Morris Lubricants, one of the UK’s leading independent lubricants companies, has successfully continued to supply customers here and around the globe throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following its 150th birthday last year – a tribute to the success and longevity of the family-owned business – the Shrewsbury-based company and its loyal workforce remain focused on a worldwide customer base and evolving markets and technology.

Managing director Chris Slezakowski took time out to reflect on 2020 and to look forward with optimism to the new year and the company’s longer term future.

He joined the company at the end of 2018 and, within a year, had achieved two of his goals – improved efficiency and performance – before the pandemic began.

Now, nine months into the pandemic, he reveals his wish list for 2021, which includes controlling Covid-19, Brexit resolution, economic recovery, strengthening Morris Lubricants’ production flexibility and maintaining the company’s ambassadorial role in Shrewsbury.

Top priority is controlling Covid-19. “We have all experienced a massive impact since the start of the pandemic,” he says. “Our business had to respond quickly and, after nine months, we are still dealing with remote working, reliance on IT systems, fractured social interactions and keeping the workplace safe.

“New delivery arrangements, screening measures and isolation of visitors from our workforce have added stress to our operations but we have soldiered on to ensure that essential supply chains keep moving.

“Demand has been steady, thankfully, and our business has proven to be particularly resilient in spite of the economic impact to the country as a whole. Our staff have been excellent responding to the challenges. They have been flexible, reliable, and hard-working to keep our operations running smoothly. I can’t praise them enough for their willingness to help and we look forward to a resumption of normality when it is safe to do so.”

As for Brexit, he says: “The long-running negotiations left businesses to figure out how to respond with little guidance. Knowing that we would leave the EU was one thing, but it was quite another to understand what tariffs may apply, what customs procedures will need to be followed, documentation, shipping orders, packaging, regulations, compliance and labelling.

“All of these are affected in a world where the UK exports everywhere, not just to countries outside the EU. Morris Lubricants has been exporting for more than 25 years so we are used to dealing with overseas despatches but importing from and exporting to the EU are new experiences.

“Meanwhile, we have registered our interests and activities with every relevant agency and have set up an office in the EU to maximise our ability to keep our business running smoothly.

“What some people haven’t realised is that when we leave the EU that means we have to create new platforms in the UK to provide regulatory approval. We can’t use the EU portals to register products; we have to create our own, then ensure that they are compliant with regulations in each country we supply. Not having the EU framework means building a new one for the UK and we are ready to engage with the new arrangements once they are confirmed.”

On economic recovery, he says: “Many sectors, such as hospitality, leisure, retail, travel, entertainment and sport, have been heavily impacted by the pandemic and this has had a knock-on effect throughout the economy.

“The downturn in mass gatherings cannot be offset by the rise of online shopping and this means that those sectors hardest hit have a long way to go to get back to normal. Forecasts vary but there is little chance that all these sectors will be fully back to normal until later in 2021 at the earliest and we expect to be living with the impact of the pandemic for a while yet. The sooner all sectors can get back to normal, the better.”

Chris believes Morris Lubricants’ investment in manufacturing will pay off in 2021. “We have committed more than £1.6 million to develop our manufacturing capabilities in Shrewsbury,” he explains. “This development improves our operating efficiency and boosts our agility, meaning that we are able to respond better to customer demand.

“The new facilities give us flexibility to efficiently manufacture small batches of product to meet customer needs. We are seeing growth in demand for smaller volumes, chiefly because of the sophisticated technology that has been developed to create more efficient engines.

“Electric vehicles need fluids as well, for cooling and lubrication, and there are around 30 different e-fluids currently in use. This leads to fragmentation in demand where customers need smaller batches of product across a wider range of specifications.

“Morris Lubricants will be able to meet those demands quickly and efficiently, without the need to make large batches that can create excess stock. By making what is needed rather than large batches we expect to turn round orders quickly without having a huge warehouse of aging stock, some of which may not be required again for months or years. Stock should be used to smooth demand on production rather than as a giant buffer. We monitor sales every day to ensure we keep up with demand. That is more productive than counting the stock every day to see what is missing.”

He wants Morris Lubricants to continue to be an ambassador for Shrewsbury, which has been home to the company since 1869.

“As a major employer in the town, we are proud of our heritage and our links to the local community,” adds Chris. “Most of our staff are locally based and, to signal the strength of our connections, we source local products to promote our business around the world.

“We recently sent Christmas gifts to our overseas distributors, all of which were sourced from Shropshire. We contribute to local charities and support activities in and around the town. Shrewsbury is a great place to live and a wonderful place to visit.

“We are proud to be ambassadors for the town and look forward to the reopening of the theatre, leisure, and hospitality, and a return to normality for tourists and visitors. We believe that one in ten Shrewsbury residents will know someone that has worked or is working for Morris Lubricants.”