Upfront: Lab Watch


Super Nova

NVG lab leads growth of company’s
lens processing business

By Brian P. Dunleavy

New Nova:
Noval Optical has
re-engineered its entire production facility—and become the prototype for its parent company’s lens processing ventures.

Photo: Mike Tamborrino

Nova Optical may have opened in 1996, but the Orangeburg, N.Y.-based lab has only recently come into its own, at least according to its key executives.

“When I first came here, we had a lot of efficiency issues we needed to work out,” explains director of operations Brian Ziegler, who started at Nova in late 1998. “It was a good lab then, but it needed a lot of work to get better. We’ve changed a lot over the years, and we’ve been on a nice, steady growth pace ever since. It seems the more we grow, the better we get.”

Ziegler has been at Nova since he merged his own lab—West Paterson, N.J.-based Tri-Lite—into its parent company, optical product distributor Nassau Vision Group (NVG). In less than four years on the job, he has overseen the re-engineering of Nova’s entire lens processing plant, including the creation of a separate production line for glass as well as the retooling of the finishing and surfacing areas. Under Ziegler’s watch, Nova has also installed Loh surfacing equipment (which now works in conjunction with the Gerber Coburn equipment making up the brunt of the lab’s production line) and hired a full-time maintenance person. Most recently, the lab expanded its in-house anti-reflective (A-R) coating facilities.

Recent success at Nova has served as a catalyst for expansion of NVG’s lab business—a relatively new direction for a company involved primarily in frame and lens distribution. Last year, the company opened a second lab location in Miami—called Nassau Lens Florida—which already processes roughly 500 jobs per day. Executives say the company plans to open new locations in Dallas (later this year) and Los Angeles (in 2003).

“We’d like to be a Top 5 lab,” notes Doreen Hartmann, director of marketing for NVG, referring to the Top 25 lab list published by 20/20’s sister publication Vision Monday. “We’re thinking big. We’ve been marketing to the three Os nationally since 2000. Of course, a lot of the lab’s customers are also customers of Nassau, but you don’t have to be a customer of Nassau to use our labs.”

Thinking big since its initial foray into the lens processing business, NVG has outfitted all of its lab locations with in-house A-R coating services featuring the company’s Triumph brand. Nova first installed the service in 1998 using Satis Vacuum equipment and now produces roughly 300 coated jobs per day, according to Ziegler. The Orangeburg location has just added a second coating unit to meet demand.

“We hope to be coming out with a high-end, thermally cured hard coating [later this year],” says Ziegler. “A-R seems to be moving to higher-quality coatings. It’s our belief that as the coatings get better, dispensers will sell more.”

Customers say the lab is able to deliver custom A-R jobs in three days or less, but Nova and all other NVG labs promise 24- to 48-hour turnaround on stock A-R and uncoated jobs. Ziegler and his team have recently set up a “job tracking hotline” allowing dispensers to call in for information on orders. They’ve also hired two “job expeditors” to push through late orders. In addition, the company plans to offer online ordering through all of its labs, upon request, to customers via its web site—www.novaopticallab.com.

“Our policy is that if we get the order in by 1 p.m., it goes out the same day, if we have it in stock,” Ziegler explains.

“They are very service-oriented,” agrees Fred Alaniz, optician and general manager at Day’s Optical in Bellaire, Texas, Nova customers since the lab opened. “Their turnaround is awesome. Just the other day, I had a guy come in here with a 6.00D cylinder Rx and we got his lenses the next day. You can call their hotline number and get the job status. That takes a lot of the stress out of what we do because we can tell a customer exactly when their eyewear will be ready.”

All NVG labs have and will continue to carry lenses from all of the leading manufacturers—including Zeiss, Sola, Signet Armorlite, Seiko, Rodenstock, Transitions and Essilor—in addition to Nassau brands such as AMD short-corridor, Nalco and Balance progressives. In fact, the lab is a member of the Corning Connections lab partnership program thanks to its sales efforts with SunSensors, Corning’s plastic photochromic product. As part of the program, all of the lab’s sales reps were trained in positioning the product to dispensers.
“We’ve had a lot of success with SunSensors and we wouldn’t have even been dispensing the product if it weren’t for Nova,” notes Alaniz.

Nova and its satellite locations are still works in progress, according to Ziegler. When or if business slows down a bit, the lab’s next goal is to implement robotic technology into its production process.

“We’ve still got to improve our production facility, in terms of efficiency,” he says. “But, in terms of quality, we already feel we compete with any lab out there.”

“We’ve tried to use slow periods in our business to hone in on our systems,” adds Hartmann. “Business was slow in the fall for the entire optical industry after September 11, for instance, and we used that time to rework our production areas and train our staff. Now that it’s busy again, we’re ready.”