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Blackpool invention takes on the world’s fuel criminals

14 years ago, two Blackpool hauliers invented a fuel safety and security device that solved the problem of fuel theft. It was the beginning of an adventure that has taken TISS Security Systems into 45 territories worldwide.And as Blackpool Unlimited discovered, there’s plenty more left in the tank.

Oil prices may have taken a recent tumble, but the long-term trend towards more expensive fuel has seen a huge increase in the theft of diesel direct from hauliers’ vehicles.

In 2011, Commercial Motor reported that fuel accounted for over two-thirds of all theft from LGVs. Every month, fuel theft accounts for millions of pounds in lost revenues for companies across the globe.

How to turn an idea into a product
For companies installing TISS’ TankSafe‘Impregnable’Devices, fuel theft and spillages are a thing of the past. In a little over a decade, TISS has taken a novel idea and turned it into a Queen’s Award-winning global sensation.

TISS-MATT

For companies installing TISS’ TankSafe‘Impregnable’Devices, fuel theft and spillages are a thing of the past. In a little over a decade, TISS has taken a novel idea and turned it into a Queen’s Award-winning global sensation.
TISS Commercial Director, Matthew Rose, explains how: Ryan Wholey, current TISS CEO and founder ran his own haulage firm with his Father and it was they who had the initial idea of a device to cut fuel theft. “So post-idea the first task was research. Was there anything similar to TankSafe on the market? In our case the answer was no. Next we assessed the product’s potential market and realised it was huge. We put feelers out to relevant bodies, trade organisations and haulage operators who could evaluate our ideas and give us some honest feedback.

“Armed with what they’d told us, we started work on the prototype and road tested it with haulage firms.

The current advanced engineered TankSafe Devices have developed from the humble beginnings of an early prototype based on a Baked Bean Tin with Holes drilled into the bottom. From this primitive concept, the product has evolved substantially with each new Design launch.

“Once we had a product we were happy with we looked at finding the most suitable route to take what we had to market.

The road to market
The TISS team knew they had something special – “We were quite fortunate,” says Matthew. “Our background meant we understood the difficulties hauliers faced, and most companies we approached said it was a good idea. The real challenge in getting people to sit up and take notice of TankSafe was that not all companies – or territories – realised they had a problem with fuel theft.”

Awareness wasn’t the only challenge. “Testing and getting prototypes done quickly was an issue. In the early stages we didn’t have the resources we have now. Developing prototypes was expensive and then it had to be tested externally because we didn’t have the facilities ourselves. So we were grateful for the contacts we had in the industry who road tested on our behalf.”

National and international success
It took around two years to take TISS’ first generation of the TankSafe device from drawing board to production. Whilst the company knew the global potential of the device, their initial focus was closer to home.

“We needed to go for the low hanging fruits initially, building up our client base here before we took it wider,” explains Matthew.“It was around4 years after our UK launch that we started making forays into the rest of the world.”

Keeping a world of clients happy
Those first forays became a presence in 45 countries. But how does a business based in Blackpool manage to respond to the individual needs of so many clients in so many territories?

“It’s a big task,” smiles Mathew, “but we try and treat our international partners as we would if they were based down the road in Preston. Whilst we can’t see them as often as we could if they were nearby, we do see all our clients and partners multiple times a year. Each territory has its own dedicated account manager who liaises with them at least once a week via Skype.”

Staying ahead of the economy – and the competition
TISS didn’t stop at TankSafe. The following years brought PlantSafe and ReeferSafe, providing fuel security for industrial plant machinery and refrigerated transporters. Hadn’t there been a temptation to stick with the initial success?
“No – not at all. The 2008/9 recession showed us just how delicately balanced things could be. During the recession no-one was buying new trucks so if we’d stayed solely with our initial product it would have had a significant impact on the business.

“And the other reason we needed to diversify,” Matthew reflects, “Is that if we didn’t do it someone else would.”

Blackpool benefits
“We’re very proud of being based in Blackpool. All our manufacturing’s done in Lancashire, and that’s something that’s well received around the world by all our customers and partners because they know they’ll get quality.”

TISS’ workforce is local too, which has brought its own challenges. “Staff retention is something we have to work hard at. A lot of people in the area may naturally gravitate towards Manchester, Liverpool or London.

“So our task is to make their role fulfilling, and make them want to stay with us. That’s something else we’re really proud of, because almost half our staff have been here for over a decade.”

The power of Meat Loaf
“I think one real benefit of being based in Blackpool is that it’s a great conversation starter. Whenever we go to see a new customer in the UK invariably the reaction will be ‘Ahh, Blackpool. I went there on a weekend/holiday etc.’ It’s great for building rapport because there’s a lot of affection for the town and everyone’s got their own Blackpool memories.

“When we go overseas and explain where we’re from, and the attractions and history of the place, it’s a quirky difference that makes us stand out.

“We invite our international partners to come over and see us and when they visit they’re always really impressed by the level of attractions and entertainment the town has to offer because it’s not what they’re used to.

“Some of our international partners came over a few months back and we took them to the Sands Venue to see the Legends show. They watched the Elvis and Meat Loaf tributes, then we headed down the prom to the Tower, and then into the arcades. They don’t have anything comparable in their Countries, therefore they loved it all– so Blackpool can be a great place to build business relationships.”

Winning the Queen’s Award
Almost since its inception, TISS has been picking up awards. The company was Siemen’s ‘Best New Product’ in 2001 and HSBC’s ‘Start Up Stars Finalist’ in 2002.
In 2014, the company won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade. The value the company places on its awards goes far beyond pride.

“When you show people - at home or overseas – the photographs of us receiving our award at Buckingham Palace, you can see the effect it has. It immediately gives you credibility. It tells prospective clients or partners that they’re dealing with a good, well run, successful company. That’s an incredibly powerful tool.”

4 ways to grow your business in Blackpool
Not every business has the benefit of a unique and inspirational product behind it. But Matthew believes local businesses can enjoy international success by emulating TISS’ journey.

1. Think global. Look local. “It’s important that local businesses have ambitions outside the region. But it’s equally important to recognise the help that exists within the town and county to help you realise them. So set your sights wide, but use the best of your local resources – from funding opportunities and council initiatives to your local Chamber of Commerce.”

2. Keep talking. “Talk to everyone about what you’re trying to do and achieve. That’s what we did and it’s a great way to learn and get valuable feedback. And you never know which doors a chance conversation may open.”

3. Set goals.“Everyone needs something to aim for. Set achievable and aspirational goals – short term targets and longer term aims over 2/3 years.”

4. Cashflow is king. “Keep a close eye on cashflow. As your company grows you need to be able to make the most of opportunities that come your way and you don’t want to find you can’t do something because the money isn’t there.”

Thinking big
What’s next for TISS? There are plans for new products but Matthew is, understandably, keen to keep them under wraps for the time being. But the global expansion continues with plans to bring a further wave of new territories online in 2015.

“Having 6 years of experience at developing international markets,We know how to go about securing suitable partners. We know what we’re looking for and what support our partners require. Having that experience makes it easier to enter new territories.”

Is there time to reflect on how far TISS has come? “It has been a pretty speedy ride,” Matthew acknowledges, “but we don’t tend to look back. We’re always looking at what’s next.”

Editors note

Matthew will also be our main speaker at our Inspiring Business Success event ‘How we implemented our Marketing Plan’ on the 29th January, please click here to take you to the event details