COLA Holds Spring Meeting

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TEMECULA, Calif.--Industry leaders joined members of the California Optical Laboratories Association (COLA) at their annual spring meeting here for a day of golf, networking and presentations. Optical Laboratories Association (OLA) representative, Ed Dietz spoke to COLA members about the benefits of joining the OLA and was followed by a dynamic panel of experts, which discussed the future of independent wholesale labs. Keith Grossman, Empire Optical, North Hollywood, Calif. led the discussion group.

A dynamic speaker panel was assembled for the COLA meeting including coordinator Keith Grossman, Empire Optical, Raanan Naftalovich, Shamir Insight; Bob Colucci, Essilor of America; Bruno Salvadori, Signet-Armorlite; David Rips, Younger Optics; Roland Sitzler, Carl Zeiss Optical; Carlos Perez, Transitions Optical, and Michael Ness, Vision-Ease Lens.

“The American entrepreneurial spirit is different here than in Europe. People are still getting into the lab business,” said Roland Sitzler of Carl Zeiss.

Raanan Naftalovich of Shamir Insights agreed. “Many of those who sold their labs are coming back into the market and are starting new labs.”

“Independent labs are not only going to survive but will thrive,” added Sitzler.

When asked what the biggest mistake they see independent labs making today, the panel had a variety of answers.

Dawn Miller, OD representing the California Vision Foundation, presented an award to Randy Belford of Belford Optical for supplying lenses for charity.

“Pursuing new customers while losing current customers out the bottom,” said Bob Colucci of Essilor of America. “It’s always easier to grow a current account than to find a whole new customer. You should be asking [yourself], who have we lost? And then go find out why.”

“Trying to be everything to everyone and spreading yourself too thin,” commented Carlos Perez of Transitions Optical. “Price is a key factor, but not the only factor. Keep your accounts loyal to you. Winning customers over on price alone is a losing battle for everyone. Ask how you can add value.”

“Getting caught up in the day-to-day details and not looking forward,” added David Rips of Younger Optics.

When the topic turned to AR, everyone agreed that there was still plenty of room for growth. The panel felt that the chains have done a better job of embracing technology and passing this information onto their consumers.

“Seventy percent of Wal-Mart’s business goes out the door with an AR coating, and they are not just doing it on price. They have AR ranging from moderate to very expensive,” said Bruno Salvadori, Signet-Armorlite.

The board of the California Optical Laboratories Association include: Gary Howell, Optima; Bob Babcock, Bartley Optical, Azusa, Calif.; John Haigh, COLA President, J & J Optical, Paradise, Calif.; Ken Lin, X-tra Lite Optical, Huntington Beach, Calif.; Tim Steffey, Sunstar Optical, Las Vegas, Nev.; Keith Grossman, Empire Optical, North Hollywood, Calif., and Terry Yoneda, Younger Optics, Torrance, Calif.

It was estimated by the panel that once you remove the chain’s numbers from the industry average of 20 percent that brings ECPs to only 12 to 15 percent of AR. The large retail chains have lens options down in print, making it easy for their dispensers to sell the product. The ECP doesn’t do a good job of presenting a package of products, commented the panel.

“An optical shop might sell a Transitions lens but they won’t sell a Transitions lens with AR. They might offer a 1.67 lens but not with Transitions and AR. The chains present packages with all the premium products grouped together,” said Perez.

What can independent labs do? Educate their customers, was the consensus.

“I was surprised to see the percent of AR that the chains are doing and the fact that they aren’t just undercutting us on price. We have found that going out to our customer and explaining AR really works the best. Currently, 30 percent of our business goes out with an AR coating,” said Grossman of Empire Optical.

Following the roundtable discussion, presentations were made on surfacing robotics, edging and drilling systems and AR systems for small to medium-sized labs.

The 14 optical labs in attendance received valuable information and were able to interact with industry leaders in an intimate setting. --Christie Walker