5 Years of Smiley Monroe Inc - Morgan Walker

Kaity Hall

5 Years of Smiley Monroe Inc - Morgan Walker

This year the Smiley Monroe group are celebrating 5 years of being incorporated in the USA! We’re continuing our 5-year celebrations by catching up with our US Plant Manager, Morgan Walker.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Morgan relocated to Kentucky to set up Smiley Monroe Inc. He was the first member of our US team, arriving along with containers full of equipment to set up the US production centre.

Tell us about arriving in Kentucky and setting up the production centre in Franklin

"We made the decision to expand into the US in 2019 which was when we officially became incorporated. I then arrived in Kentucky in February 2020 along with containers packed full of manufacturing equipment produced in Northern Ireland.

Arriving at an empty building, I spent the next few weeks getting things set up and fitting out the production centre. That included electrics, manufacturing machines, furniture… everything really that would enable us to be ready for production come March 2020.

Of course, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic this had a bit of a knock-on effect, so it ended up that our first belts were produced in April 2020 when we were able to safely serve our local customers and keep them operational throughout lockdown."

What was it like arriving to an empty building and getting it operational from the ground up?

"It was definitely daunting, and it wasn’t helped by the uncertainty of the pandemic, but it was also a really exciting time of new beginnings.

We had a recruitment drive in the local area, meeting and interviewing our very first US employees which was when the ball really started rolling and ultimately enabled us to start manufacturing belts in April 2020."

Being closer to our US customers was key to the decision to expand into Kentucky. What have been some of the benefits of being closer to our US customers over the years?

"Our lead times are significantly improved. Being closer to our customers has meant that we’ve been able to support in emergencies. Whenever a belt breaks down, time is of the essence, and we’ve often been able to ship within 24 hours to keep our customers up and running when they need us most.

There’s also been a huge benefit in being able to deliver product support to customers. We can quickly support our customer base with site visits and product support training which has really enabled us to better understand our customers’ problems and provide next-level support."

How has our customer base grown in the US since opening the production centre in Kentucky?

"There’s been a great deal of growth since opening up our production centre and that has been across states and industries. Since 2020 our customer base has diversified and increased by 600%. We are also supporting customers across 32 states along with Canada and Mexico."

A lot has changed in a short space of time, what have some of your personal highlights been?

"Taking the factory from an empty building into a running setup has been personally really rewarding. It was a huge operation, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our growing US team.

I’ve also really enjoyed building relationships with our customers here in the States. Relocating here meant starting from scratch, a daunting prospect for anyone. Making those personal connections with our customer base has actually turned into friendships here in Kentucky where I wouldn’t have otherwise known anyone and I’m very grateful for that!"

What’s in store for the next 5 years?

"I anticipate healthy growth – expanding into new sectors has been really important for us and I think the momentum will continue to build with that.

We recently launched a new Diamond Top conveyor belt designed exclusively for agricultural belt applications including baling and package conveying. So, I’m really looking forward to making strides within this new sector. We’ve also been working with recycling companies which is another new sector we’re beginning to support, and the opportunities here have been really promising.

The growth of the Smiley Monroe brand in the local community here in Franklin and Kentucky more broadly is also an area I’m keen to continue developing. I’ve personally had a really warm welcome here so becoming more involved in the local community through events, partnerships and charity initiatives is definitely a key area of focus in the next five years."

Meet Morgan and the Smiley Monroe team at the upcoming Agg1/World of Asphalt Exhibition. Click here to plan your show.

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