Skip to content
Business As Usual
Business As Usual
From Giant Ice-Cream Cones to Dog Transport Boxes- A Surprising History of DT Boxes.

From Giant Ice-Cream Cones to Dog Transport Boxes- A Surprising History of DT Boxes.

In 1988 Gilbert Irvine and John Allen set up a plastics business in the CIDO business unit in Portadown, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland. Gilbert and John were great friends, brothers-in-law and made a great partnership. At the time John Allen owned a filling station and had owned several small businesses in Armagh. John was selling ice-cream from his filling station forecourt using traditional point of sales material. At the end of the first year he had sold a disappointing 1.5 tonnes of ice-cream. He felt that he was missing a lot of passing trade and that even some of his regular customers didn't even know that he sold ice-cream. John and Gilbert were next door neighbours at the time and John discussed the problem with Gilbert at one of their regular family BBQ's in the back yard. They concluded that a larger than life model of an ice-cream cone would be a more effective way of saying "we sell ice-cream" than the conventional signs at the time. Believe it or not this is where the foundations of DT Boxes lie.

Gilbert had great engineering ability, he designed and made a vacuum forming machine and then produced a 6 foot plastic model of a whipped ice-cream cone complete with a flake for display on Johns forecourt. In the next full year ice-cream sales at the filling station tripled. John was getting lots of inquires from other retailers as to where he obtained the giant ice-cream cone. He could see the potential for another business here and after some further market research John and Gilbert formed the plastics engineering company that continues to make the iconic ice-cream cones and DT Boxes today.

John and Gilbert at The Ice-Cream Alliance Show.

John's take on their partnership was if Gilbert could make it then he (John) could sell it and this very much defined their roles when they set up the company. Gilbert was the Engineer. He designed and manufactured the machines that still produce the cones today. John did all the marketing and selling and he was clearly very good at it because the giant ice cream cone has become an iconic part of British and Irish history. So iconic in fact that in 2007 The Royal Mail produced a limited edition Beside the Seaside edition of the first class stamp featuring Plastic Promotions giant ice-cream cones.

Limited edition 1st class stamp featuring our ice-cream cone. British stamps: Beside the Seaside  (2007)

The company diversified over the years and has produced all sorts of custom plastic fabrications and components for all sorts of industries from agricultural industry to the car industry and everything in between. 

John Co-Founder of our company at The Ice-Cream Alliance Show.

John and Gilbert worked together successfully for almost 20 years. They were a dynamic duo and their strengths in business were different but complimented each other greatly. John retired from the company in 2006 after many great years in business together. Gilbert kept the business on but John was never far away. 

John Allen at The Ice-Cream Alliance Show.

Gilbert with an early Ice Cool Lollies plastic promotional product that he designed and manufactured.

Mark Irvine is Gilberts eldest son and was jut a few months old when Gilbert and John set up the company. He grew up in and out of the workshop and joined the company properly in 2006. Although the company did many other products, Mark noticed that their main product, the ice-cream cones was really a seasonal product. He saw the need for a product that would sell all year round.

Mark with some additional larger than life plastic promotional products.

By this time the company was established in the area and known as an innovative company that was good at designing and producing a vast range of plastic products. Some local dog handlers approached Gilbert and asked him if could manufacture a dog transport box that would be sturdy and easy to clean. Gilbert and Mark designed and manufactured the first Dog Transport Box in 2007 and the DT Boxes brand was born.

DT Boxes logo and two of our favorite model helpers Jack and Dobby in a DT Box.

In the first year they sold about 25 boxes by word of mouth alone. This is a product that they became very passionate about very quickly. They had always had a love of dogs and loved plastic manufacturing. Mark took this product and really ran with it. They saw the need to set up a website and began attending Game Fairs. They were no strangers to trade fairs as they had attended ice-cream trade fairs for years. Mark booked their first Game Fair, Ballywalter Game Fair that year. He loved doing the game fair, meeting all the customers both human and canine and knew that this was a product that he really wanted to focus on and develop. In the year that followed they sold about 150 boxes. Sales increased slowly over the years as they continued to develop the product. DT Boxes still attends Game Fairs all over the UK and Ireland and continue to love meeting all the gorgeous dogs out there. It's one of the best parts of the job. 

Mark and John Irvine enjoying themselves at Scarva Game Fair, Co. Armagh (2019)

Marks brother John Irvine, joined the company in 2010. Gilbert, Mark and John worked together from then on. Mark and John cut their teeth in business under Gilbert's direction and brought new ideas and methods to company to develop it into what it is today. They became a solid team and worked very hard to keep the business going. It wasn't always easy, like most other companies they struggled through the last recession and in the years that followed but they worked hard and got through it. 

Gilbert with Mark and John.

Mark was always looking for new ways to develop the business, continuously researching and looking for better ways to do business. A major break through came for the company in 2014 when Mark discovered Lean Manufacturing and specifically Paul Akers book 2 Second Lean. Again this was something Mark became very passionate about very quickly and began implementing it into the company. Mark took to it like a duck to water and this completely transformed the culture of company and the way they operated. The company now operate a culture of continuous improvement and this is imbedded in every thing they do.  The struggle and waste became less and less as a result of this new way of operating. Thankfully the business has gone from strength to strength ever since.  

John and Mark enjoying their work a little too much.

Mark and Johns main focus has been DT Boxes. They are hugely focused on customer service and providing a quality product that meets their customers needs. A testament to this is recently being voted number one for customer service by Fieldsports Britain, a testament to their dedication to providing a quality product that their customers are happy with. They love talking to their customers and some of their best improvements have been as a result of customers requests.

Jack out and about in the DT1000L with All-Weather Pickup Kit.

Gilbert over the last number of years took more of a back seat as Mark and John became more proficient at running the company. Gilbert retired in 2018 safe in the knowledge that he was leaving the company to an innovative, capable duo with a real passion for business and their products just like himself and John Allen had when they set up and were Directors of the company.

John and Mark Irvine in the workshop today continuing on where John Allen and Gilbert Irvine left off with the ice-cream cones as well as DT Boxes .

The torch has been passed on to Mark and John who are now the Directors of the Company. Mark calls John the bean counter but to the rest of us he is the Financial Director of the company. He looks after the financial end of the business, he does all the purchasing and logistics. He can be found any given day on the workshop floor, getting everything organised, taking your calls and getting product out the door. Mark is the Managing Director, the innovator and always thinking up ideas on how they can improve the product and the business. He also takes most of your calls and can be seen regularly on our YouTube channel videos keeping you up to date on our latest news and products.

Founding Directors John Allen and Gilbert Irvine at the company's beginnings and today's Directors John Irvine and Mark Irvine in the workshop today.

They are both very proud of DT boxes their other plastic products such as the ice cream cones and what the company has achieved over the years. They put a lot of time and effort into making sure that they produce quality products that is right for you and your dogs. Both Mark and John are very grateful to Gilbert and John and all they have done for the company and them over the years. They are proud of their foundations and the family business that Gilbert and John set up in 1988. They hope to continue this on in a way that both Gilbert and John would be proud of to do justice to the legacy left to them by Gilbert and John.  

In loving memory of John Allen (03-March-1954- 10-November-2019)

Next article Meet our Dogs -(and a little background on us)!