(L to R) Kurt Atchison, Tony Jones, Gunter Schneider and Derek Bodart discuss the implementation process for the expanded lab.

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss.—Every company’s growth journey is unique, but for Superior Optical Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, it’s an impressive story marked by Service-Disabled Veterans support, 400 percent revenue growth in the past five years, and a recent expansion effort that has quadrupled capacity through state-of-the-art automation.

Today, Superior Optical Lab is on the forefront of the industry—fueled by focused leadership, a strong presence within the Veterans Administration (VA) and ECP communities, and the powerful, behind-the-scenes Schneider Modulo One technology.

How It All Began
Superior Optical Lab was first started in 1991 by Service-Disabled Navy veteran, Hal Walker, and partner Jon Jacobs, with a primary focus on manufacturing eyeglasses for a wide range of eyecare providers in the region. In 2006, when the VA enacted the Vets First Program, it provided opportunities for Service-Disabled Veterans (SDVs) like Walker to receive preference for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SDVOSB) procurements.

Because of Walker’s veteran status, Superior Optical Lab qualified for several of those contracts, which along with the ECP business the company was already doing, led to significant growth for the company. In 2015, Walker and Jacobs were ready for retirement and sold Superior Optical Lab to Essilor. Unfortunately, under this new ownership and management, the lab no longer qualified for its SDVOSB contracts, which at the time, made up the majority of the lab’s business. For the next two years, Superior Optical struggled to maintain its presence in the industry, and Essilor decided to sell the lab.

Fortunately, two local financial partners saw great potential for the lab’s future—and had the right mindset and qualifications to make it happen.

New Ownership Restores SDVOSB Status
 Derek Bodart, president and CEO (l) and Tony Jones, vice president and COO.
To reinstate the lab’s SDVOSB status and regain its primary business in VA accounts, the lab was purchased in 2017 by Derek Bodart, a Service-Disabled Navy veteran, and Tony Jones, a business executive with extensive sales and management experience. (Interestingly, by purchasing Superior Optical, Bodart and Jones have the rare distinction of having bought a lab from Essilor rather than having sold one to it.)

Once the ink was dry, the new owners were intent on building back the business that had been lost—and taking the lab to new heights of growth. They started by working to regain Superior Optical Lab’s VA accounts. After that, they created a new e-commerce platform, SpecsforVets.com, which provides discounted, high-quality eyewear for veterans and their families.

“We believe it’s an honor to serve our Veterans,” said Bodart, president and CEO, Superior Optical Lab. “This platform allows us to serve a larger population of veterans and their families, which is the heart and soul of our business.”

Pulling in the Right Partner
Bodart and Jones’s aggressive expansion strategy required a strong business partner—one with guaranteed success and support. They chose Schneider Optical Machines, based on a relationship that dates back to 2009, when the manufacturer first installed a small digital surface line to increase production rates. Since then, Superior Optical Lab has maintained a strong partnership with Schneider for their automation needs.

“We had ambitious goals and we knew from the lab’s partnership with Schneider that we would receive well-built and dependable equipment,” said Bodart. “No other company could put together the level of integrated technology we needed to revolutionize production.”

Superior Optical Lab located in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Thanks to efforts like these, Bodart’s and Jones’ impact has been remarkable. Since taking over Superior Optical in 2017, they have increased lab revenue by 400 percent, expanded production space from 12,500 square feet to over 44,000 square feet, and quadrupled capacity—all while changing to a new lab management software system, and more recently, dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a challenging period, but it positioned Superior Optical to achieve significant success in the years to come,” said Bodart.

 To learn more about Superior Optical Lab’s five-phase, multi-year expansion and their partnership with Schneider Optical Machines, look for the story “Growing at the Speed of Automation” in the Lab Report section of the January-February print edition of Vision Monday. The digital edition will be live on VisionMonday.com on Feb. 6, 2023.