On a walk through Forensic Fluids in the Enterprise Center on Parsons a visitor can see where the 7-year old company has been and where it's going.
Housed in the location of the now defunct Gibson Guitars the company's first few employees started out working in offices paneled with every type of wood that went into the guitars. (No, the paneling is not for sale.) As each new department is introduced, a picture emerges of a company working to create a culture that allows it to deal with rapid growth that could see it outstripping the size of its current location in the next 18 months.
When the company opened its doors in 2005 its employees were fresh college grads. From three employees, the company has grown to employ more 38, including a chemist, and its numbers continue to rise as the company expands sales in parts of the country where it has not previously been. This year alone, Forensic Fluids Laboratories has expanded its staff by 20 people, most recently with new additions to its information technology and sales teams.
Toxiciologist Bridget Lorenz Lemberg launched the company after she married a Western Michigan University professor. "I needed a job in Kalamazoo," Lemberg says.
She also had been continuously building the skills she needed to run a lab like that at Forensic Fluids
, having previously worked with the central crime lab of the Kentucky State Police and the South Bend Medical Foundation, among others. In 2001, she worked for one of the first oral fluid drug testing labs where she was responsible for developing methods for to test oral fluid in mass mass spectrometer. She has more than 20 years experience in her field.
Today, Forensic Fluids Laboratories is the only exclusively oral fluid drug testing lab in the United States. The company serves primarily probation departments, child protective services agencies at the state level, especially in Indiana, and also employers testing job applicants.
Oral fluids test results, obtained from saliva, are similar in accuracy to blood testing. Most drugs can be identified from one to four days after they were taken with the kind of testing Forensic Fluids provides.
To conduct the tests in a timely fashion, and Forensic Fluids Laboratories prides itself on its ability to provide test results within 24 hours, the company has invested in three new mass spectrometers that arrived this week. Each costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and new ones can exceed $500,000. The company now has seven of the devices so it can keep up with demand.
The days when Lemberg had to rent a mass spectrometer at exorbitant interest rates because she could not get other financing are behind her. When the banks realized the company had regularly doubled its sales every year but one since it opened, financing became available. Forensic Fluid Labs expects to do between $10 million and $12 million in sales in 2012.
Other drug testing companies are heavily financially invested in urine testing so few of them do more than dabble in oral fluids, she says. But Lemberg points out oral fluid testing is easier to administer, a sample can be collected and observed directly.
Customer service is a high priority for the company and a great deal of time is spent making sure customers understand the test results they are getting and at times reassuring them that the results are accurate. Lemberg also spends a lot of time in court as an expert witness explaining the accuracy of tests taken.
"We’re creating jobs," she says. "If we keep growing at this rate we could be a really big employer in town." The company is in the process of adding the business structure it needs to do that. Financial services have been retained. A financial plan, sales projections and financial planning including quotas for sales people are being developed.
The company also has created a corporate culture where happy employees are made to feel important through its program known as Developer of Ultimate Company Karma or DUCK. The DUCK squad is a team of staff members who spearhead the effort to create a work environment of "cooperation, positive communication and fun."
The squad was born of a visit to Zappos, where a culture of happiness prevails even as the company grew to more than 1,000 employees. Lessons learned there along with a study of a number of other businesses that have created successful corporate cultures, such as that of Ann Arbor's Zingerman's, led to the DUCK Bill, a guide to the company's corporate culture.
Examples of what has come about? Trash parades (because everyone at Forensic Fluids takes out the trash), a line-dance outing, a company barbecue for everyone in the Enterprise Center that proved so popular they ran out of food, and company provided reflexology just to name a few of the offerings.
Where Lemberg is taking the company next will be in the direction of having published in journals papers that spell out the science and benefits of the tests so that oral fluid testing can become more widespread and as widely accepted as it is in Europe where urine testing is rarely done these days.
There still is a great deal of growth the company could realize simply through more business in Michigan or even in Kalamazoo. "There is about $1 million of drug testing in Kalamazoo that is all being sent out of state," Lemberg says. "About $15 million goes out of state every year."
Buy Local Kalamazoo
says for every dollar spent locally, 60 cents stays in the community. Lemberg hopes that local companies will recognize the ripple effect they could have if they decide to have their testing done in Kalamazoo.
Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor
Photos by Erik Holladay.