Made In Wiltshire: J Price of Box keeps bouncing back

By Anita Jaynes on 31 May, 2015

Throughout June and July we are celebrating the county’s buoyant manufacturing industry. Coverage will be found in print and online. This is our first instalment profiling J Price Ltd.

J PRICE Ltd was set up by Joseph Price in 1936 and is the only surviving tennis ball factory in the Western World, based in Box on the outskirts of Bath. Each week it produces 10,000 tennis balls alongside many other sports balls such as squash balls, racket balls, paddle balls, Irish handballs and more. The company ships orders across the world with growing markets including South Africa, Australia, Germany, Spain, France, Sweden and Norway.

The business is a family affair and is run today by Derek Price, son of founder Joseph, and Derek’s daughter Louise. Derek, the managing director specialises in product development and testing and Louise who trained and worked as a teacher joined the firm two years ago to concentrate on sales and to develop the business alongside her Dad- securing it for future generations.

Derek’s wife Jeanna and his elder daughter Sam also sit on the company board as directors. The factory has been on the same site in Box since it began and the family once lived in a house on the premises that has now been turned into offices where the current team work.

Over the years the business has had its fair share of challenges such as WW2 when trading almost ceased as tennis balls were such a luxury product. Work carried on producing rubber components for the Ministry of Defence. The firm continued to grow and in the 1970s business was booming. Louise recently found a production sheet from 1972 that shows the factory was in those days bouncing out over 86,000 tennis balls a week.

The 1980s saw manufacturing in the Fast East grow significantly, highly undercutting British manufacturers. This made a dent in the factory’s profits, but dead set on survival Derek and the team have strived hard to invest in unique product ideas keeping the brand a premium purchase, accredited by organisations such as the England Squash Racket Association. J Price Ltd developed the racket ball for the association and is one of only three approved ball makers.

The firm has also worked alongside organisations such as the Lawn Tennis Association developing new product ideas. J Price can’t compete with the Far East’s prices, but it can compete on creating ethically made, quality products with a flexible service.

Diversifying the business has been key to its survival. In recent years Derek has been working on unique product ideas such as the personalisation of tennis balls, all over printing and specialist learner balls for children. The business has been thinking green too and makes and sells mini-tennis ball key-rings with reject materials. The firm also produces custom rubber mouldings such as anti-vibration mounts, boat trailer rubber parts and rubber grips.

J Price sell their goods via their website which is currently in the process of redevelopment, as well as via clubs, associations and websites such as Not On the High Street.

Another niche for the business is making promotional balls for high-end brands.

The factory today has 12 employees with many staff members working with the firm for all of their working lives. One employee followed in the footsteps of his parents who both worked in the factory until they retired. This is obviously a great testament to Derek and the way he looks after his staff.

The future is looking bright for J Price as they have recently secured planning permission to build a new part of the factory on a site they already owned in Box. Building work is imminent and this allows for greater expansion of the business and the modernisation of the factory’s facilities.

Louise is also working with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) on their route to export programme, looking at new market opportunities. One of the key things the UKTI relationship has brought with it, is key support securing capped commission with online sales companies helping keep J Price and the Wiltshire manufacturing industry alive.

To find out more about J Price Ltd visit: www.jpricebath.co.uk