Upfront: Lab Watch


Lone Star Lab Guys

There is an old saying—attributed to Native American culture—that advises, “Don’t judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”
It may be cliché, but it has worked well as the business philosophy for Omni Optical, a Beaumont, Texas-based wholesale lab owned by Consolidated Vision Group (CVG).

“We feel we are very tuned in to our customers needs because of the experience of our executives,” explains CVG senior vice president of product services Jonathan Schwartz, who heads up Omni as well as CVG’s Pennsauken, N.J.-based lab. “We know what they’re going through, we know what they need and what they want. We’ve been in their shoes.”

Indeed they have. Since Schwartz was, as he says, “held up to my first handstone by my father when I was two years old,” he has spent his entire life in both wholesale and retail lab settings. He is a licensed dispenser in New York and Florida, and handled lab operations for Sterling Optical, among other companies, before joining CVG in 1992.

“We feel we are very tuned in to our customers needs because of the experience of our executives. We know what they’re going through, we know what they need and what they want. We’ve been in their shoes.”

In addition, lab general manager Ryan Markey, who’s father Benton was co-founder of a lab in the Dallas area called Royal Optical, literally grew up around lens processing, spending summers working surfacing generators at his father’s business. Once he got out of school, he managed the customer service and quality control areas of the lab. Later, he worked for a frame company before helping to launch Image Optical, a small retail chain, in Dallas. Finally, he opened his own custom-clip company—Clip-Tech—before returning to the lab business with Omni in 2000.

“All of those experiences I had before I came here played together,” he says. “I look back at those years as my schooling.”

Like most lab executives, Schwartz and Markey want to grow their business. But what makes Omni’s story interesting is its history. Opened in 1935, Omni was affiliated with the Texas State Optical (TSO) chain of optometric dispensaries until CVG sold the locations to a co-op of optometrists in late 2000. The lab now operates independently, although 65 percent of its customer base is still TSO-affiliated. The remaining 35 percent, however, are independent dispensers. Establishing a reputation in the independent sector has been challenging, given Omni’s TSO roots, but the lab’s executives have worked its history to their advantage.

“When we go in on a sales call, a lot of independents will say, ‘Omni? Oh yeah, you guys are the old TSO lab,’” Markey admits. “But Omni had such a great reputation as the TSO lab, it actually works in our favor when we go out and promote our independent business.”

“I worked for a TSO when I first got out of optometry school, so I was very experienced with Omni as a lab,” notes Omni customer Michael Bacigalupi, OD, owner of City Eyecare in Ballinger, Texas. “When I went into private practice a few years ago, I went back with them. They always did quality work for TSO and they had a great reputation in the area.”

Omni’s state-of-the-art facility also helps. In the past year, CVG has invested $250,000 into the lab’s infrastructure, installing V100 generators and Toro cylinder machines from Loh. The lab uses Nidek LE-9000 and LE-9090 edgers from Santinelli in the finishing area. Executives have also been working with Clearwater, Fla.-based COLTS Laboratories as part of the latter’s Profit Improvement Program, implementing new methods to ensure the lab operates at peak efficiency.
With its 25,000-square-foot facility, Omni has the capability of producing as many as 2,000 jobs per day. Currently, it produces roughly 800, for customers in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. The lab will add sales reps in two new regions later this year.

“We are aggressively pursuing the independent business,” says Schwartz. “We want to use the experience we have in marketing and growing businesses to increase the sales and marketing efforts here at Omni, both to add new clients and increase sales for our existing clients.”

They plan to increase services as well. In addition to the renovated lens processing facility, Omni has installed a new software system through DVI that allows customers to place and track orders online at the lab web site—www.omnioptical.com. Executives also hope to install an anti-reflective (A-R) coating lab later this year, although it can already deliver overnight service on A-R jobs through an agreement with a local coating company.

What Omni executives won’t change are the long-standing services that made the lab successful. Omni operates a rigid gas permeable contact lens lab (which produces roughly 100 orders per day) and a frame distribution business, which supplies customer dispensers with lines from Eyewear Designs, Zyloware and Capital Eyes (Club Monaco and Big Star), among others.

“They offer so much to me as an independent,” notes Dr. Bacigalupi. “So many resources. Because of their huge frame inventory, for instance, we’re able to file a lot of our orders as complete jobs, meaning we don’t need to send a frame. The frames stay on our boards and we don’t need to fool with inventory.”
Services such as these have made the lab the 16th largest in the country, according to Vision Monday’s Top 25 Lab Survey. “And we want to be in the top 10. That’s our goal,” Schwartz says. “But we are going to do that without compromising service to our existing accounts.”

TRANSITIONS RECOGNIZES SODERBERG Photochromic lens manufacturer Transitions Optical has named Soderberg of St. Paul, Minn. its 2001 Lab of the Year. The announcement was made during Transitions Academy at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Soderberg was selected for its visionary approach to growing its business, which resulted in double-digit sales increases for Transitions products, according to the company.

OPTI-MATRIX WINS RODENSTOCK RECOGNITION Huntsville, Ala.-based Opti-Matrix has earned the Circle of Excellence Award for Laboratory of the Year from Rodenstock North America. The award was announced at the Optical Laboratory Association (OLA) meeting in New Orleans in November. Rodenstock presents this award annually to the lab demonstrating the best overall support of the company’s products, programs and promotions. Opti-Matrix increased its Rodenstock sales by 40 percent in 2001, serving customers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

OLA ELECTS NEW OFFICERS The Optical Laboratories Association elected new officers during its annual meeting in November. Charles “Pat” Patterson of Walman Optical is the new president, succeeding Jeffrey Kosh. Other new officers are president-elect Donna J. Benedict of Benedict Optical; vice president Arthur Waite of Winchester Optical; and treasurer Susan Crawley of Volunteer Optical Lab.

COLTS TEAMS WITH OLA ON FDA TESTING COLTS Laboratories and the Optical Laboratories Association (OLA) have announced a new “FDA Compliance” program designed to provide wholesale laboratories with a less expensive method of complying with FDA requirements. According to COLTS, laboratory-applied lens treatments, including anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings, can significantly weaken lenses that met FDA standards at the factory, shifting the burden of meeting FDA impact compliance requirements to the laboratories. Through the new program, COLTS will certify a laboratory’s compliance standards for one year, with quarterly evaluations and an annual onsite laboratory audit.

QSA NAMES NEW PRESIDENT Duane Ferguson has been named president of QSA Optical, a Hoya Optical Laboratories of America lab with locations in Connecticut and Maine. Ferguson replaces QSA founder Paul C. Zito, who retired last fall after 22 years at the helm.

BENEDICT WINS WEB AWARD Benedict Optical has received LabTalk’s second-annual Optical Laboratory Web Site of the Year Award. LabTalk is a publication of FRAMES Data/Jobson Publishing.

COLA SEEKS CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCHOLARSHIP FUND The California Optical Laboratories Association (COLA), an educational group of labs and suppliers, is seeking contributions to its Educational Scholarship Fund, which is awarded each year to select students at Southern California College of Optometry. Companies interested in making a contribution can contact COLA executive director Maurice Giss at (714) 730-6380 or visit

VSP LAB RECOGNIZED BY OPTICAL PIONEERS During the annual meeting of the Optical Laboratory Association last November, 48 VSP Optical Laboratory employees were inducted into Optical Pioneers, which recognizes the contributions of those who participated in the establishment of the wholesale optical industry during its founding years. To be eligible for membership, employees must be active or retired, with a minimum of 20 years of service in the wholesale optical laboratory business. The 48 VSP lab employees represent 20 percent of the VSP lab’s staff and their collective employment experience totals 1,231 years.