Why There’s So Much More Behind the 140 Million Face Masks at Safety Expert Arco

Arco managing director David Evison and the pallets of face masks ready for distribution

Arco managing director David Evison and the pallets of face masks ready for distribution.

By David Laister, business live.co.uk.

Advice as sound as the supply chain as Arco has invested heavily to play a leading role.

Arco managing director David Evison has told of the incredible pride felt by all in the business as it brings its safety expertise to the fore.

The fourth generation Hull business secured a staggering 140 million face masks through its international supply chain this past month, with the first 19 million being used on the frontline now. David Laister reports.

Vital protection to help us work our way out of a pandemic.

But it isn’t just face masks that are ensuring Arco plays a key role for UK Plc, the NHS and the nation’s health as a whole.

The company’s expertise and science stands behind the super supply chain – which includes the new £25 million National Distribution Centre in the city, which couldn’t have come online at a better time.

With a deep understanding of workplace safety and expertise in product sourcing and advising on product selection, Arco is a key supplier to the NHS, ambulance services, local authorities and other public health bodies in the UK. Then there’s the food industry and other vital elements.


But behind this sits development of a set of expert advice sheets to ensure a safe return to the workplace. The ‘toolkit’ is aligned with Government advice and covers topics such as managing risk, cleaning the workplace, working safely during coronavirus and personal protective equipment – what to wear and how to use it.

Mr Evison said: “Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been working with our customers in the NHS, ambulance services, local authorities, care homes and other frontline services to provide a range of PPE and other products to the staff who have been working tirelessly to help others in their fight against the disease.

“As lockdown eases and businesses get back up and running and we restart the economy, our experts are best placed to help business owners get their workplace ready and keep it safe for their people when they return.

“We will play our role in making work a safe place for everyone and in ensuring that the products we supply are the right ones for the job and are fully compliant.”

For Arco, the supply chain starts in China, conversations with factories on the ground to ensure they can produce, with quality and ethical standards also checked.

When the first consignment of the huge orders arrived, Mr Evison told how the business was in a “very fortunate position” to have just invested in the capacity to deal with such volume.

They have gone out of the new NDC at a rate of 100 pallets of product a day, with 5,000 parcels supplementing.

He is full of praise for the logistics involved and the baptism of fire those operating the new facility – lit up blue in support of one of its biggest customers – have had.

Heading out: PPE equipment is prepared for onward delivery at Arco's National Distribution Centre in Hull.
Heading out: PPE equipment is prepared for onward delivery at Arco’s National Distribution Centre in Hull. (Image: Arco)

“We haven’t had a problem with shipping the products out, with the great capacity the 400,000 sq ft facility offers. We have had 24/7 shift patterns and many people have worked long shifts to satisfy the demand and worked through that massive demand we have had to make sure the right products are prioritised and we can source these products. 

“The biggest challenge has been getting them from China, with the Chinese New Year, and lockdown.”

It has seen the company look closer to home too, a fellow Yorkshire firm on face shields and plastic components for them, as well as sanitiser production in Wales.

“We are trying to look locally. That’s been one of the bigger challenges too.”

So what have the challenges been internally?

“The biggest part of our business is serving small and medium sized customers. This has been a real tough time for them. A big part of our customer base has been closed. We have lost a big chunk of business to these industries, which has been superseded by dealing with these large orders.

“It has been really challenging for us. Part of our business, retail, closed, our embroidery factory (in Preston, Lancashire) closed and a division that trained customers on product use, has been closed.

“We’re now helping get business started again. We have a lot of businesses fetching people back in and we have got to make sure we are providing advice in terms of equipment and regimes needed to get business going.

Arco's National Distribution Centre in Hull is lit blue as part of the Clap for the NHS.
Arco’s National Distribution Centre in Hull is lit blue as part of the Clap for the NHS. (Image: Arco)

“It isn’t just about getting these products to the NHS, we are defined as a genuine expert in what we do, so we have given a lot of advice. We have published papers, and worked with the government on suitability of process. There have been lots of issues around non-compliance, a lot of uncertainty and products that are questionable.  We work very closely with the appropriate agencies, with our lab in Hull.  We see that as a critical part of what we do. We have got to make sure it is the right thing.

“What we’re doing is massively important to us, as a fourth generation business, 135 years old, employing 900 people in and around Hull.

“There is nothing that makes us more proud than knowing our primary focus, what we do, is having such a purpose, keeping customers safe. We are in a fortunate position, our business takes a long term view in what we do, we are investing in the area, and many of our colleagues recognise we are doing something massively important and have put the effort in accordingly.

“Equally important that we can grow and support the local economy – not many companies are investing like what we are doing.”

Following the distribution centre’s massive expansion, highly visible from the A63, comes a new £16 million headquarters on the Fruit Market, a statement building for the entire city to have pride in as the business looks to grow again.

You might also enjoy