20 Years of Top Labs

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It’s September. Time for children to return to school. Time for major league baseball playoffs. And time for VM’s annual Top Labs Report.

I’ve been compiling the Top Labs Report every year since we first published it in 1992. For two decades, I’ve measured and chronicled the changes in the optical industry’s largest wholesale laboratories.

When we launched the Top Labs Report, the industry was still in the throes of the optical superstore boom that began in the late ’80s. Back then, many independent eyecare practices felt threatened by the explosive growth of these national and regional retail chains.

We felt our readers, particularly independent ECPs who depend upon wholesale labs, would be interested in learning who the leading U.S. labs were and how they stacked up. At the time, there was no source for this information, so we had our work cut out for us.

Although many labs were eager to participate in the Report, some resisted. It was understandable. The lab industry then was made up almost entirely of small and mid-sized independently owned businesses, many of them family-run. They were not eager to share data about themselves. Some labs did not want to appear “too big” for fear of alienating accounts who thought of them as small, local labs. We pressed ahead anyway, and came up with our first group of Top Labs.

Since then, the “labscape” has changed dramatically. Most of the Class of ’92 are alive and well, but most have been acquired by suppliers. A handful remain independent, and their ranks have been filled out with newer labs. (See page 42 for a comparison of VM’s Top Labs in 1992 with the Class of 2012).

I am proud of what we’ve accomplished with the Top Labs Report. But I feel even better when I walk into a lab and see the Top Labs logo on display there. Then I know the employees of that lab are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

akarp@jobson.com