When Dean Sproles took over Nanoscreen, a Hanahan-based manufacturer and distributor of automated liquid handling processes for the life science industry, the company was reeling. Its founder had left in 2012 and four CEOs had come and gone since. Sales had declined for five years, from several million to $1.15 million; the financial losses were mounting and jobs were being eliminated.
Sproles recognized a diamond in the rough. He knows that the global laboratory automation market is expected to reach $5.1 billion by 2020, and that just a two percent market share would make Nanoscreen a $100 million company. Sproles foresees a day when Nanoscreen employs 500 people in South Carolina, compared to the seven working there now.
Before the company could seriously consider world domination, it needed to survive. Major issues facing Nanoscreen, whose customers include Big Pharma and major research universities across the globe, were relations with suppliers and customers. Indeed, the company had no central customer database, and thus, no formal customer relationship management system. In addition, its marketing materials were dated and its sales force was losing confidence in the products and the company.
This is exactly the kind of company the state of South Carolina had in mind when it created the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP), a private, non-profit group that serves as a resource to South Carolina businesses, providing them with a range of helpful strategies and solutions.
In other words, SCMEP is a low-cost business consulting firm for small and medium-sized manufacturers, focused mainly on five areas of business: continuous improvement, workforce development, supplier development, innovations and growth, and sustainability. Its goal is to help companies “compete, grow and win,” and to provide good jobs for South Carolina residents. Working closely with the SC Department of Commerce, SCMEP claims to have helped create 633 jobs and retain another 1,894 in 2015.
For Nanoscreen, SCMEP’s assistance might have been a matter of corporate life or death. First, says Brian Kuney, a regional vice president for the Charleston area, SCMEP helped Nanoscreen secure a state grant to update its ISO 9001-2008 certification, which demonstrates to customers that the company has attained an international standard for its quality management systems.
Next, SCMEP helped Nanoscreen overhaul its sales and marketing. Together, they created an integrated customer database, revamped marketing materials and built a new website. SCMEP connected the company with a $49,000 state grant to support that effort.
The positive impact, says Dean Sproles, was immediate. “We have an active line of communication now with customers,” he said. “We have sales reps excited about our products and when that happens sales start to pick up. We’re now struggling to find inventory to fulfill all orders. That’s a good problem.”
In the fourth quarter of 2016, the company enjoyed its first quarterly profitability in five years, thanks to an increase in gross sales of 150%. Sproles projects revenue will skyrocket 50% in 2017 to $1.8 million and profitability will return to the company.
Seeking to export this kind of success story to more struggling homegrown companies in the Lowcountry, SCMEP was looking to establish a Business Learning Center here, according to Channing Childers, SCMEP marketing coordinator. As a result, the Lowcountry Graduate Center is now the third Business Learning Center statewide to serve the training and workforce development needs of the manufacturing sector.