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Lab Insider

Success on the Surface

When optician Joshua Hackney opened his optical business in Abilene, TX, almost a year ago, he knew one thing for certain: It had to have a surfacing lab.

A former manager of a large optical chain (surfacing 80 to 100 pairs a day), Hackney knows the value of in-house services. So, when he cold-opened Optical Express of Abilene, he set up a FastGrind modified surfacing unit next to the edging lane.

FastGrind, from Super Optical, uses an inventory of pre-blocked digital-quality lenses that can be surfaced in about 12 minutes. Here, EB catches up with Hackney to discuss how in-office surfacing boosts business and contributes to his revenue.

Joshua Hackney of Optical Express of Abilene.

EB: Why is it important to have in-house surfacing?

Joshua Hackney: To compete with anybody in town. With me not having a doctor on staff, and not taking insurance, I needed some kind of edge. I knew it was one of the keys to success.

I built this optical around the fact that I’d have an in-house lab. And the store was able to carry itself by month three—rent, utilities, payments, payroll. Within six months, I was profitable enough to cover everything plus my owner withdrawal.

I chose the FastGrind because we’re new and it’s a small system. You can’t expect to come out of the gate doing 90 pairs of glasses a day. The price point of their lenses is really good, and it provides me with a very nice profit.

EB: How has in-house surfacing affected your revenue?

JH: I’ve run stores with and without labs, and there’s no denying this is much more profitable! By not taking insurance and being able to compete with Walmart and EyeMart prices, I’m still hitting between 70% to 75% profit on materials.

Frames, lenses, materials—across the board, my cost of goods is about 25%.

The FastGrind power range covers about 90% of the prescriptions out there. I only have to use the wholesale lab for out-of-range Rxs, or specific requests that my in-house lenses can’t satisfy. But we order uncuts, because we do have the finishing lab here. So that saves a lot of money, too.

EB: How do you optimize the fact that you can surface in-house?

JH: I offer free lenses on a second-pair purchase. I give an in-house lens on the second pair. Customers pay for the frame and any upgrades to the lens they may want.

I have “Same Day Glasses” on my business card, my advertising, my website, and even on my awning out front. The fact that I can draw in customers based on same-day service is giving me an added value.

EB: Did your lab have an effect on business during Covid-19?

JH: Glasses are essential, so I stayed open—with a lot of extra cleaning and disinfecting. I actually got busier, because most of my competitors are corporate-owned and they shut down.

There’s only one or two private opticals around here, but none with an in-house lab. Even though there were fewer people buying glasses, 95% of them were buying them here.

—SUSAN TARRANT