John Seegers is a LDO and owner of OpticianWorks.com.

Keith Benjamin is Director of Marketing for Laramy-K Optical Lab

 

John: You, well, Laramy-K anyway, is known throughout the industry as a specialty lab capable of producing some unique prescription solutions. Can you tell me about some of the most complicated or unusual prescriptions you have filled?

Keith:

I’m not sure we consider ourselves a specialty lab. I mean, we don’t produce Franklin's, for example. We don’t do specialty edging or any edging, for that matter. The majority of our work is actually freeform surfacing and AR. On the other hand we won’t turn down a challenge so, we often do work that other labs don’t. There are a lot of patients out there that have needs that go beyond the standard ranges of lab equipment and computers. This is where we get to ask not “if?” but “how?’ and combine old-fashioned optical knowledge with technology and creativity to come up with a solution. So, I guess that’s how we have come to be known as a specialty lab.

As far as examples go, we’ve done: +35.00 with a -2:00 cyl,  -28.00 with 18 deg of prism, and +12.00 with a -8.00 cyl on a plano front for a dive mask. All of these were done on conventional surfacing equipment. But we’re not afraid to stretch our freeform line either. We do -20:00 spheres, -8.00 cylinders, and 7 deg prisms in freeform. I’m not sure you see other labs doing that.

John: Does Laramy-K also deal in routine surfacing work and if you do what percentage of your business is specialty work?

Keith:

Absolutely. As I mentioned most of our work is freeform and AR. Maybe only 7-8% of our work is what you might consider specialty or out-of-the-ordinary. We still have a conventional surfacing line and we still surface glass.

 

John: I have been a working optician for nearly twenty years now and still don’t know what to look for in a prescription that would send me looking to Laramy-K. Can you tell me some “red-flag” items that I might look for? Something an ordinary lab might not handle the way you might?

Keith:

Well, if you have an edger and care about quality, then you should probably look at Laramy-K. In terms of the more difficult work, we always tell people, when another lab tells you it can’t be done, before you tell the customer “no”, please, give us call.  If you have a job where you might be concerned about cosmetics. We always look at both the lens profile and magnification to try to come up with a combination of material and curves that will not only suit the wearer optically, but cosmetically as well. If you have a difficult job that needs to be done in a couple of days, instead of a couple of weeks, you might want to give us a call as well.

John: I’m not sure if this is just asking the same question again but, how do I train ECPs to look at a prescription and think, “Yes, I can” instead of “No, we cannot.”?

Keith:

If they ever think “No, I cannot.”, just have them call us. Seriously, even if you’re not a customer. We’ve always had an open phone policy for ECPs. You don’t even have to give a name. If we can do it, we’ll let you know. If we can’t, we might know someone that can.

John: For me, where I work, a bi-concave or bi-convex lens is about as special a lens as I ever see. Can you list, by numbers, the different types of specialty lenses you produce?

Keith:

Well, the bi-concave and bi-convex lenses are just a necessary evil once you get over a certain power. In terms of types of more unusual work: of course as we’ve already talked about the extreme spheres, cylinders, and prisms. We also produce nearly-invisible, digital, blended slab-offs; dive masks; plus and minus digital lenticulars for high powers in larger eyesizes;  custom flat-top/digital progressive combinations for occupationals. We occasionally even do optics for laser and robotics applications. The question is really, “what does your customer need?” or “what can we help you come up with to solve their problem?”

John: What kind of practices send you these specialty lens orders? I ask because if I wanted to learn more about them I might want to seek out a practice that does a lot of work with them.

Keith:

Honestly, there’s nothing really different about the ECPs that send us this type of work, other than they are among the very best at what they do. We work with independent opticians and doctors, but we tend to attract the master optician types. I think they appreciate and where we choose to put in the extra effort and understand the value, not only on the unusual jobs, but on the everyday work as well. You won’t find too many volume-oriented ECPs on our customer list. You will find a lot of high-end boutiques and opticians that really care about their craft. The craftspeople and the perfectionists, those are people we really like to work with.

John: You are advertised as an “uncut only” lab. I would not know how to block a bi-concave or bi-convex lens for edging. Once I get a specialty lens from you how do I cut the lenses?

Keith:

Yep, no edging equipment here. Sometimes, we’ll surface a high power that ends up with so much extra material, we’ll hand crib it to make the finishing optician’s life easier. As far as blocking, it’s just the same way you would block any high minus or plus. This kind of goes back to the last question. Our customers typically have the expertise and confidence to edge just about anything. That’s not to say we don’t have customers that are new to edging, but we’re always there to help, if needed.

John: For some of us older folks in the field can you tell us a little about some of the unusual surfacing techniques you use? If I understand it correctly some of these lenses require techniques almost like pitch-blocking?

Keith:

Let’s just say we use techniques that we’ve developed in-house over the years. No pitch-blocking, but we do some of our specialty work on hand-pan machines to account for the steeper surfaces.

John: Not to put you on the spot, but if I have a question about filling a specialty prescription what happens when I call Laramy-K? I mean do I get straight to a person with all the answers or is it a process of some kind?

Keith:

A real person always answers the phone, as long as we’re open. If that person can’t answer your question, they’ll find someone who can. Our founder and president, Janet, answers phones everyday and is always available for questions, as is our lab manager, John. As I mentioned before, we’re happy to answer questions from any ECP, even if they are not a customer.

John: Laramy-K has been around a long time now. Where do you see things in five years and ten years from now?

Keith:

They say the only way to predict the future is to create it. And while there seems to be so much working against independent opticians, given the state of technology, I think we’ve all been handed the ability to create the future. Everything is changing so quickly. We have unbelievable access to people, information, and manufacturing. Right now, you or I can dream of a new concept in eyewear, print a prototype on the desktop, shoot and edit a promo video on our phone, fund the idea on Kickstarter, and in a matter of weeks, have a factory tooled up ready to produce it. You couldn’t dream this stuff twenty years ago. We need to stop thinking of government and organizations as the only way to fix opticians’ problems. Bureaucracies can’t keep pace. Think about it. Very soon, we could end up in a place where individuals are using technology to refract themselves before opticians are. Technology keeps moving. If we stand still, it runs us over.

Showrooming is a huge problem for opticians, but it’s not unique to optical. Apple saw the showrooming trend years ago and turned it into a successful business model. Opticians can use technology to do the same: create environments where people can shop and play, answer questions, solve problems, provide an experience, use technology to capture choices, enable sharing of options and experiences. The possibilities are endless. Opticians have an advantage of sorts, in that we are in one of the last industries to be majorly affected by dramatic changes in technology. We have the luxury of being able look at around and see what others outside of optical have done successfully or unsuccessfully. We can follow their lead or try something entirely different. But it requires accepting change, embracing it instead of bemoaning it. It’s hard and scary and seems risky, but in reality, it’s probably less risky than doing what seems comfortable and safe.

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