Reflections on the Top Labs

By Andrew Karp: Group Editor, Lenses + Technology

Every year since 1992 I’ve compiled VM’s Top Labs Report, which is this issue’s cover story. Admittedly, it’s a lot of information to digest. Yet the data tells a different story each year, and gives us a fresh look at one of our industry’s most vital segments.

As I sift through the data I collect for the 30 Top Labs, I note how each has changed over the past year—the addition of an AR coating system, the introduction of a private label lens, an increase or decrease in sales or in the number of employees. It’s as if I’m giving the labs their annual checkup. And because I have visited many of these labs and know their owners and managers—some of them second generation—it’s also like a visit with old friends.

This year, the story that emerged from the Top Labs data is that these leading wholesalers are quite agile, maneuvering nimbly in a tough economy and changing retail market. Quite a few have come up with solutions to help their accounts better serve consumers who are increasingly well informed, thanks to the internet and social media, and are intent on getting the best value for their eyewear. A good example is the affordable, private label digital lenses that some labs have recently begun offering.

The bigger point is that wholesale labs are always reinventing themselves. Today, they not only process prescriptions and distribute products, but many manufacture digital lenses, too. Whether your lab is among the Top Labs or not, chances are they’re doing some innovative things. Now is a perfect time to tour your lab, or take a virtual tour online, if your lab offers one.
I guarantee you’ll be impressed. ■