Growth on track
Having slightly redefined its development path in 2017, RS Clare & Co is placing targeted investment in its technical and production capabilities, as the manufacturer of lubricants continues to address the increased demand for its offerings
‘‘The stars certainly aligned for us in 2017, with growth shared broadly across all of our major business areas,” enthuses Paul Vann, Managing Director of RS Clare & Co, the oldest lubricants manufacturer in the UK. Manufacturing Today Europe first introduced the Liverpool-based company to our readers in our November issue of 2016, but as a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time, we were eager to discover what is new in Merseyside.
Reporting a record year for the RS Clare & Co group, which also includes Wilson & Scott (Highways) Ltd, that brought an 84 per cent rise in profit compared to 2016, Paul highlights the fundamental strategic review performed by the company as one of the significant events of 2017. “It was an extensive, but enlightening programme, which set the directional guidelines and objectives for the business for the medium and long-term. Largely, its outcome might be summarised as a confirmation of prior direction with some fine adjustments and additional emphasis on the actions required to expedite the plan.
“One of the key decisions we took following the strategic review, was to have an independent customer survey conducted on our behalf, in order to build on our practice of monitoring customer satisfaction. We have just completed the survey and we are delighted by the unusually high, and therefore statistically valuable, response rate from our customers. An immediate observation is that our ‘net promoter’ score (i.e. how likely a customer is to recommend our company) is very high. So is our score for the likelihood of repeat business. Our intention is to establish it as a routine, performing a survey every two years so that we can learn from the trends,” Paul discusses.
With the reputation of a trusted supplier to the oil and gas and rail sectors, RS Clare has registered a heightened interest in a number of its solutions for both industries. “Customer confidence in our complete solutions for valve lubrication has never been more critical in oil and gas production; a protracted period of low market prices has meant that a lot of cost management programmes have been initiated, especially for marginal and aging asset portfolios. Savings through extended preventive maintenance programmes can only be realised with due caution and specially designed lubricants that are field proven to maintain valve function and sealing integrity over extended time periods, and here, operators know they can count on us.
“In addition, our latest range of ecologically sensitive, curved rail lubricants are making a significant impact in the market,” Paul remarks. “These are employed by rail network or train operating companies to reduce noise and wear resulting from friction caused by the complex interaction between train wheels and the track. It is true that the market has traditionally been sceptical of the performance of environmentally sensitive lubricants, but after 30 years of development experience in this application, we can demonstrate that sustainably sourced materials can deliver performance comparable to, or even better than, traditional lubricants. On top of this, the latest generation of ‘green’ lubricants have been designed for year-round operations. That differs from the market norm, which previously would force operators to use separate lubricants for winter and summer conditions.”
Over the years, RS Clare has gathered rich experience as a producer of calcium sulfonate greases and the company’s efforts are coming to fruition presently, as demand for this type of grease is rising. Paul details: “Calcium sulfonate greases find use in applications where their inherent water-resistant properties are preferred. In fact, these types represent only about three per cent of the total grease manufactured globally today, which sharply contrasts with the so-called conventional lithium and lithium complex grease types which between them account for 75 per cent of global production. The recent hikes in demand for lithium batteries for portable electronic devices and electric vehicles has outstripped supply and led to lithium prices doubling in the last two years. While production has increased since then, with the commercial imperative to seek solutions beyond lithium apparently softening, there is still a concern throughout the lubricants market around its vulnerability to lithium prices. This is driving development work to broaden the effective performance profiles of alternative chemistries.”
In order to prepare itself for upscaling its operations in the future, the company has an ongoing investment programme that will see it spend between £7 million and £10 million on infrastructure development in the next five years. “The first major element of this plan is the building of a brand-new technical centre at our Liverpool site, detailed engineering design work for which has already been completed. The objective is to have the facility built, fitted out, and occupied by our technologists during Q3 of 2019. It will feature fully equipped chemical formulation, analytical test, quality control, and mechanical test laboratories, as well as an office suite and meeting room,” Paul discloses. “Beyond this, there is a significant capital for the upgrade of our manufacturing platform and capabilities, and, notably, funds to upgrade our data and business management software, in order to avoid having our IT infrastructure and capability as a rate determining factor that might restrain our growing business.”
Prior to the introduction of the investment programme, RS Clare directed a significant amount of capital expenditure to open a new, high-speed, and highly-automated manufacturing unit, as well as a self-designed automated acid-dosing system. Sizable investment in the range of £2 million was also placed to improve working conditions. “We are blessed with outstanding employees and our aim is to provide them with a working environment that is consistent with supporting, motivating, and sustaining an effective and satisfying business culture. Hence, the completion of a new office block in early 2017, designed to encapsulate and preserve some of the legacy and history of the company. For example, in one of the meeting rooms you can find a feature of an original fireplace from the first company house dating back to circa 1780. Here, a sense of continuity is created which subtly challenges the current workforce to leave its own legacy,” Paul refers to the glorious history of RS Clare.
Another crucial element of the entity’s strategic plan, is the proactive efforts to enlarge its role on the international stage. “We have already enjoyed the benefits of a strong export business in several application markets, largely through strong regional partnerships with resellers and agents bringing local knowledge and other complementary strengths. We sell our products for the oil and gas market to more than 30 countries, but it is the rail sector that has led the growth curve for us, recently. A significant factor in this growth has been the breakthrough we made in North America, through our partner there, Loram Maintenance of Way. We are delighted that our relationship has evolved to a point where we have recently announced a global co-operation to market our respective offerings. This will help us address the developing need in the market for total, integrated solutions of equipment, lubricant, data management and associated services,” Paul reviews the company’s global exploits.
“Our intention is to be at a different scale in five years’ time with greater levels of international business and a more diversified company with two or three significant, new application markets. Aligned with our vision for the future, we will have strengthened our core competencies and improved sustainability, whilst maintaining a healthy balance sheet and cash flow. In our 275th year and with a strong team, we should be in a position to take the business forward with confidence, mapping the course towards the 300th anniversary!”
RS Clare & Co