Meet the Third-Generation Company That’s Weathered 56 Years of Storms

The “secret sauce” to Morbern’s continued success

In the late spring of 2020, Morbern’s CEO was faced with a dilemma. Thanks to the pandemic, most automotive manufacturers had shut down their assembly lines, and Morbern—which supplies vinyl interior fabrics to GM, Nissan, Chrysler and Ford, among others—felt the downstream effect of that pause. At the same time, some employees were choosing not to come into work. “I had reduced manpower and very little demand,” recalls Mark Bloomfield. He thought: “I could send everyone home because we have no work…or I can take that free capacity and double-down on R&D.”

He chose the latter, a gamble he says has “paid off tremendously.” Morbern is a major supplier to the marine industry, and one of the vinyl fabrics they finessed during that down time last year became Splash, which “feels like the finest leather” but performs like the most durable vinyl fabric, with a four-way stretch that’s an upholsterer’s dream. “Boat companies can’t keep enough of it,” says Bloomfield. “It’s one of our fastest-selling products.” It hasn’t hurt that there’s been a run on the kind of products that Morbern supplies fabrics for, like ATVs, snowmobiles and, of course, boats. “The buying patterns changed during COVID,” says Bloomfield, pointing out that those fortunate enough to still be employed were taking money they might spend on vacations, dining out or entertainment, and investing in outdoor, COVID-safe pursuits instead. “We brought these new products into markets that have really high demand, and it’s jacked up our sales tremendously,” he says, noting that a few months after the initial crisis in the early summer, their sales were back “more than 100 per cent.”

It also helped that this was not the first crisis that Morbern, founded in 1965 by Bloomfield’s grandfather, has weathered. In 2008, for example, the financial crisis nearly finished the company, which serviced a discretionary purchase market built on credit. “Our business was nearly dead, like 90 per cent down. We weren’t sure we were going to survive,” says Bloomfield, who has worked at the company full-time for 31 years. “I saw how to get through a crisis like that by watching my father manage it,” he says. “Be transparent with the bank, conserve cash, under promise and over deliver.” Faced with his own potential disaster, Bloomfield put the same strategy his mentor, now retired, had used to steer the ship nearly a decade earlier. “It was eventually unneeded, but we had a plan.”

For Bloomfield, Morbern’s continued success—56 years and counting—is the result of two things: The first is a relentless focus on innovation, never sitting still in a hyper competitive market. “We have to work on more projects, because some of them are going to win and some of them are going to lose.” Success lies in making sure your wins outweigh your losses, and being willing to invest in that discovery process. “My vision is for the long-term,” he says. “We put tremendous amounts back into the company, to do more, bigger and better.”

The second thing is what he calls “the secret to the sauce,” and that’s the people who make up the company. Morbern has been based in Cornwall, Ont., since Bloomfield’s grandfather built the factory there in 1965, tired of waiting for the Louis Hippolyte-Lafontaine Bridge tunnel to be built in Montreal. “He said, ‘I’m not going to sit in traffic for two more years, so he looked around and saw what Cornwall had to offer,” says Bloomfield. Located close to the U.S. border, and on a major Canadian highway, it’s also “a beautiful small town,” says Bloomfield, which could be one reason why the company has always had very low staff turnover. “Ten years ago, there were still 40 people who had more seniority than I had years on this earth,” says Bloomfield, then in his 40s. “We had a person who retired recently with more than 50 years seniority.”

The company keeps people around that long by, in Bloomfield’s words, “finding the right person, pointing them in the right direction and then just saying, ‘Go get ‘em.’” His leadership philosophy—which has helped make Morbern a Best Managed company two years running now —is to create a culture where every employee feels like their contribution matters. “When I’m in a meeting, I want to hear what the most junior person has to say,” he says. “The more people who can help contribute, the more successful the company is going to be.” He adds: “The more minds, the better.”