Top 5 Labs That Made News in 2008

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NEW YORK—As in recent years, the Top 5 supplier-owned U.S. lab networks continued to expand through strategic acquisitions of selected independent U.S. wholesale laboratories. Three of the Top 5—Essilor, Carl Zeiss Vision and VSP Labs—made acquisitions in the past 12 months. Essilor made the most substantial purchases, acquiring nine labs, including two of the largest independents, Empire Optical of California and Interstate Optical.

Leading off the 12-month period beginning in December, 2007 Essilor acquired the assets of Premier Optics and Gold Optical Enterprises, two prescription laboratories located, respectively, in Belmont and Fayetteville, N.C. Essilor has also acquired GK Optical, a group of two prescription laboratories in Greenwood and Fort Wayne, Ind. The three companies’ combined full-year revenue totals $8.5 million, according to Essilor.

In January 2008, Essilor purchased Interstate Optical of Mansfield, Ohio. The lab, formerly owned by the Art family, ranked fifth in VM’s 2007 Top Labs Report, with Rx sales of $24.9 million. Interstate, which operates a branch in Indianapolis, serves eyecare professionals in 32 states. The management team, headed by John Art, president, Rob Art, vice president and Debbie Art, secretary/treasurer, remains in place.

Essilor’s next major move occurred in April, when it acquired a majority stake in Empire Optical of California. The lab, located in North Hollywood, ranked fourth in VM’s 2007 Top Labs Report, with Rx sales of $25 million. Essilor issued a statement saying, “Empire has major potential for developing Essilor lenses and enables the [Essilor] Group to increase its market share in the nation’s most populous state.”

Also in April, Essilor of America has acquired a majority stake in two Advance Optical Sales Co. in Rochester, New York, with revenue of $6.1 million, and Future Optics Inc. in Jackson, Tennessee, with revenue of $3.3 million.


 


In June, Carl Zeiss Vision added Tri-City Optical to its network of U.S. laboratories. The company acquired the independently-owned Clearwater, Fla. wholesale lab in partnership with VSP Vision Care, with Carl Zeiss Vision as the majority shareholder. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Founded in 1993, Tri-City serves independent eyecare professionals in Central Florida and the surrounding region. Richard Hoerbelt and his management team remain in place.

The Tri-City acquisition marked the second time Zeiss and VSP have partnered in an optical lab purchase. Last year, the two companies each acquired a stake in Perfect Optics in Vista, Calif. VSP chairman Rob Lynch stated at that time that VSP would pursue other lab acquisitions in partnership with vendors and on its own.

VSP further expanded its lab network in July with the purchase of Ultra Lens optical lab in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The lab had been privately owned by the Singer family. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Ultra Lens is a full-service wholesale lab founded in 1975 by Bud Singer and currently operated by his son-in-law, Danny Singer, who remains in place along with his management team. The lab, which has 35 employees, produces about 450 jobs per day and services customers throughout Florida as well as in other states. It operates an in-house anti-reflective coating facility, and is an authorized distributor of Hoya, Shamir, Varilux and Zeiss products.

Ultra Lens is VSP’s fourth wholly-owned lab, along with Legends 4.0 in Dallas, Texas, and the VSP Labs in Columbus, Ohio and Sacramento, Calif.

Commenting on the next steps in VSP’s strategy for growing its lab network, VSP CEO Rob Lynch told VM, “After this we’ll be looking at what we do in terms of acquisitions or partnerships to fill out our desired geographic representation.” VSP currently does not own a lab in the Northeast. Asked if other lab acquisitions are currently in the works, Lynch replied, “We have a strategy that’s geographically oriented. We are certainly looking at a lot of situations in different areas, many of them in terms of partnering.”

Lynch added, “I want to stress that we remain very committed to our existing lab network, including our relationship with the three major lab chains and our strong independent labs. We are looking for strong diversification across all of our lab network.”

In July, Essilor acquired majority stakes in Deschutes Optical and Optimatrix. Deschutes, based in Oregon and Idaho, has revenues of $2.7 million. Optimatrix, based in Alabama, has revenues of $4.6 million. The management teams of both labs remain in place.

In addition to expanding its laboratory network in 2008, Essilor acquired Satisloh, a leading supplier of prescription laboratory equipment.