Tony McNamee, managing
Head office in Lytham
St Anne’s
Bestplate is a specialist manufacturer of vehicle number
plates based in Lytham St Anne’s. Since its founding in
1967 the company has undergone dramatic growth,
employing 135 at its peak, and remains one of the most trusted
names within the sector. Managing director Tony McNamee
discusses how, after 50 years, Bestplate continues to evolve in
an industry that has remained in a constant state offlux.
There is far more to the humble number plate than first meets the eye. Exacting
compliance standards influence every stage of the production process and our
commitment to the highest material and process standards has led Bestplate to
supply more acrylic number plates across the UK than anyone else.
We evolved from the Zell-Em Group, a printer and manufacturer of promotional
signage and materials for the motor trade, established by Martin Zell in 1946. The
move into manufacturing number plates under the Bestplate brand was a natural
evolution. Initially only supplying the independent motor trade, by 1989 Bestplate
was the name trusted by most major car manufacturers.
For much of our history our work was entirely manual: 135 staff, based in nearby
Blackpool, would apply the character stencils and spray and clean the plates before
adding the adhesive, reflective and aluminium backing. It was a process that used to
take around 30 minutes per plate, and it still does whenever we are asked to supply
vintage black-and-white or silver plates. An original fly press and pressing dies, used
for the vintage plates, still sit incongruously near our latest £800,000 print machine.
For current plates, things have changed dramatically. Today we employ 80 people,
and from receipt of electronic order to print and finish we can complete a single
plate in about 20 seconds.
»Managing director:
»Established in 1967
»Based in Lytham St Anne’s,
»No. of employees: 80
»Services: Complete number
plate solution
»The largest acrylic number
plate supplier in the UK
Highlighting best practice
Where good people stay
Our employees are crucial to our long-
term success, which is why the group
makes a commitment to quality in terms
of staff as well as products. Our ten
longest serving employees have amassed
382 years’ service between them.
Twenty-five per cent of staff within the
group account for a total of 508 years’
service. Balancing the experience,
since 2015 our apprenticeship scheme
has enabled us to develop the skills
we need for the future with 12 local
young people.
The plates the industry trusts
Since the mid-1980s, many major
motor manufacturers have chosen our
products for their outstanding quality.
Bestplate was the first number plate
manufacturer to gain BS5750 (now
ISO 9001:2015) accreditation and the
reason we remain at the top of our
sector is because the business is built
on quality standards and exceptional
service levels the industry trusts.
We never treat compliance as a tick-
box exercise. High standards are bred
throughout the organisation and have
played a huge part in our success. By
taking the industry standard as our
starting point rather than the finish
line we are able to deliver the sort
of industry-leading customer quality
and service on which we’ve built our
The new standard
Top of our to-do list right now is
ensuring every product meets the latest
standard: Bsau145e. After eight years
in development, the new standard sets
challenging new benchmarks.
The latest changes are focused on plate
performance. Automatic number plate
recognition (ANPR) technology is a
major driver of these changes, because
as its applications grow it becomes
ever more vital that every plate can be
read by automated cameras.
Bestplate ensures that road tax can be
effectively policed, that councils and
private companies can monitor parking
and that the police can track speeding
vehicles or identify those evading toll
charges. Perhaps most importantly in
the current climate, our work helps
the security services effectively monitor
and track suspects.
Where good people stay
standards are
and have
played a huge
part in our
To meet the standard, every component
needs testing. The characters need to
be a uniform shade of black, otherwise
they won’t be read by automated
cameras. The acrylic requires an impact
modifying additive to ensure that when
the plate is hit by stones and chippings
it doesn’t shatter. Adhesives, acrylics
and inks require UV stabilisation to
ensure they continue to meet and
exceed the standard’s legibility criteria.
We have just invested around £100,000
in our own test lab so we can test the
materials we receive from our suppliers
and our finished products. All our
plates are subject to impact testing,
bend testing and abrasion testing,
and we place them in an accelerated
weathering chamber for five months to
mimic 2,275 hours of life on the road.
The whole process is aimed at ensuring
our customers can have complete
confidence in the plates they place on
their cars.
The enforcement challenge
Perhaps the biggest challenge we face
is enforcement of the new standard.
Recently, we have seen cheaper,
inferior products enter the market
and that has created an issue for us.
When you place our product next to
an inferior one they may look similar
– because the costs associated with
achieving our levels of quality are not
always immediately apparent.
Our estimates suggest over two million
car plates are at risk of becoming
unreadable by ANPR systems, because
of fading and peeling caused by using
inferior materials. Often it is only when
such failures become apparent that the
difference in quality becomes clear.
We will never jeopardise our own
quality standards or those of our
clients, but we do feel that our job is
made harder because regulations are
not being sufficiently or consistently
Campaigning for traceability
Bestplate is a founding member of the
British Number Plate Manufacturers
Association (BNMA) and I have been
either chair or vice chair for more than
a decade. It is a position that has led to
some inspiring moments. For example,
two detectives once drove from London
to ask for Bestplate’s help in connecting
a number plate with amurder.
The issue arose because while the
manufacturer’s mark was on the plate,
we had no other way of determining
where it was made or who sold it. We
have consistently encouraged the DVLA
to demand traceability marks on every
piece of number plate material and,
on behalf of ourselves and the BNMA,
we were disappointed that it wasn’t
included as a part of the latest standard.
We believe a central database could
prove invaluable to the police in
removing inferior and illegal plates
from the system, and to creating even
greater accountability for the number
plate industry. In fact, the BNMA has
offered to set up the database.
We would encourage the DVLA to
make traceability a part of future
standards improvements – and
because these things cannot work in a
piecemeal or voluntary way, we would
welcome being forced to do it.
Creating even
for the
number plate
Part of the management