Since its foundation in 1957, Universal Towel Company has grown steadily and built a deserved reputation as an innovative supplier to the textile rental industry.

In the last two decades, the company has developed beyond its core product of cabinet roller towels to expand into providing quality kitchen linen products, washroom products, industrial wipers, dustmats and workwear. It supplies the UK, European and wider international markets.

Not content to look back on its past innovations, the company now has plans for further development.

UTC’s managing director Tony Filer is keen to emphasise that the company’s message – “Tomorrow’s Ideas in Today’s Markets” – is more than just a clever marketing slogan.

Whilst the company’s roots lie in the cabinet roller towel sector, UTC aims to become one-stop shop for a range of products including laundry, washroom and

janitorial supplies.

It still believes in developing its core market sector and recently introduced the Kompatto fully retractable towel cabinet but has also has branched into other areas.

These include the on-going development of a range of

anti-bacterial and anti-fungal kitchens cloths, the creation of a washroom services division, the introduction of a comprehensive selection of laundry bags, industrial wipers and microfibre products.

In the year to May 2010, the company’s turnover was in excess of £5million.

Cabinet roller towels, which produced around £2million turnover – 50% of this is export – still account for the largest share of the business, says Filer. This business is carried out in partnership with the Sang Cheong Textile Company in China.

The company has a long history in this field, introducing the first plastic towel cabinet, the

Supa-matic during the 1960s and following that with the world’s first continuous towel processing machine, the Supa-Wash.

The company moved its operational headquarters earlier this year to Foundry Court in Foundry Lane, Horsham, West Sussex. The company purchased the premises freehold and all UTC’s administrative and sales functions are carried out here.

The UTC distribution centre is based in Tonbridge, Kent. This provides a “just in time” delivery service direct to the customers’ premises through its integrated transport system.


UTC’s biggest revenue earner after cabinet roller towels is kitchen linens. Turnover for UTC here is £1.5million a year. The category , which includes tea towels, kitchen cloths, glass cloths, waiters’ cloths and bar cloths, is often overlooked. The products are seen as cheap commodity items and kitchen staff often use them to mop up spills, retrieve dishes from the oven and other uses for which they were not designed.

Filer says work on the company’s anti-bacterial linen range first began in 1997. Research and development was carried out at the Spring Grove plant in Shepherds Bush, in collaboration with Nottingham University.

To bring the product to market UTC spun Amicor fibre into cotton to create a 70/30 mix. Amicor is an anti-bacterial acrylic fibre developed by Courtaulds. These characteristics last well in use and withstand washing because the antibacterial characteristics are within the fibre.

Filer says that the company plans to announce significant developments in the sector later this year.

The disposable hot towel is a restaurant-related development which has proved highly successful. This has been on the market for a couple of years now and on its own accounts for £0.25million of the kitchen linen turnover.


Laundry bags have proved a successful addition to the UTC range with customer logos and instructions printed to requirements.

The company has moved into this sector supported by its sister company in China.

Turnover has now grown to over £0.75million a year, making UTC a leading supplier of bespoke laundry bags in the UK.

The company has developed a range of bag designs, fastening methods, fabrics and colours that appeal to textile rental customers that demand bespoke solutions to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

This flexibility in design options is brought about by the success of UTC’s use of discharge printing, a method of applying a design to dyed fabric by using a colour-destroying agent, such as chlorine or hydrosulphite, to bleach out a white or light pattern on a darker coloured ground.

Unusually the bags feature a document wallet to hold the laundry details, doing away with the “tie it on” method of labelling batches.

Towel dispensers

In the washroom division – where turnover is around £0.5million a year – the company aims to introduce a wide range of products from fragrances, which UTC can source in China, to janitorial products.

As an example of innovation here, Filer cites the Kompatto range of dispensers for textile and non-woven towel rolls.

This was developed by UTC in conjunction with Mar Plast of Italy, and is marketed in the UK, Europe and the USA.

The range includes a manual cabinet with automatic rewind; a cabinet with a fully retractable towel that allows users to pull out a clean section as the soiled section of towel is automatically rewound back into the cabinet after use and an electronic version operated by a photo-electric cell.

UTC can offer a range of paper towel roll dispensers, which are also from Mar Plast. UTC ‘s washroom collection also includes the Mar Plast Prestige and Lineacqualba ranges, which feature a wide choice of soap, paper towel and toilet tissue dispensers and air fresheners.

The industrial wipers division accounts for around £0.75million.

Fresh thinking needed

Filer has quite outspoken views on the industry as well. “What the industry needs are new ideas, fresh thinking,” he says.

In his view, the future depends on the innovators, those who have the vision to change the way in which they work to improve quality whilst still managing costs efficiently.

Filer believes it is time to reverse the negative public perception of cabinet roller towels. Hand drying is now regarded as an integral part of hand hygiene and most international guidelines for hand hygiene practices include a requirement for hand drying.

He says that industry experiments carried out using recyclable cloth towelling dispensers have shown this to be an effective means of hand drying.

Filer says sustainability reports by companies such as Lindstrom point out that a rental service that uses roller towels rather than disposable paper towels is more eco-efficient.

The ETSA study in 2006 looked at two systems that are in widespread use: reusable continuous cotton rolls and disposable paper towels.

ETSA found that one pull at a continuous cotton roll towel was considered to be the equivalent of using two paper towels.

It is a message that needs to be updated – and he urges TSA to do more sabre-rattling on this issue.

The industry needs to get that message across to the general public loud and clear, says Filer.