What It Takes to Be a Top Lab

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View a pdf of this year's top labs 2013
View a pdf of last year's top labs 2012
View a pdf of 2011's top labs


NEW YORK—What does it take to be a Vision Monday Top Lab? The requirements have changed a lot in recent years, as the wholesale laboratory business itself has evolved.

Wholesalers today are facing a very different “labscape” than they did in 1992, when VM published its first annual Top Labs Report, which ranks the largest U.S. labs based on their Rx sales and includes exclusive data about production levels, number of locations, work force size and other key indicators. Widespread industry consolidation, the growth of managed vision care and the emergence of the Internet and technologies such as digital lens surfacing have created new forms of competition and changed customer expectations.

At a minimum, a large and successful lab must offer a diverse selection of major lens brands, excellent quality workmanship, superior service and competitive prices. But VM’s 2013 Top Labs go beyond these basics.

As the new Top Labs Report shows, today’s leading wholesalers are equipped with the latest digital lens surfacing technologies. They produce a variety of digital lens designs from top suppliers in different materials as well as a selection of private label designs. A Top Lab typically uses industrial finishing technology to improve production efficiency and edge sun lenses with high base curves for wraparound eyewear. They also operate in-house anti-reflective coating centers to produce both name brand and private label coatings. To link all this technology together, track inventory levels and place restocking orders with vendors, Top Labs use sophisticated lab management systems.

Although it’s crucial for a Top Lab to stay on the cutting edge of lens processing technology, it’s just as important for it to be easily accessible to customers. Consequently, most Top Labs have developed full-featured websites with online ordering capability and educational resources. Having a knowledgeable customer service team is also essential to a Top Lab’s success, as is the ability to educate eyecare professionals and office staff.

As this year’s Top Labs Report indicates, nearly all the leading wholesalers share these and other key characteristics, whether they are independent or owned by a supplier.

Top Lab Performance: 2013 Versus 2012
Business has been strong for the past 12 months for the Top Labs, with all the leading indicators showing an increase over last year.

The combined net sales for all of the Top Labs, including both Supplier-Owned Lab Networks and Independent Labs, reached $2,341.8 million in 2013, up 2.7 percent from 2012.

The total aggregate Rx sales, which is based on the Top Labs’ core business of surfacing and finishing prescription lenses and is the primary measure used to rank them, reached $2,092.3 million collectively, up 7.4 percent over 2012. The Top Labs collectively produced a total of 134,678 Rx jobs per day, or approximately 33.7 million Rx jobs annually, a 1.8 percent increase over last year.

Top 5 Supplier-Owned Networks
The past 12 months were productive for the Top 5 Supplier-Owned U.S. Wholesale Lab Networks. Collectively, the Top 5 generated $1,767 million in total net sales, up 3.2 percent over 2012. Total Rx sales totaled $1,670.1, an 8.3 percent increase over 2012. Rx lens sales comprised 94.8 percent of Total Net Sales for the Top 5 Labs, up 3 percent over 2012.

The number of Rx jobs per day for the Top 5 rose to 107,100, up 3.9 percent from a year ago. The average proportion of uncut lens jobs among the Top 5 is 33.4 percent, a 4.8 percent decrease from 2012.

The Top 5 currently operate 189 individual lab locations, three less than last year. The Top 5 work force grew 2.7 percent from 2012, to 9,674 employees.

The Top 5 Labs that made the biggest gains in 2013 were Essilor Laboratories of America, the largest Supplier-Owned Lab Network, which generated $1,128 million in Rx sales this year, an increase of $70 million, or 6.2 percent over 2012; VSPOne Optical Technology Centers, which moved from the number four spot in 2012 to the number three spot this year, posted $155.1 million in Rx sales, an increase of $42.3 million, or 27.3 percent from year-ago; and Hoya Laboratories of America, the second largest Supplier-Owned Lab Network, generated $218.5 million in Rx sales, up $24.5 million, or 11.4 percent over 2012.

The Top 20 Independents
The total aggregate net sales for the Top 20 Independents in 2013 is $574.8 million, up 1 percent over 2012. Total aggregate Rx sales for the Top 20 rose 4.0 percent to $421.7 million.

Rx sales accounted for 88.4 percent of net sales for the Top 20, a 5.4 percent increase over 2012. Unit sales among the Top 20 shrank by 6.6 percent, to 27,578 jobs per day in 2013. Although the decrease in productivity contrasts with the increase in Rx sales, it may reflect the fact that some Top 25 Independents have installed digital surfacing and finishing technology in the past 12 months, thus enabling them to produce a greater percentage of high-value, high margin Rx jobs. Uncut lenses, on average, accounted for 40.4 percent of Rx jobs produced by the Top 20, up 5.9 percent over 2012.

The total number of lab locations operated by the Top 20 increased from 70 in 2012 to 76 in 2013. The size of the Top 20 labs’ work force grew to 2,482 employees, a 2.2 percent increase over 2013.

The most significant gains among the Top 20 were achieved by top ranked Walman Optical, whose growth was both organic and the result of acquisitions. The Minneapolis-based wholesaler boosted its Rx sales to $160 million in 2013, an increase of $49 million from 2012, or 30.6 percent.

Among the other fast growing Independents were US Optical, which moved from the number four spot in 2012 to the number three spot this year, posting Rx sales of $26 million, an increase of $4 million, or 15.4 percent and Digital Eye Lab, which moved from the number five spot to number four, generating Rx sales of $24.2 million, an increase of $4 million, or 16.5 percent. Rx sales account for 100 percent of the revenue for both of these labs, which are focused on producing digital lenses. Both are located in New York, and have been in business less than seven years, making them among the newest labs in the Top 20. ■