Prospering Company: Advanced Research Company

In an economic recession, businesses sometimes find themselves with three options. Going out of business is one. Or there is always the option of cutting back on nearly everything, muddling through and hoping you come out the other side still breathing.

But if you’re William Sharp, founder and president of Orion Township-based Advanced Research Company, now is an ideal time to reinvent.

“We’ve evolved over the years,” says Sharp, who started his business 1982.

When it began, the company installed control systems for the manufacturing industry, a sector that has taken a well-publicized nosedive in recent years. And with that downturn came tough times. Tough times translated into downsizing and cost cuts necessary to stay afloat.

But about six years ago, Sharp decided to re-imagine his business, opting for a bold try to make it viable once more. That’s not exactly easy when your business is based so heavily on a shrinking industry.

Sharp, though, had a few ideas, though.

“We’ve been transitioning the business to more military, medical and technology (work),” he says.

In other words, three of the “emerging sectors” named by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson as growing industries that are not likely to be outsourced. Sharp geared his company to new technology by staying atop the newest trends in software.

One of those trends is a nifty piece of software called radio frequency identification (RFID), a system that lets you track inventory, animals, even people through a sensory tag. It’s used in hospitals to track prosthetics and medical supplies.

On its 18,000-square-foot campus in Orion Township, Advanced Research Company recently developed a “cabinet system” of storage that tracks what is taken out and put in and by whom. For example, say a nurse needed a medical instrument for surgery. After scanning a card, the nurse can take the necessary instruments out of the storage cabinet for use. Once closed, the cabinet automatically updates the inventory based on what was taken out of it.

While that may not seem significant, it can cut down tremendously on overstock and waste. Sharp explains that hospitals typically overstock their supplies so they can ensure they always have enough. Now, with a more sophisticated tracking system, hospitals may not have to spend so much on overstock.

“With this, hopefully they can reduce their inventory and that frees up a lot of cash,” says Sharp.

Advanced Research Company is also venturing into green technology. They’ve secured contracts to partner with Geotech to install monitoring software on geothermal systems and with Uni-Solar to install the software on solar power equipment.

Helping the company in its transformation is the Venture Forward program, which Sharp completed about two years ago as his company was in the thick of change. He credits the program with helping him network and share ideas with other business people.

“It helps you get your mind around your business,” he says. “It was very much worth my time.”

Venture Forward is a 10-week series of training sessions offered by the Oakland County Business Center. The program helps existing entrepreneurs grow their businesses by developing sound business and action plans. The weekly workshops often include guest speakers, and one-on-one coaching and long-term mentoring from area professionals.

Sharp in particular found value in the weekly guest speakers, so much so that he returned as a speaker in last spring’s session. He applauds the entrepreneurs who have emerged to brave the economic landscape, and offers them some veteran wisdom.

“Take advantage of the resources,” he says, pointing to the services Oakland County provides to businesses. “Join some of these groups and do some networking.”

Now, Advanced Research Company is poised to emerge from the recession stronger, and Sharp is even expecting to add five or more employees this year. It’s a success story, to be sure, and even if it seems to have happened quickly, it didn’t.

“We’re an overnight success, but it took us three years to get there,” he says.

For more information on Advanced Research Company, call (248) 475-4770 or visit the Web site at www.advresearch.com