Ultra Refrigeration Celebrates 20 Years of Business

17 January 2024

In 2024, Ultra Refrigeration will celebrate 20 years in business. Here, the two founders of the company, Steve Shipp and Anthony Lomas, reflect on their first twenty years in business together and look forward to what the future holds.

Company founding and early challenges

When their former employer decided to move away from refrigeration engineering and concentrate on sales, Steve Shipp and Anthony Lomas joined forces to form Ultra Refrigeration in 2004.

Deciding that they could probably do it better for themselves, and with a good reputation in the industry, the promise of work was soon forthcoming.  However, when a major convenience store chain postponed all planned project work while their estate underwent changes, it was clear that Ultra needed to find another income stream until the hold was lifted.

Having called upon friends and contacts offering their services, some breakdown repairs and maintenance work was taken on countrywide. With the help of a small team of sub-contractors, this provided a steady and secure income and led to meeting some valuable customers who remain with Ultra to this day.

Soon, the client’s hold on the projects work would be lifted and the pair would need to work hard to keep up with demand.  “Using our design expertise, external pack-builders and sub-contract pipework specialists, we were installing refrigeration plant into a number of large convenience stores.”, says Steve.

It was a challenging time. The pair found that the bureaucracy of operating under HMRC’s Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), as well as managing outside contractors and project managing installations, was taking its toll.

“Because we were using outside contractors, we didn’t have full control of the process from start to finish,” says Ant. “This could lead to last-minute problems or delays and a possibility that we could let a customer down. Failure for us is not an option so, too often, we found that Steve and I were working every waking hour to meet our customers’ expectations.”

“This is when we decided that we needed to take control of the process by employing and training our own people, investing in our own premises, and starting to build our own products to our own standards,” Steve adds. “We had a ‘can-do’ attitude and thought ‘how hard can it be?’.”

Innovating to solve problems and drive the business forward

During this period Ultra had been evolving an idea, on paper at first, of an innovative, fully ducted refrigerated air system for food retail use. Once a first customer had been persuaded to invest in such a system the Ultra iAir concept was born, but not yet built or tested.

“This was the trigger for our investment in people, a factory and our own in-house skills,” says Ant. “We had searched the market (in the UK and overseas) for the capability of building the plant we needed and the controls the system demanded, but we didn’t find anyone capable or willing to take it on.”

“We took on a huge warehouse to mock-up an entire supermarket layout within, and fully ducted all the cabinets to be sure the concept would work in reality, not just on paper,” adds Steve. “We proved the concept and were now in a position to design and build our own products, and effectively control our own destiny.”

This also led Ultra to bring in-house the development of their own controls software. After looking at a number of potential controls suppliers, Ultra opted to go with RDM which offers the maximum flexibility for customisation as well as being widely used and accepted within the industry.

Ultra’s ability to innovate and capability to manufacture led to an opportunity to solve a problem at a convenience store in a Conservation Zone in the West Country. With the plantroom ventilation extremely close to a residents window, the noise critical application was a massive challenge which was solved with a complex heat recovery system.

“The customer was delighted with our solution,” says Ant, “and Steve and I came away realising that we had effectively designed another new product. Our Heat Recovery design is still selling well and currently in its 6th iteration!”

Ultra continues to innovate. “The industry moves fast, so we can’t stand still,” says Steve. “We’re currently looking at a secondary system which we’re very excited about. It’ll be a great solution for convenience food applications, offering all the benefits of heat recovery, coupled with a step-change in cabinet design, using super low GWP, and a far more efficient operating end.”

“We’re also working on the next generation of our hybrid air blast freezer design, from which we’re expecting great results,” Ant adds.

Developing people, retaining customers

“There are two things we take very seriously in the business; nurturing our team and retaining our customers,” says Steve. “In fact, the two go hand-in-hand,” he adds, “because, ultimately, customers buy-in to the people in your organisation.”

“And,” says Ant, “if we want the right people, we’ve found we have to make them ourselves. So we try to have around 2-3 apprentices in the business at any one time, and employ a new starter each year. We work closely with several technical colleges whose teaching we respect and, combined with our regular in-house training and experience on a variety of different applications, our young apprentices are set to become very capable engineers.”

One example of nurtured talent is Finlay Bayliss who joined Ultra after A-levels. He’s been through college and is as comfortable ‘on the tools’ as behind a desk. His talent in design and all-round skillset made him a deserving finalist in the RAC Student of The Year awards 2023.

Many of our customers will be familiar with Lisa Guest who joined Ultra in 2013 as a part-time service administrator. She’s now running the service department and is a vital component in the smooth operation of our growing service team.

Other examples include Peter Smalley (left) who joined Ultra at just 17 years old and is now, 12 years later, helping to train the next generation of Ultra’s talent pool.  And Tom (right), who joined as an Electrical Engineer and now heads-up Ultra’s production department.

“There are around 30 people on the Ultra payroll now across all disciplines,” says Steve. “Some have been with the company for many years and all of them are incredibly important to our ongoing success.”

Equally important for success is Ultra’s ability to retain customers. “We work hard to meet our customers’ needs and are proud that many of them are still with us after 20 years of working together,” says Steve.

“In many instances we’ve grown in tandem with our customers,” adds Ant. “One of our service clients has grown from 35 UK sites to nearly 80 over the last decade. We’ve been able to support that additional business by employing more engineers ourselves and growing Ultra’s capability.”

Lessons learned

“We never stop learning and never lose sight of who we are; straight-talking, honest, refrigeration engineers,” says Ant. “And we believe that helps customers put their trust in us, because they often need to be brave when they’re investing in an innovative, but not fully tested, solution. But we haven’t let anyone down yet!”.

“We’re good at taking an embryonic idea, maybe somebody else’s, and making it work so much better by fine-tuning,” says Steve. “We embrace technologies and merge them synergistically. For example, with heat recovery you have to operate plant inefficiently in order to produce sufficient heat; we’ve worked out how to do that in a way that it still makes economic sense to do so.”

“We also find that many components we buy-in do not perform to specification,” says Ant. “We take the trouble to test them and find out how they actually perform, and design our system and controls accordingly. Our price tag will always reflect the performance we’ve quoted for; if that makes us a victim of our own honesty then so be it, but we’re happy to be scrutinised on this,” he adds.

“We feel this reliance on quoted performance rather than actual performance is an ongoing issue in our industry,” says Steve, “where no one really measures the effectiveness or efficiency of built systems against the design aims. We prefer to ensure that ours actually perform as promised.”

What the future holds

Against a backdrop of rising energy costs, climate change and NetZero, it’s difficult to predict exactly what changes will face the industry. Certainly, refrigeration legislation, costs and availability will continue to throw up challenges, in addition to having to deal with operational issues associated with new refrigerants (such as toxicity, flammability, pressure or low efficiency).

“Ultra will continue to adapt and evolve to meet the demands of the industry,” says Steve. “At the same time, we’re trying to grow-up as a company and steer towards a destination rather than the industry steering us, by setting goals and asking where we want be.”

“I still find it hard to believe we’re hiring people that weren’t born when the company was formed, and that we’re still servicing equipment that was installed before they were born! We’re really proud of the team we’ve built over the last 20 years and are confident that, with their help, we’re ready to meet the challenges of the next 20” says Ant.


With an eye on the future, Ultra Refrigeration remains adaptable, ready to navigate industry changes while upholding its core values of innovation, integrity, and engineering excellence. Poised for growth and flexibility, they continue to lead by delivering innovative, efficient solutions in an ever-evolving industry.

If you would like to discuss ways of improving the efficiency of your existing refrigeration equipment, or want to talk about a new project, please get in touch by emailing us today at info@ultraref.co.uk or calling us on +44 (0) 330 2232404.

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