Queen’s Award 2016 – the story

We were recently interviewed for a story by our local Chamber of Commerce.  This is the result:

Litre Meter on the front cover of InBusiness
Litre Meter on the front cover of InBusiness

Specialist global flow measurement company Litre Meter has come a long way since its conception in 1975.

Set up in the attic of the Wemyss family home – with a calibration rig in the boiler house and a flow lab in the cellar – it was inevitable for a teenage Charles Wemyss to get involved in the family firm established by his father.

Litre Meter provided flow measurement engineering solutions that were ahead of its time and was set up to create one particular product, the Pelton Wheel – designed as a low cost economical meter for flow.

Charles said: “The product line was unusual at the time but now there are far more competitors to it. We still make it and it is still our company logo.”

From age 12 Charles worked in the business in school holidays but despite the cutting edge products and the company’s impressive initial success, he was uninterested in following in his father’s footsteps.

But when his father tragically died in a road traffic accident in 1978, the future of the company lay solely in the hands of Charles and his mother.

And they have done him proud.

Litre Meter has gone from strength to strength and cemented its presence as an international market leader in the flow measurement field, exporting products worldwide.

Now with a 16-strong team and manufacturing and selling from a converted barn in the North Marston countryside,  unprecedented sales over the past three years have recently been recognised by Her Majesty the Queen.

Litre Meter was awarded the UK’s highest accolade for sustained business exporting success – The Queen’s Award for International Trade.

Charles, now Litre Meter CEO, tells inbusiness: “We had two very successful years which were recognised in turnover and profit but this was a different recognition altogether. It was barely believable.

“It means as much abroad as it does here as a symbol of achievement. It provides a reassurance for our clients that we are of a certain standard.”

The award recognises continuous achievement, through sustained international trade. Litre Meter were praised for their enviable reputation, excellence in design and manufacturing, investment in British Engineering Excellence and service to the global oil and gas market.

“Our vision has always been to become the most respected specialist flowmeter measurement company in the world and this award reflects our continued commitment to that goal,” said Charles. “My father would have been immensely proud.”

In 2013 and 2014 Litre Meter enjoyed its most successful period ever, winning more orders in two years than in the previous six years combined.

This was driven by an increasing presence in the oil and gas sector, which has led to a substantial increase in export business. Over 65% of Litre Meter’s sales are exports.

Charles said: “There are some solutions we’ve got that no one else can do in the world so there’s no competition. We can do much lower flow rates and much higher pressures than most people and that means we can keep pushing those boundaries and keep innovating – that keeps us competitive.

“Our big market – where we sell more than half of our equipment – goes offshore to the oil and gas industries and they need those higher pressures and lower flows.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing in recent years, there have been many challenges along the way.

Charles recalled: “The most difficult time was the recession in early 2009. It was very tough. We had put together an ambitious plan and presented it to the staff in the January. We called it 5 x 14 – to triple our turnover in five years. Two months later we had to reduce all staff to a three day week.   The drop in the oil price really affected us then.

“We did get to 5 by 14 – we had £5 million worth of orders in one year.”

A key development that has led to this stupendous success was the manufacture of the Viscous Fluids Flow Meter (VFF), which was originally designed in the mid-80s.

“That’s the product that lifted us and took us to where we are now,” said Charles, who fully took over at the helm of Litre Meter 12 years ago.  “It was the right product at the right time. We spent many years refining the product to match the customer’s need, coupled with a worldwide expansion in the market we designed it for and the two things came together quite nicely.”

Litre Meter was sold in 2011 to a large conglomerate, but Charles still sees it as a family firm.

“My proudest achievement is keeping all these guys employed for such a long time. We might now be owned by an enormous American privately owned group but we are still 16 people in a field in North Marston.

“The success we’ve had – and what you don’t realise when you’re in the middle of it – was a big team effort.”

Charles accepted The Queen’s Award for Enterprise from Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace this summer.


ON YOUR CAREER: “I studied mechanical engineering at Sheffield. I graduated in the June/July and was working here at Litre Meter by the September.

“My tutor at Sheffield was head of the flow measurement lab but I had no interest in flow at all. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But I was sick of cleaning the hospital (straight after university) so I rang the MD of Litre Meter and he had just fired his chief engineer.”

DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY: “We sell and manufacture flow meters and we vary our designs to meet customer requirements. A lot of the jobs are customised, bespoke, made to measure.”

JOINING THE CHAMBER: Litre Meter save money every year by using our International Trade team for export documents. “The service is first class,” said Charles.

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