge and succeeding.
Terry’s fondness for the removals industry was obvious when we asked him about his favourite industry characters. “I’ve met some real nice people, some real gentlemen, and also some real tough customers” he said. One of the industry gents he mentions is Chris Parish from Parish of Bovingdon, who he met in 1992 and is also recently retired. The word ‘gentleman’ is clearly full of meaning for Terry – it seems to imply honesty, integrity and kindness all rolled in together. He also mentions what he calls the ‘serious truckies’ – customers like James De Machen of James Removals, Matt James of Matthew James Global Relocations, and Mike Christopher of M.J. Christopher & Sons. “They knew exactly what they wanted, and always kept me on my toes” he said with a chuckle.
So how is this trailblazer of the bodybuilding industry spending his retirement? He’s certainly not stuck for things to do. As well as all the usual DIY and decorating that we all put off until we have time, he’s keeping busy with gardening (he’s a keen veg grower), his drone camera, and looking after his koi carp. He’s also planning to take a photography course, and both he and Sue spend plenty of time helping their two kids as well.
If you’re missing him already, don’t despair – Terry is planning on attending The Movers & Storers Show in November at EventCity, so you can meet both he and Rob on the UVB stand then.