Investing in Free-form:
Nexus' Sound Planning Pays Off (Part 1)
As part of this Investing in Free-form Technology series for Dollars & Sense, I wanted to provide the perspectives of lab owners who have actually implemented the technology and discuss their experiences in the process. I asked Gerry Shaw, a partner in Nexus Vision Group, to provide a peek at Nexus' move into free-form and how it has paid off.
Nexus Vision Group, located in Columbus, Ohio, was formed in 2004 by a group of laboratory professionals most of whom owned their own independent labs primarily in the South and Southeastern U.S.
"We are all lab owners and wanted Nexus to be built with a foundation of the best technology, said Gerry, who called Nexus "a lab's lab." As he explained, "We started this company on the premise that in order for our partners' labs to compete we had to offer superior service and speedier delivery than our competitors."
Free-form technology was the initial inspiration for forming Nexus. Gerry explained that about ten years ago, Johnson & Johnson had started its large factory in Virginia to produce its brand of free-form lenses. They had hired sales people and invested heavily in the product. The future Nexus partners were concerned that having such a well-financed and strong competitor in their territory could make it difficult for independent labs to compete. Strength was in numbers, so Nexus formed and the partners began to research how to launch free-form for their group. They soon discovered that the technology needed more maturity in the market. Other issues included lawsuits surrounding the technology, as well as the extraordinary cost of the equipment. As a result, Nexus changed course and opted to invest in AR coating equipment and technology while continuing their education of free-form.
I asked Gerry what eventually motivated Nexus to make the free-form investment in 2009. "The coating business was going well enough for us to absorb the introduction of free-form. Machinery costs had fallen substantially from their 2004 levels. Through our continued investigation, we had the opportunity to visit many lab owners who had made the investment; finding out what was working and what the problems still were and most importantly where the market was going. That's when we made the decision."
Next month, we'll have more on this discussion with Gerry Shaw, providing some insight on Nexus's planning and execution of free-form. —Jason A. Meyer, Managing Director,
HPC Puckett & Company.
Based in San Diego, Calif., HPC Puckett & Company specializes in mergers and acquisitions of wholesale optical laboratories. You can send comments or questions about this article or any other Dollars
& Sense articles to Jason A. Meyer at
This is the third in a series of Dollars & Sense columns about investing in free-form technology.
Facebook, AR and Digital Surfacing
Top COLA Agenda
The California Optical Laboratories Association (COLA) held its annual meeting here April 28 to 30 and presented Lori Treadwell, co-owner of Precision San Diego with the 2011 West Coast Good Fellow Award.
The Good Fellow Award honors an individual who is respected and admired by his or her peers and who truly represents a "Good Fellow." The perpetual trophy was presented by Terry Yoneda, Younger Optics to Treadwell during the President's Reception and Dinner on Thursday night.
Ed de Rojas, Quest Optical and Arman Bernardi, iCoat Company presented a session on AR coating, which included detailed information on what labs need to consider before installing in-house AR. Another workshop featured a panel discussion about digital surfacing with lab owners, lens and equipment vendors. According to DVI's stats from 200 labs, in 2007 1.9 percent of all work was digitally surfaced progressives. In 2011, that percentage has increased to 19.8 percent. The panel compared the advancement of digital surfacing to the advancement in AR and polycarbonate, stating that digital surfacing was "not going away." A third session examined how labs can utilize Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to keep their customers engaged and informed.
Rite–Style Expands Free–form Offerings With Seiko Lenses
Under the leadership of the George Lee family, Rite–Style Optical has been producing and aggressively promoting free–form lenses since fall, 2006. Recently, Rite–Style added another free–form partner, Seiko. This opened the door for an expanded menu of free–form products to include Seiko Succeed, Supercede and Super MV, a new dual–aspheric SV design.
By forming a partnership with Seiko, Rite–Style has been able to create and produce RSO's own private label free–form lens, Geo–Form. This allows RSO to offer the benefits of a back–side digitally surfaced free–form PAL at the same price position as the more popularconventional molded PALs.
"Geo–Form's price positioning has provided the catalyst to help many ECP's overcome their concerns, especially regarding cost, and give FreeForm a test drive," said Rite–Style's director of sales, Andrea Lee Bergquist. "Once they experience higher patient satisfaction and fewer non–adapts, the move to high definition lenses makes sense."
In March, Rite–Style Optical became one of a few select independent labs to produce Seiko's newest free–form lens, Surmount, the thinnest plus-PAL design available.
"Word is spreading quickly," said Bergquist. "Surmount is getting great reviews, especially from hyperopes and patients with high cylinder."
Adam Winkelman, Perfect Optics
Five years ago, Adam Winkelman recognized that a virtual tsunami of new technology was about to crash into the optical laboratory business. As a founding partner of Perfect Optics Lab in Vista, Calif., Winkelman bet that technology would propel the lab toward success in the decade ahead.
Perfect Optics has been riding that wave since it was founded in 2006.
"It's our culture—from the top, we committed to being the leader through technology that appeases customers' needs," Winkelman said.
An example is a customer who wanted to offer sunwear with wrap and interchangeable lenses. The Perfect Optics response was an MEI edger which worked so well, Perfect Optics has added a second one.
"We want the ability to do competitive things in-house. It makes the customers happy, we control the quality, and we receive the ROI," Winkelman said.
The commitment to new technology extends into marketing, where Perfect Optics is now treading the social media waters.
Their first Facebook campaign, executed this spring, offered free shipping to any customer who "liked" the page and posted a note. The result? Nearly all 94 of the page "likes".
Perfect Optics has already proved that video is the coming "thing" online, with a YouTube posting that has drawn 1,500 views.
"We show that our lab is technologically superior, that we're not like other labs. The viewer learns what goes into ophthalmic manufacture, and gains more respect for the jobs we produce," Winkelman noted.
Embracing new technology means investing time as well as money, with the learning curve on new equipment taking anywhere from a few days to weeks or months. But Winkelman promised that Perfect Optics will continue to stay ahead: "We go into everything we do with a high level of excitement. If we're going to do it, we're going to make it work."
Layer by Layer: Building Profits One Coat at a Time
By Julie Bos
Is your company ready to build revenue and reduce send–outs by bringing AR coating in–house? It's a topic that's on many labs' minds these days—especially among those who are intent on sharpening their competitive edge, improving quality and shortening turnaround time.
Despite the obvious benefits, however, this decision should not be taken lightly or made without considering all the angles. Adding new equipment at the wrong time can have disastrous effects on your operation and adding a new service offering will certainly cause ripples that permeate every department in your organization. If you're considering jumping into the AR coating arena, getting the right information—before you commit—is key. To help, we sought input from several of today's leading AR coating equipment providers: Chemat Vision, Coburn Technologies, Leybold Optics and Satisloh.
What are the primary benefits of adding AR capabilities in–house?
"The benefits are fairly obvious—improved profitability on AR jobs, increased AR job volume, control of AR quality, ability to offer more AR products and improved AR and total job turnaround time," said Curt Brey, vice president of marketing and business development at Coburn Technologies. "These factors are major motivators during the decision–making process."
Kevin Cross, manager of U.S. ophthalmic sales and marketing for Leybold Optics, points out another perk. "By bringing AR in house, labs can also offer more choices, such as 'house' brands or 'value' brands, in addition to premium and national–branded coatings that appeal to their markets and customers—without being forced to use other products simply because that's all that's available from their current coating partner," he said.
Despite all these benefits, however, Brey says there's more to consider when adding in–house AR—specifically concerning the AR company you plan to partner with for the system and support services. It's wise to do your due diligence when comparing various vendors, so your lab can determine the partner that's the best fit.
To find more answers to AR questions, log onto labtalkonline.com and go to the FEATURES section where you will find this complete article.