Ever since he purchased West Allis-based S-F Analytical Laboratories Inc. in 2002, president and chief executive officer David Kliber has been working to make the company operate more efficiently. To further improve efficiencies, Kliber plans to move the 107-year-old company from its cramped quarters in a pair of historic downtown West Allis buildings to an industrial building in New Berlin.
The company currently is located at 6123 W. Greenfield Ave. and across the street at 6125 W. National Ave. in West Allis. The firm plans to move to a 14,682-square-foot building at 2345 S. 170th St., New Berlin. Kliber said he spent three years looking at more than 80 properties before finally deciding on the New Berlin building.
The building along Greenfield Ave. was built in 1888 and will be demolished to make way for a new Walgreens store. The building along National Avenue was built in 1903 and is a major landmark in the downtown West Allis Six Points intersection. It will likely be redeveloped. Kliber said he is "working on" a deal to sell that building.
The New Berlin building will be much more efficient and have more usable space than the two West Allis buildings, Kliber said. Plus, the New Berlin building has room to expand to 19,407 square feet, which Kliber says will probably occur in about five years.
The company's plans for the New Berlin building still must be approved by city officials. The sale could close by mid-summer and construction to prepare the space for S-F will begin shortly after that. The company plans to move into the new space during the first quarter of 2008, Kliber said.
S-F does environmental and food testing for 3,000 clients across the country, and some in Canada and Mexico. Most of the firm's customers are in the upper Midwest. The company does testing for six major disciplines: water/wastewater, fuels/oils/soils/sludge/ paints, toxicity/bioassay, investigative analysis, microbiology and food chemistry.
"We call ourselves the can-do lab," Kliber said. "When people come to us, we find a way to help solve their problems."
The company conducts about 250,000 tests each year. At its more efficient location in New Berlin, Kliber expects to be able to double the number of tests the company can perform each year.
S-F has grown significantly since Kliber bought the company five years ago. The company's sales have grown by a third since then and continue to grow. The company's annual revenues are now at about $2.5 million. The last two fiscal years were record years for the company, and the firm is on pace for a third straight record year. The company's client list has grown 50 percent since Kliber bought it.
"Our profitability has increased substantially," Kliber said. "Our EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) is almost double."
Kliber bought the company from Ed Treick, who owned it from 1986 to 2002.
"Ed really established a framework, or the platform, for business organization," Kliber said. "He was the first non-scientist to own the lab. I'm the second. He established the basic business processes and practices, everything from computerization to HR systems and that type of thing. I'm taking it to the next level."
Making the company's operations more efficient is key to taking the company to that next level.
"Right from the acquisition, I knew there was a need to eventually expand and modernize and further automate the company integrating systems and processes further, and in taking it to a level we're positioning the laboratory to strengthen its position in the marketplace," he said.
In addition to the plans to move to a more efficient facility, the company has been buying newer and more efficient equipment under Kliber's leadership.
"One of the things I have done is to invest annually in updating and upgrading our instrumentation," he said. "In many cases they are smaller instruments than the ones that proceeded them, and much more efficient."
The improved efficiencies have reduced the time it takes S-F to get its testing results back to its clients.
"Turnaround time is critical for clients," Kliber said. "In the case of a manufacturer, they may have a product sitting on a pallet ready to go on a truck just waiting for our results to say that that shipment is OK. So, the quality control manager in the plant is holding it, waiting. But, in science you have to do it right."
Finding another way to speed up the delivery of testing results, Kliber established a reporting system on the company's Web page where its clients can enter a password and obtain their test results quickly.
"I figure that if we can find out (on the Internet) that Tiger Woods just finished the third hole at the Masters and he's walking now to the fourth hole, and what his score is in real time, why can't we do that with testing too?" Kliber said.
The company has differentiated itself in the marketplace by allowing its customers who have questions about test results to call and talk to the scientists that conducted them.
"They get to talk directly to the analyst," Kliber said. "In other large laboratories, usually it's a customer service person, that type of thing. We're small enough and yet big enough we can serve the bigger customer or the smaller customer, and whether they are bigger or smaller people can talk directly to the analysts."
The company's staff will grow as its sales increase over time, Kliber said.
Keeping the company's skilled employees on staff has been a key to its success, he said. Of its 32 employees, about two-thirds are full-time. Many of the company's employees are scientists who conduct the tests and analysis.
"It's a good profession for people to get into," Kliber said. "These employees have been here for an average of over 20 years. We have a few who have been here for over 30 years."
Kliber said he is excited about the future for S-F Analytical Laboratories.
"The challenge I have is, how do you take a 100-year-old company that is in a mature industry and achieve breakthrough thinking?" he said. "It's a great business. It's a great service business model. It serves a good need here."
S-F Analytical Laboratories Inc.
Address: 6123 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis
Industry: Independent commercial testing
Leadership: David Kliber, president and CEO
Number of employees: 32
Annual revenue: $2.5 million
Web page: www.sflabs.com
• Be attentive to client expectations.
• Automate and integrate systems to improve processes and gain efficiencies.
• Retain and grow effective employees.
• Do the right things every day; integrity is a cornerstone of the business.
• Have a "can-do" attitude to solve customers' problems.