Upfront: Lab Watch


Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son

A lab exec brings computer expertise to the family business 

By Timothy Herrick

Like many second-generation lab owners, J. Larry Enright, vice president of PerfeRx Optical in Dalton, Mass., spent his formative years working in the family business. His father, lab president John Enright, founded PerfeRx (the name is a play on the words “Perfect Rx”) in 1974 and taught his son optics and lens processing.

“I spent a lot of time in the lab when I was younger, learning from the ground up,” says the J. Larry Enright. “I remember my first job was peeling pads off metal tools.”

Because Enright’s favorite toy was a computer, however, toiling with generators held little appeal. Instead of immediately entering the family business, he became, by his own admission, a computer nerd, graduating college in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and pursuing a career in software development. It was not until optical labs had completely evolved into high-tech lens processing facilities that the younger Enright decided to return full-time to PerfeRx. His early lab apprenticeship and his cutting-edge computer skills had finally come together.

Enright’s return to the lab business was a gradual one. In the early 1990s, he supervised the initial computerization of the PerfeRx’s offices, then left to further his software career. He returned again to the lab in 1994 to implement polycarbonate processing.

“My father resisted polycarbonate at first because the lenses and the processing equipment were not up to his optical standards,” he recalls. “Also, the accounts told him poly was only 5 to 10 percent of their sales.”

Of course, by the mid-1990s, lens manufacturers had improved polycarbonate’s optical properties. At the same time, equipment manufacturers had introduced high-volume surfacing technology capable of producing accurate polycarbonate prescriptions consistently. The improvements convinced John Enright. With his son’s assistance, the lab installed state-of-the-art equipment, creating a high-tech poly production line. Poly sales escalated for the lab, growing to the more than 25 percent it is today.

“Turns out, we did hit polycarbonate at the right time because we didn’t have to suffer through the same learning curve other labs went through,” says the younger Enright.

After PerfeRx had established itself as a poly power in the New England region, Enright went back to the software world, writing code, training and providing technical support for billing and record-keeping software used by healthcare systems. It was an experience that would soon prove invaluable back at PerfeRx, given the direction optical had already been heading.

In 1999, PerfeRx acquired a lab based in Latham, N.Y., (an hour’s drive from the Dalton location), fortifying the lab’s presence in upstate New York and giving it a Varilux distributorship as well. Larry decided to rejoin the family business on a full-time and permanent basis at that time, creating a computer networking system linking both labs. Last fall, PerfeRx closed its New York branch and made a seamless transition to one centralized location thanks, in part, to technology. PerfeRx added Loh Optical Machinery surfacing equipment and CNC Opti-Drill edgers at the time of the closing.

“At a certain point, by spreading out the technical and management staff, we were doing a disservice by having two labs,” explains Enright. “We’ve expanded our courier service shifts and because western Massachusetts is in close proximity to our upstate New York accounts, our customers never experienced a
disruption or change in service. Actually, the technology freed our technical staff, making them more available to customer service. Dispensers still need that support. In fact, they need more of that support.”

That support involves answering the full range of lens product and processing questions and troubleshooting dispensing and fitting issues. PerfeRx has further “skilled-up” customer service by introducing automated order entry systems—another Enright specialty.

For a little over a year, the lab has been involved with expanding its remote ordering systems. Several accounts are using its Optifax T-N-T (Trace-N-Transmit) system, which incorporates a National Optronics 4T tracer to send frame traces and data—via the Internet—directly into the PerfeRx production system, essentially eliminating data entry—and data entry errors—at the lab.

“It’s a lot more efficient than shipping the frames, or taking frame measurements and faxing an outline of the frame shape over to the lab,” says David Peloquin, optician at Eye Care Specialties, a mid- to high-end optometric dispensary in Greenfield, Mass., noting the lab is able to offer next-day turnaround on some jobs, upon request. “The accuracy is dead-on. I rarely have to use the hand-stone for touch up.”

According to Peloquin, Eye Care Specialties now “T-N-T’s” nearly 100 percent of its non-third party jobs to the lab, the majority of which are high-index plastic and polycarbonate. “Every time I need a question answered or have a problem with a job, I always get somebody on the phone,” says Peloquin. “Their responsiveness is great.”

In March, the lab took the next step in expanding its remote ordering systems. PerfeRx was scheduled to become one of the first wholesale optical labs in the Northeast on Vision Web, a web portal for business-to-business Internet transactions. With Vision Web, Enright says dispensers will be able to use their office computer to place orders and check job status. “Vision Web will enable accurate ordering and processing,” says Enright. For us, though, it will further free up our customer service. Instead of taking orders, that skill set will be used for customer support.”

And that’s just what Enright enjoyed most about his career in the software industry—offering tech support on software he’d designed and created. “Dispensing is personal with patients, and our relationships with accounts are personal,” he says. “I don’t see technology as de-personalizing relationships. It gives both parties more time to get more out of the relationships.”