A Company thats Proficient in Hard Times
By Al Parker 7/27/09
At a time when pink slips are almost as common as cherry trees across Northern Michigan, one Traverse City company has been adding workers.
Were adding tech people thats where our industry is headed, explains Dan Edson, co-founder of American Proficiency Institute, created almost two decades ago to serve the laboratory industry.
API now serves more than 15,000 clients. Its the second largest lab testing company in the world, according to Edson, who knows a little about pink slips.
He received one himself in 1990 when his employer, the CAP Computer Center, relocated to Illinois. Edson and co-worker Leith Butler didnt see CAPs move as a career setback, but instead saw an opportunity to create their own company.
We love Northern Michigan and wanted to stay here, so we established our company to check the accuracy of laboratory tests at hospitals across the nation, explains Edson, a medical technologist with a microbiology degree from Michigan State University. We test the testers.
Edson, whose graduate work involved developing the worlds first blood test for Legionnaires Disease, provided the firms scientific background, while Butlers computer expertise helped transform API into an industry leader which now serves labs across the U.S. and in two dozen countries around the world.
Launched in 1991, API grew slowly with Edson and Butler as its only employees for about two years. Now the firm employs 32 workers and is the largest shipping customer in Northern Michigan. In the last year the company expanded its headquarters from 12,000 to 16,000 square feet.
The companys big break came in 1994 when federal legislation required all physician offices and clinics to subscribe to a proficiency testing service. Until then, only hospital labs had been required to undergo the tests which confirm the accuracy of lab tests.
Our client list grew from about 800 labs in 1993 to more than 5,000 in 1994 and our staff grew to 12 people, recalls Edson.
At about the same time, API hit upon a novel way to explain their services to physicians.
I was out for a morning bicycle ride with friends, including Drs. John Van Dalson and Bill Smith, recalls Edson. When I asked them how they decided what products to buy, they told me about their sales rep who had served them for 14 years. I met with their rep and he explained the role of a medical supply distributor to us.
The result is that API now has more than 1,000 sales reps marketing their services to physicians across the country. That really showed me the importance of relationships in business, says Edson, who received MSUs Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004, the highest recognition given to the universitys grads.
Closer to home, Edson serves as board president of the Traverse Health Clinic, which provides free medical and dental care to the uninsured of the Grand Traverse region through collaborations with volunteer physicians, nurses, dentists and support staff.
Edson gives a lot of credit to the API staff for the companys success.
We pay our customer service staff more than others typically would, provide full benefits for their entire family, train them on our computer system, articulate the company vision, then allow them to grow to professional levels they might not have thought possible, he explains.
The entire API staff, including tech support and the sales team, has great latitude in handling customers, but even then situations arise that require special handling.
Three years ago one of our larger customers a group of labs in Minneapolis was dissatisfied with things that seemed minor to us, but, in fact, were very important to them, recalls Edson. I flew over and back in the same day to speak with their decision makers. After listening carefully for an hour, I told them how we would address each concern.
But then I told them about an excerpt of a book, Built to Last, where the authors state Its not what you make, its what you stand for, and how API stood for a quality product at a fair price. That group renewed their orders the next week and now are one of our staunchest supporters.
API provides lab testing services to about 2,000 hospitals across the country. Recently the firm sealed a deal with Hospital Corporation of America, the nations largest hospital chain, which operates 163 hospitals and 113 outpatient centers across the country. Other well-known clients include the Scripps Clinic, University of Michigan and University of Nebraska.
The (hospital) systems have been a big part of our recent growth, says Edson. We listened to their needs and developed special computer software that saves them time in overseeing multiple labs. Our newest feature allows laboratories not only to enter results over the Internet, but also review performance reports, statistical data and get free continuing education credits. Once again, were the first company in our industry to offer this level of service.
In the wake of incidents involving tainted food products, API has expanded its expertise to include foodstuffs. Food companies have their own labs to make sure that no dangerous pathogens get into their products, explains Edson. We test their labs to ensure accuracy in their testing. We just signed a deal with a company to promote our food testing program in 100 countries.
While some companies in the food industry have done in-house testing, API was the first independent firm to provide proficiency testing for the industry. The company now has some 500 labs enrolled in its food program.
The Traverse City firms food microbiology proficiency testing program is the largest program of its kind available in the U.S. with more than 400 labs participating, including companies such as Hersheys, Tyson Foods, Gold Kist, and General Mills.
Located at 1159 Business Park Drive in Traverse City, American Proficiency Institute is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (231) 941-5887 or go to www.api-pt.com.