How a Business Made It Through Bad Times

IAN MEADOWS has lived and worked through Liverpool's long political and economic nightmare, but his small firm, R. S. Clare & Co. Ltd., has continued to prosper.The company's experience offers a microcosm of the challenges faced by Liverpool businesses battling city-wide stag- nation and illustrates how success can be attained, often against heavy odds. "Our firm has been in business for 243 years, so our roots are in Britain's industrial revolution," Mr. Meadows says. "When R. S. Clare was distilling his first turpentine, slave traders were doing brisk business in this city. "Today our company sells specialized lubricants and road-marking materials in 30 countries, and we operate at a good profit," he says in the company's snug Victorian boardroom, a short walk from the city docks. "Part of our secret has been to stay modern, keep our 65 workers in the picture, and go on selling Britain and the world what it needs. Lately we have had to put a lot of stress on self-help." Over the past decade, as Liverpool's fortunes dipped, R. S. Clare needed all the self-help it could muster. Its factory buildings are in the Parliament Street area of Liverpool, less than half a mile from the center of the 1981 Toxteth riots. It is a maze of back streets where some buildings are in decay and others, like those of R. S. Clare, are spick-and-span.

Time of troubles For a while in the 1980s Meadows, a native Liverpudlian, feared that the district, and perhaps his own company, would fall victim to the "time of troubles" as unemployment and crime rates soared and Liverpool politicians pursued their radical policies. "Things around here had become very run down," Meadows recalls. "The city didn't seem to care. Everybody was getting sorry for themselves. Theft from business premises was endemic. We badly needed a fresh start." Meadows took a lead in calling local business leaders together. They created the Parliament Street Industrialists' Association and set up Britain's first industrial-area crime watch. By keeping an eye on each other's premises, and working closely with police, the association cut reported crime by 70 percent in three years. When word got around that washing machines and other items were no longer vanishing from Parliament Street factories, new companies began moving in. "So far 34 new firms have arrived," Meadows says. "They have brought with them 10 million pounds [$16.8 million] of new investment." Like other areas of Liverpool, however, Parliament Street cannot pull itself up entirely by its own bootstraps. Meadows acknowledges that without help from the Merseyside Development Corporation, the industrial-area crime watch would not have been such a success. The MDC was set up in 1981 by the Thatcher government to spearhead the regeneration of Liverpool's dock area, housing, and other projects. It channels central government money into local business initiatives. Three years ago its area of responsibility was trebled in size, and R. S. Clare found itself one of 2,000 businesses within MDC's expanded boundaries.

Toward a true partnership "We came to realize the importance of one of MDC's guiding principles - that only if there is a true partnership between central government and individual companies will Liverpool return to full prosperity," Meadows says. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and Parliament Street's determined bid to restore its own fortunes has already become a model for other local initiatives. In nearby Cleveland Street a "sister" organization was launched in April 1991. Boosted by a 6,000-pound ($10,080) MDC grant, the Cleveland Street Business Association now has its own office, computer, crime watch, and neighborhood business strategies. It already has 40 members.

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