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RS Clare was founded in Liverpool in 1748 at the start of the Industrial Revolution and they are the longest established company manufacturing lubricants in the United Kingdom.

Despite their age the company is innovative, dynamic and constantly pursuing new ways to improve the services and products they offer. Paul Andrews met the sixth generation of the current family owners, David Meadows, who is the Head of Customer Services and Marketing.

Richard S Clare founded the business that started out as a chemist, druggist and dry-salter in 1748, during the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, an exciting time for the North West of England. It was the first time that wealth creation was generated from commerce rather than land ownership which presented plenty of opportunities and from small beginnings provisioning ships in the growing port of Liverpool, Clare began to distil raw turpentine imported from the Carolinas in North America.

Fifty years later, tar distillation began along with rosin manufacture. Apart from trading tallow as a lubricant, the company focused on tar derivatives such as phenols for disinfectant, creosote for wood preservation, naphthalene and road tar.

At the start of the twentieth century, Clare’s ‘Tarco’ became renowned as the most effective dust laying compound and was manufactured for local authorities under licence throughout the UK. This continued until 1947 when nationalisation of the gas works made the production of tar uneconomic so that it was superseded by bitumen. By this time, the first ‘Tarcoline’ road paint, followed by ‘Plastaline’ which was the world’s first thermoplastic road marking material became the major product lines of the business. Despite its invention back in 1933, thermoplastic road marking is still the predominant form of road marking toady across the UK and beyond.

Lubricants were developed as a result of the first mineral oil being imported into the Mersey River in 1889, the year that the Meadows and Wilson families bought out the company from the remaining members of the Clare family. A whole range of oils and greases were developed with approvals gained from literally hundreds of engine and gear box manufacturers. The brand name ‘Clargine’ disappeared when the company refocused on own-brand grease manufacture from 1925. Since then, long term relationships have been established with a number of major oil companies to manufacture greases for them.

RS Clare is an innovative business and continues to consider the future as it has done throughout the long lifespan of the business. 25 years ago it was decided to re-establish the Clare brand and focus on speciality greases that would solve operational problems, thereby delivering significant benefits and cost savings to clients operating in the Rail and Upstream Oil and Gas sectors.

Conscious of their responsibilities, RS Clare has always been aware of the environment too. Today, more than ever before, the company take this seriously with water recovery, ground source heating and photovoltaic panels in place to generate renewable energy and biodegradability a feature of the advanced lubricant ranges.

As Ian Meadows, the current company Chairman explains, “The ‘pursuit of excellence’ is as important today as when my chemist grandfather used it in our sales literature back in the 1900’s.”

David Meadows is the sixth generation of the family to be involved in the business and is fully aware of the history, family involvement and the role of the generations that have gone before too. “I gained work experience in the business from a young age but unsure of what I wanted to do, went off to study. I am a chemical engineer and gained a masters in Chemical Engineering so my skill set and education has been aligned to the business,” he explains. “I have also always been close to Ian and the family business. I had always been interested and intrigued and it may well be that the nature of the business influenced my degree choice.”

David continued, “I kept in touch with Ian during my studies and he was insistent that I followed what I wanted to do, gaining experience away from the business.”

After graduating, David travelled and ended up in New Zealand where he worked in a number of roles including a food hamper business before returning to the UK to look for chemical engineering roles.

“Shortly after I returned to the UK, I received a call from the CEO of the food hamper business I had worked for in NZ and was offered a position in Canada as National Logistics Manager. This presented a crossroads as to what I was going to do next, either stay in UK and look for Chemical Engineering graduate jobs, or take this exciting opportunity in Canada” continues David.

“My wife was born in Canada and logistics was not the career I had thought I would pursue, but we took a risk and moved to Vancouver and I lived and worked for three years until the business was sold. I was then offered a position in Sydney and spoke to Ian about the opportunity and he encouraged me to get the right experience to develop personally so we moved to Australia and I took on a more senior and challenging role which included setting up an online retail operation from scratch,” he adds.

Prior to returning to the UK in 2016 David and Ian spoke regularly about ‘opportunities’ within the family business and eventually agreed that returning to RS Clare would be good all round.

“My wife and I hail from the Wirral and our parents live on the Wirral and with two young children and a good opportunity at RS Clare, we decided to move home after a decade living and working abroad,” he continues.

“My role began as Head of Marketing and Customer Service which enabled me to apply skills learned elsewhere within the business, and to get a good understanding of the different aspects of what we do. With the retirement of the sales manager in 2017 I took on responsibility for sales to the Australian rail and oil & gas sectors and my role has continued to grow since then.”

As for family involvement, David is the only next generation involved in the business as his older brother has moved and settled happily in New Zealand, an younger brother is a qualified medical surgeon. A non-family MD has been running the business with Ian, Paul Vann, and has played the role of mentor to David too.

As David adds, “Paul has been a great mentor to me, helping and guiding me so that in time I am in a good position to take over the reigns and drive the business forward.”

RS Clare continues to evolve over time and sets its mission to globalise, innovate and solve critical problems, thereby contributing to the success of their customers. This is a mission that David embraces each and every day with the core values that drive the development of a family firm that has been around for nearly three centuries. As he explains, “Back in 1998 for our 250th anniversary, we asked the staff for words that resonated with them about who we are as a business. ‘People, Partnership, Progress’ was their response. This truly resonates with us as a family firm as we have people at the heart of what we do, treat all our stakeholders as partners, and the whole raison d’etre for us is to continue to make mutual progress,” he adds.

Awards have come to the long-standing business with one of their proudest moments being recipients of the Queens Award for International Trade in 2011. As David confirms, “This award really helped to put us on the map. It really means something to us and to our customers and is recognition for all that we have done, do, and will continue to do, in building a global business.”

“We have prospered as a business since 1748 by adapting our company, products and services to best satisfy the evolving needs of our customers. We have built an enviable reputation based on our ability to align with the markets we serve, whether supporting major multinational oil companies or local users of speciality lubricants, service treatments or road markings,” concludes David and “it is a privilege to be the sixth generation of our family to be involved in shaping our future for generations to come too.”

Growing from small beginnings to the global operator that it is today, RS Clare is one of Liverpool’s oldest manufacturers and although it has not always been plain sailing they have navigated the tricky times and are building for the future. This is a business that was founded during the Industrial Revolution and survived two World Wars, countless recessions, the birth of the internet and is now focusing on the future.

Their pursuit of ‘excellence through innovation’ has certainly stood the test of time and they continue to put Liverpool firmly on the map, as we hope they will continue to do for many years to come.

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