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Sheila Keller, Marketing Strategist

2012 SBA Michigan Small Business Person of the Year: John Lowery

john-loweryGRAND RAPIDS — Founded in 1987 by John Lowery, Applied Imaging now has six offices in Michigan and is pushing an effort to further its footprint into the Metro Detroit market.

The business technology provider builds its success on a “local first” principle with a “Keep it in the Mitt” motto, Lowery said, referring to the company’s in-state philosophy. Along with making smart acquisitions, the company’s long-term goal is to reach $100 million in annual revenue.

Right now, Lowery and his team are celebrating the success of reaching $26 million in revenues for 2011, having overcome stalled growth a few years prior.

“We got to about $9 million in sales and we stalled there,” Lowery said. “We were growing a little bit, but not like we wanted to.”

He said in the business technology industry, companies have to grow to stay competitive, so the decision to invest in more technology and make acquisitions was imperative.

Over the years, Applied had mixed results with acquisitions. Lowery said the company didn’t really get what it wanted out of a previous acquisition, so when the company looked to make another deal in 2009, it was more specific about how the acquisition was going to be a value add for customers.

Applied bought West Michigan Business Products in August 2009, and while many companies were struggling to keep traction during the recession, Lowery said Applied’s business only dropped about one percent. Then in 2010, the business sprang forward by a lot, he said.

“The acquisition helped us get from $18 million to $21 million (in revenue) in 2010,” Lowery said. “(West Michigan Business Products) were easily integrated into the company.”

Lowery credits working with expert consultants from the field and extensive management training for the company’s latest success. The company had to define its vision for the future and perfect its back-end operations using industry-wide best practices, he said.

“We went out and looked for expertise in our industry and implemented those strategies we learned,” Lowery said. “It’s available to a lot of companies, but you have to take it and do something with it.”

Lowery said Applied focuses on more than just what will result in immediate profitability. The company needs to invest in adding value and improving the company’s service, which is a long-term play but necessary, he said.

“In terms of offering solutions, we’ve typically been in the output business,” he said. “Now we can come in and help companies right-size devices, show you how to eliminate print and on the other end provide the software.”

He said other companies like Applied aren’t doing that. Instead, they’re just pushing machines. Applied’s employees understand that client service is the most important factor, and they figure out a way to take care of customers by doing whatever it takes, he said.

Lowery said manufactures like Xerox, which Applied also represents, are the company’s biggest competitors.

According to Lowery, the company boasts and 98.6 percent client retention rate. You can always go out and find new business, he said, but really it’s about taking care of the customers you have that makes a company successful.

“If we can duplicate what we’ve done here on the west side (of Michigan) on the east side, we will certainly be over $100 million in sales — there is plenty of opportunity,” Lowery said.

The company’s immediate next steps are focused on continued expansion of its web-based remote monitoring of client’s devices.

Lowery said being named SBA Small Business Person of the Year is a confirmation that Applied is on the right track and is focused on the right aspects of growing the business.