Expo Continues to Make a NYC 'Spectacle'

NEW YORK—While many New Yorkers turned their attention this weekend to the twin spectacles of the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the New York City Half Marathon, those in the optical industry focused on a different type of spectacle—the wearable kind—at Vision Expo.

“Neither snow, parades or half marathons can keep the industry from attending this spectacular event. They want their Vision Expo,” said Deborah Malakoff Castor, vice president of meetings and trade shows for The Vision Council.

Celebrities added their star power to the Expo spectacle, including (clockwise from top) Robert Irvine with Sherianne James, Bernie Williams, Misty May-Treanor, Russell Simmons, John Varvatos, and Cal Ripken, Jr.

Clare Tully from Steubenville Optics, Steubenville, Ohio, concurred. “Nothing delivers the fashion message of eyewear better than this show in New York. I think it’s because this city is the perfect setting ...even with snow.”

As in past years, Expo is attracting many experienced show-goers as well as many first-timers. Bill Sura, an optician at Ridgefield Family Eyecare, Ridgefield, Conn. said he’s been coming to optical trade shows in New York City for 26 years, since the days of the old Optifair that was held in the New York Hilton.

“Vision Expo has obviously expanded and improved tremendously,” said Sura. “We come every year. This year, we are looking for equipment and new lens products. We’ve looked at a topographer/autorefractor combo and have just started looking for new lenses.”

Another optical show veteran, second-generation optician Michael Higgins, observed, “In frames, what’s old is new again. While the basics are the same, the players have changed. I’m happy to see a lot of younger faces in the profession. The technology has changed since starting in the business 40 years ago.”

His son, Jeffrey Higgins, an optician who works at Main Fashion Optical in Bergenfield, N.J., said it’s his first time at Vision Expo. “It’s huge,” he marveled. “I’m specifically looking for big frames but more modern styles in order to fit progressives on older customers. We found some from Clariti and Avalon.”

Iosif Ifraimov, an opticianry student at TCI College of Technology in New York City, was also excited by his first visit to Expo. “I’m just trying to learn the business,” said Ifraimov, adding, “The frames here are amazing, they’re something different.”

The opportunity to see so many frame styles in a single location means there is virtually something for everyone at Expo. As fashion designer Mark Badgley put it, “We knew eyewear and sunwear was big but this show is amazing. This is a great show. I hope it gets even bigger.”

As of Friday, Expo attendance was tracking slightly ahead of last year’s record-breaking figures, show organizers said. “Not only was the show floor busy on Friday and Saturday, it was productive—across all levels, pavilions and product categories. The early attendance figures, show floor buzz and positive feedback from many exhibitors, all speak to a strong U.S. optical economy,” said Tom Loughran, group vice president for Reed Exhibitions.

Exhibitors were generally pleased with the number of attendees at the show. “I see a lot of enthusiasm on the show floor,” said Dick Russo of Safilo.
“Traffic is strong and consistent. Everyone is looking for something new. Luckily, we have something new—Polaroid.”

Marco Lancione of Optikam said many customers have stopped by his company’s booth as well as a lot of walk-ins. “People are ready for electronic measurement and digital centration technology,” he observed.

Part of Expo’s appeal is its diverse mix of international exhibitors and attendees. Cui Yi, chairman of the China Optometric and Optical Association said, “As the largest optics fair in North America, Vision Expo acts as the bridge which closely connects the U.S. market with other foreign marketplaces. It provides much more than exhibits. Vision Expo is an effective channel for communication and collaboration. Under the circumstance of an unstable global economy, the U.S. optical market still embraces a rosy spectacle, which is very aspiring for global optical traders.”

In an effort to expand its presence in the U.S. marketplace, the China Optometric and Optical Association (COOA) decided to support 20 booths for the first time at International Vision Expo East 2013, with the intent to establish and grow a China Pavilion. The COOA also arranged for their participating exhibitors to visit with local colleagues and retailers while visiting the U.S. to encourage collaboration, communication and future work between domestic and foreign exhibitors.

“By mutual cooperation and support, we can further promote the development of a global optical industry together,” said Yi.

Canadians were well represented at Expo, too. “We have an office in Canada but we started to incorporate more of our Canadian team last year at the show,” said Sherry Lay, Viva International. “We ask our Canadian customers to come here, see the show and visit with us, so we’ve gotten even more of a presence this year in the booth from that standpoint.”

For many international attendees, Expo provides them with a welcome opportunity to connect with global suppliers. “We have an optical retail store, a clinic and a surfacing lab in Nigeria, so I’m looking at everything—drugs, equipment, frames. We don’t have lots of things within our immediate reach, like parts for edgers and generators, so it’s important to come here to meet suppliers,” said Pius Nwagwu of Rahway, N.J.

Reed’s Loughran concluded, “International Vision Expo is truly an international event. This is just one of the many examples of how Vision Expo works to unite the optical industry on a global scale.”