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October 2009
Testing the Waters
By Jill Purdy

     From an out-of-the-way Rock Hill industrial area, Ivars and Daryl Jaunakais work with their small team of 28, providing customers all over the world with Industrial Test Systems, Inc. (ITS) instruments and chemistries to test their water quality parameters.

     ITS testing products are used across a broad range of industries including municipal water treatment, food and beverage, trucking and automotive, pond and aquarium, pool and spa, educational, and medical diagnostics—and marketed to a broad array of users—organizations, professionals and individual consumers. ITS co-founder and chief analytical chemist Ivars Jaunakais has a simple goal: to make analytical chemistry easy to use and understand for lay people.

     ITS manufactures products to test water from all types of sources: swimming pools, spas, backyard ponds, municipal taps, wells, waste systems, or any other—for traces of elements such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. The uniqueness of the products that ITS develops and manufactures, and a significant reason for their success, is that its test strips and meters provide accurate results that are immediate and cost as little as $2 per test.

     Ivars Jaunakais—analytical chemist, speaker, educator, president and co-founder of ITS—has a rich background in research with intimate knowledge of test strip development that originated in the medical diagnostic field. Ivars is a first generation Latvian, born in Chemnitz, Germany, and raised in Philadelphia. Ivars’ undergraduate studies in both chemistry and math at Lincoln University were followed by graduate work in chemistry at Georgetown University and biochemistry at St. Louis University.

     Ivars wife, Daryl, is his business partner as well as secretary/treasurer and co-founder of ITS. Daryl provides the creative, strategic energy to complement Ivars’ analytical side. She is a second generation Hungarian, born in Cleveland with an undergraduate degree in psychology from the College of Charleston and a master’s in education from Winthrop. A licensed marriage and family therapist, she applies her psychological skills to work effectively with business clients.

     The dynamic husband and wife team have built a thriving business with exciting breakthroughs and products that continue to revolutionize water quality testing the world over.


Coursing the Currents

     In 1988, the newly-married Jaunakaises had moved to Rock Hill so Ivars could take a job as an analytic chemist in a research lab. Daryl decided to go back to school on a new career path. One year after their move, Ivars’ employer closed its doors. In the midst of his job search, Ivars began discussing some of his product ideas with long-time friend, entrepreneur and business owner, John Jen. Ivars had the notion that he could apply what he learned developing strips for blood glucose testing to a very broad market serving a growing need—water testing.

     Jen immediately understood the potential for creating a business based on Ivars’ concepts and supported Ivars and Daryl in the formation and launching of Industrial Test Systems, Inc. The trio was the perfect combination; Ivars and Daryl supplied the knowledge and creativity, Jen helped them with initial capitalization. With a $50K investment, ITS was off and running.

     ITS also needed a facility. Ivars and Daryl began their search at Rock Hill’s Business Technology Center. At the very least, they thought, someone here could point them in the right direction. They met David Vipperman, the organization’s director, and they knew they had found someone who could help.

     “I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t met David. He helped us find an office and negotiate a deal that we could afford. He helped us get organized and start our business; he supported us with advice and became our friend,” Ivars describes. “Twenty years later, we still consider him an important friend, advisor and supporter of our business efforts.”

     Ivars and Daryl launched their business in an incubator space no larger than 135 square feet. The two of them could barely fit desks into the space. But they had a business address, a unique product idea, creativity and determination, a very supportive partner and confidant in Jen, and a resource and newly-found friend in Vipperman.

     ITS began a growth path that tested the flexibility of the business incubator. The young company was growing at such a rate that they never finished a lease before they needed to move into larger accommodations. Vipperman worked closely with the Jaunakaises to find and lease facilities that supported their growth.

     “I have seen many companies build too much overhead and fail to produce revenue to support it. Ivars and Daryl made judicious decisions when it came to space. They never tried to take on more than their revenues could handle, but staged out their overhead increases to match their revenue growth,” recalls Vipperman. “Their strategy success is well-illustrated in their continued growth.”

     ITS migrated through several spaces at the business tech center until their needs exceeded what the space could provide. Ivars and Daryl decided to look for a building to purchase and to automate and streamline their business processes.

     Fortuitously, they found a facility that was perfect. It was a research lab that had been vacated by another company that had closed a division. The Jaunakaises moved into the new facility and literally began working right away. The lab had the very equipment they needed and the building had a loading dock from which they could ship product.

     They began to focus on trade shows and conferences to demonstrate the simplicity and accuracy of its products to potential clients. It didn’t take long for Ivars to be recognized as one of the industries’ top minds. He is sought out frequently to speak at events around the globe. The company’s products are readily available through the Web site,

     “Industrial Test Systems is certainly one of the biggest successes to leave the BTC. Ivars and Daryl are amazing in their energy and creativity in guiding their business. They are an example I reference to each entrepreneur that I meet,” Vipperman says proudly.


Mainstreaming Customer Service

     ITS’ focus on developing products that fit customer needs and providing them with incomparable service makes ITS unique among its much larger competitors and solidifies customer loyalty.

     Terrie Holden of Sper Scientific attests, “ITS not only meets all of our needs, but goes above and beyond. The product knowledge and personal attention I receive is outstanding. The entire team is a pleasure to deal with! We’re very grateful to them for providing an impeccable product line that represents the best in quality, price and availability. Our company looks forward to a long and successful business relationship.”

     Daryl reciprocates: “This has been a most exciting time in business for me. We’ve researched, identified and traveled to Germany to purchase our equipment. We’ve seen our ideas come to fruition. We’ve watched our company grow and Ivars’ research bloom into products that win clients over. Most importantly, we’ve been able to see our products make a significant impact in our clients’ operations and in the lives of people.”

     ITS is unique among its field of peers. Approximately 10 companies compete for customers in the water quality testing space. Nine are huge conglomerates that gain domination through mass production and buyouts. ITS focuses on innovation and customer need.

     ITS develops close relationships with clients and works tirelessly to provide products that meet their needs—even if it means tweaking products for them. ITS produces products under private label for companies in specific industry sectors to offer to their customers. Many of these products find their way onto shelves in retail outlets such as Home Depot.

     Greg Oades with Aquamation Limited attests, “We have been importing and distributing ITS test strips for many years. They provide our customers with a simple, low-cost method to verify the performance of their water treatment equipment. We are especially impressed with the accuracy, simplicity and range of the tests available for chlorine detection.”

     ITS never compromises value and quality. In fact, the company’s corporate commitment is summarized in four statements that guide each member of the ITS team: Provide a just return on capital; Provide a useful product for our customers; Provide timely delivery of quality products; Provide a productive work environment.

     The fourth item in this message speaks to the importance that Ivars and Daryl place on the quality of the workplace and their people.

     “Employees are the center of success, so providing them with an engaging and nurturing work environment fulfills our commitment to our customers, just as our commitment to quality does,” comments Daryl. “We wouldn’t be here without our people.”


Green and Growing

     Because of his knowledge of chemistry, Ivars has always had a sensitivity to the impact of adverse elements on our environment, our children and our own bodies. In a sense, ITS has practiced “green” chemistry from the onset, far before it was in vogue to have a social conscience. To Ivars and Daryl, it is more than policy; it is what they believe.

     ITS allows client input and need to drive development. Ivars makes himself accessible to clients so that he and his research and development team understand their needs and expectations. By maintaining a unique level of commitment to clients, to quality and to founding goals, ITS has carved out its own niche in a conglomerate-dominated industry.

     Ivars and Daryl both agree: “Our research and development, our product decisions, our employee and facility decisions are not based on money or revenue. Sure, we want to prosper and we want our employees to prosper. However, we believe that the best way to ensure our company’s success is by doing the right thing for our clients and for society.

     “We won’t produce ‘me too’ products. Each of our products is offered with the purpose of providing a unique advantage for businesses, professionals and consumers in ensuring that their surroundings are safe. I suppose you could say we make executive decisions with a social conscience,” explains Ivars.

     Looking back, Ivars and Daryl say they wouldn’t change a thing. Looking forward, they relish their roles in their “boutique” research, development and manufacturing company and plan to continue to identify and develop testing products that have social value. The duo wants the company to remain lean and agile so it can continue to lead in innovation—especially since that innovation has given ITS its consistency and stability  during economically challenging times.

     “We know we must keep our edge and maintain our role as an innovator. Most businesses have had to make significant cutbacks. Our new products account for about 30 percent of our sales and have kept us clicking on all cylinders. That has made a tremendous difference in how we are weathering economic challenges,” Ivars explains.

     Ivars has enough concepts and potential products “brewing” in his lab to keep ITS busy offering new and unique products for at least five years. At a one-product-per-month pace, it is an impressive number of products. And that number doesn’t include the new concepts and ideas that will inevitably be born along the way.

     Ivars thrives off of the excitement and the challenges of identifying new products that impact our quality of life. He doesn’t see retirement—or a sell-out—in his future. He is having the time of his life.

     According to Daryl, “I can’t imagine either of us doing anything else. This is our company. We brought it from a flickering concept to a vibrant, innovative company that makes a difference. How can we top that?”

Jill Purdy is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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