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December 22, 2007 - West Chester, PA

Vanguard Remains a Leader in its Field

Local company excels in product security business.

Anyone giving a gift card for Christmas or carrying a supermarket rewards tag on a keychain or a library card in a wallet more than likely have had their hands on a Vanguard ID Systems product.

The privately owned company, founded two decades ago by Richard O. Warther, produces the ubiquitous plastic cards and tags. Customers range from retailers to minor league baseball teams, with the company’s heaviest concentration in library and health clubs.

At 53, Warther describes himself as “an old bar code guy.” In the early days of the technology, Warther worked for grocery store chains and later Graphic Technology and Data Document Systems, both in Kansas City, Kan.

He founded Vanguard ID in 1987 with the help of several financial backers.

“They put up the money, I supplied the knowledge and backbone,” Warther said.

At the time, he and his wife lived in Boston. He had a 10-mile commute that took an hour because of traffic.

His wife’s parents lived State College, so when the opportunity came to start the company and located it where he wanted, he set out to find a place with an easy commute to a major airport but close enough to drive to his in-laws on weekends.

“So we looked at the map and this looked like a nice place to start,” Warther said about Chester County.

Warther contacted two real estate agents, one to find him a house and the other to find him an office. He gave them a mission, get together and find him a house and an office with a five-minute commute.

So Warther came down from Boston and spent from 8 a.m. to noon with the residential agent and 12:30 to 4 p.m. with the commercial agent. At the end of the day, he had an office in an incubator in Whiteland Corporate Center and a home near Route 100 and Boot Road, both in West Whiteland.

“I never left the township,” he said, with a laugh.

Once the company started to grow, Warther got bigger offices, this time in Oaklands Corporate Center, also in West Whiteland.

Seven years ago, Vanguard ID needed more space and Warther took over 1210 American Blvd. in West Goshen.

The building was formerly a MBB helicopter assembly plant, then a sports-plex. It was old and beat up by the time Warther got it, he said. Now it is a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant.

As for Warther’s office, the outside walls were broken through. In it’s place are large windows that overlook Brandywine Airport and the American Helicopter Museum.

“It’s an airshow every day,” Warther said.

Warther became so facinated with flying, he got his private license five years ago and is now a commercial pilot with 500 hours in the sky and a Beechcraft Bonanza hangered at the plant. The aircraft owership is shared.

With the plant in West Goshen, Warther purchased a home in Applebrook in East Goshen, a neighborhood that overlooks the third hole at Applebrook Golf Club and a commute that is less than four miles.

“You couldn’t get me on (Route) 202 and the people who work for me feel the same way,” Warther said. “They want quality of life rather than fighting traffic.”

When it comes to Vanguard ID employees, Warther is their bigger cheerleader.

“They are very talented people that I’ve been fortunate enough to attract and retain,” Warther said. “They believe in the product, they see my vision and believe in my vision.”

Warther said after his wife died in the early 1990s, some 20 days after giving birth to a baby girl, it was his employees that got him through the painful and difficult time.

“I am so grateful to be surrounded by such talent,” Warther said. “I started the company with three or four people. We didn’t have many computers. In the early days, we would write down ever order.”

Much has changed.

Today the company has 13 patents and 80 to 100 employees, depending on how many customer jobs are being filled, and is nearly paperless, he said.

Customers e-mail in the graphics they want on cards. After Vanguard ID graphic department sizes them to fit the cards or tags, the images are sent digitally to the plant where the cards are produced on Teslin, an eco-friendly synthetic paper. The back of the cards could contain a signature panel, a bar code, magnetic stripe and/or RFID (radio-frequency identification) inlay. The cards are sealed in specialized laminate that does not crack or peel and typically last up to 10 years.

In addition to being nearly paperless, the company is “green” in other ways, too.

The building is heated and cooled by a geothermal system that pushes water through 23 wells, each 500-feet deep. The system also provides cooling for some of the manufacturing equipment.

When Warther installed the system, it was determined it would six and a half years before it paid for itself in energy savings, but with the cost of fuel going through the roof, the system broke even in four and a half, he said.

A private company, Vanguard ID does not disclose revenues or profits. And private is how Warther, who bought out his early backers, wants to keep things for the foreseeable future.

“A public company requires someone with short-term thinking,” Warther said, noting his company works on long-term decisions.

Putting in a geothermal system is not an investment a company that looks to shareholder returns quarter-to-quarter could do, Warther said.

“I don’t want the anxiety and the grief going public,” the company president said.

By Gretchen Metz, Staff Writer, Daily Local News