back »Liverpool Post Profile: John Laidlaw, managing director of Dantec

( 23 / 10 / 2012 )

Tony McDonough meets John Laidlaw, managing director of specialist hose maker Dantec
BACK in 1994, Formula 1 racing driver Jos Verstappen pulled into the pits at the German Grand Prix for refuelling when the fuel hose ignited, engulfing the Benetton pit in flames.
Miraculously, there were no serious injuries, but the next day F1 executives picked up the phone and called Dantec.
Since the 1970s, the Wirral-based firm has been a supplier of specialist composite ultra-safe hoses and, within days of the pit lane fire, F1 became a customer.
And, largely thanks to the vision of current managing director, John Laidlaw, the Moreton firm is now exporting to 50 countries and is the third-biggest player in the composite hose market.
Last year, Laidlaw and his co-directors, Derek Connolly and Jon Loach, led a private equity-backed management buyout of the firm.
Dantec has just seen its best-ever year of trading with turnover hitting £5.6m and Scottish-born Laidlaw, who joined the firm in 2001, aims to grow that to £7.9m by 2015.
“I was originally brought in to oversee a period of change for the company,” said Laidlaw, 52.
“At that time, as well as the hoses, Dantec was selling a range of other products and it was decided to just focus on the manufacturing and selling of the hoses.
“It was a risk and turnover did drop. But we saw profitability increase so the decision has paid dividends.
“Sometimes you have to be bold.”
Composite hoses differ from those made from rubber or metal and are typically used to transfer oil products, chemicals and liquefied gases.
“The original founder of the business was a local man called Dan Davies,” said Laidlaw.
“Initially it was formed to make gaskets for the petrochemical complex in Ellesmere Port and the Vauxhall car plant.
“Dan started to sell hoses, distributing on behalf of a London-based manufacturer. But in 1978 he had looked at it and thought he could make them better.
“At that time we were number four in the UK and now we are number one and we are in the top three in the world as well.
“Composite hoses are made up of different materials and, unlike any other type of flexible hose, they are not bonded together in any way except by pressure.
“And what that gives you is an extremely light product compared to the other types, something that is extremely flexible and extremely safe.
“In other types of hoses, if you get a build-up of pressure, you can end up with a catastrophic failure and an explosion.
“With a composite hose you get a perculation of vapour to the outer cover thereby giving an early warning sign that something is wrong.”
Dantec’s hoses are made by hand by highly-skilled and experienced workers. Laidlaw says there is not yet an automated process that can do it as well.
The company’s main target market is export. When Laidlaw joined just 25% of its products were exported – now this has risen to 75% and is projected to growth further.
Laidlaw explained: “We dominate the UK market but it is relatively static – it is not growing.
“The product is used anywhere where there is a transfer taking place between a ship and shoreside tanks, or ship-to-ship and tanker trucks.
“If you go to a BP filling station and see a tanker truck offloading fuel you will see one of our hoses.
“Tank storage terminals are our biggest single market worldwide – transferring ship to shore.
“The tank terminals that are being built worldwide – South East Asia, US, Middle East and Australia  are burgeoning markets for us.”
Laidlaw says one of the biggest problems in these fast-growing market is the overuse of cheaper, inferior and dangerous hoses.
He says this represents an opportunity for Dantec.
“We have built up our technology over a 40-year period,” he said.
“Because it is largely a hand-built product the quality is down to the skill of the people who make it – some of them have been in this factory for 15 years and it takes a lot of training to be able to do it.
“In some areas of the world they are making hoses of a substandard quality. They are very high-risk.
“We explain to people that if they have a ship worth £100m and a terminal worth £150m why would they take a chance on the quality of the hose costing a couple of thousand pounds.”

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