Walman Acquires Rite-Style from Lee Family, Lab to Operate Under Family’s Direction as Founder George Lee Retires


George Lee, founder of Rite-Style Optical.
MINNEAPOLIS—After 65 years as one of the country’s leading wholesale laboratories, Omaha, Neb.-based Rite-Style Optical has joined with Walman Optical, which has acquired 100 percent of the business from founder, George Lee and the Lee family.

Walman Optical is a national industry leader in the fabrication and distribution of fashion eyewear, contact lenses and ophthalmic instrumentation to independent eyecare professionals. Stated, Marty Bassett, president and CEO of Walman, "We are delighted to acquire such a respected optical wholesaler. Rite-Style Optical serves a highly progressive and loyal customer base, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to continue to fulfill the outstanding legacy supported by the George Lee family over the past 65 years.”

Rite-Style (RSO) will continue to operate as a region of Walman, the U.S.’s largest independent laboratory group, as the deal concludes and Lee retires after a long career in the business. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Rite-Style will be managed under the direction of Lee’s daughter, Andrea Bergquist, who will be the new regional manager for RSO, according to a statement from RSO. Other members of the RSO management team will include Fred Smith, who recently became sales manager following Mike Sutton's retirement, and Ray Stavneak, production manager. Two of George Lee’s sons will also stay on as managers at RSO. Scott Lee will continue as customer service manager and Tracy Lee as quality control manager.

The Rite-Style statement added, “In today’s business environments, especially with the growth of vertical integration, that goal is becoming harder to achieve. For this reason George, and the rest of the Lee family, have decided to join with Walman Optical, the largest independent ophthalmic company in the United States. Since its beginnings in 1915, Walman has grown into a national company with over 40 branch offices in 19 states.”

RSO said, “A major factor that weighed in this important decision is that Walman is owned by the employees of the company through their employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Employee ownership means everyone at RSO will develop a more vested interest in the work at hand. The culture focuses on customer service, deploying new technologies and creating innovative solutions. Walman has found this unique structure helps foster the engagement of everyone throughout the organization to bolster the success of the company.”

Explained Bergquist, “The best part of becoming a member of the Walman family is that Rite-Style will still be Rite-Style. We can maintain our own brand and will continue to offer a growing variety of products and services to our independent customers.”

Sixty-five years ago, in 1948, George Lee resigned from Barnett & Ramel and formed a partnership with Harold Thompson. Together they opened Rite-Style Optical Co. in downtown Omaha. Through the years, Rite-Style has grown from a handful of employees to a current staff of 115 people, and has outgrown three buildings.

Lee has been a well known leader in the optical industry. When he first opened RSO, prism values were calculated with a lead pencil and slide rule and all lenses were made from glass. Fifty-eight years later, at age 83, George Lee made a giant leap forward, investing in digital surfacing technology. In 2006, Rite-Style was in the news as the first independent lens laboratory in the country to launch a fully-integrated direct surfacing process. Rite-Style also upgraded to a state-of-the-art AR lab in 2009. These visionary moves helped propel RSO to the #3 spot in Vision Monday’s most recent 2012 Top Labs list.