The COT! Q+A

The Inside Line...with Russ Steinhorst

COT! catches up with Russ Steinhorst, CEO of Shopko Optical, who shares the effects of COVID-19, the role of optometrists, and much more

Russ Steinhorst made the move from CEO of Shopko, a position he accepted in 2017, to his new role as CEO of Shopko Optical last year.

Shopko Optical continues to thrive since Monarch Alternative Capital acquired the organization in May of 2019. Shopko Optical emerged as its own business, opening and relocating more than 80 independent optical centers within the first 180 days.

Here, Steinhorst shares more on that growth, his path to optical, and how the corporate optical retailer has been facing the effects of COVID-19.


Q. How is the company dealing with the coronavirus crisis in terms of both patients and employees?

A. “Shopko Optical has remained diligent in monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and continues to closely follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Optometric Association, as well as any local, state, or federal updates. Out of concern for the safety of our staff and patients, Shopko Optical’s centers temporarily closed on March 23, and will reopen when it is safe to do so.

“In addition, we’ve been communicating with patients to ensure they are able to reschedule appointments, order contacts online and have them shipped to their home for free, and receive their glasses that were on order.”


Q. How did your background prepare you for this role?

A. “My career has had a substantial focus on financial management from the start. Oshkosh Corp. provided my first opportunity in an accounting role, and from there I further developed my skills at Newell Rubbermaid, transitioning into financial management, planning, and analysis positions. My early career laid the groundwork for leadership roles, including as the CFO of Hudson Sharp Machine Co. and O’Sullivan Industries.”


Q. What drew you to Shopko?

A. “All of this led me to Shopko. I joined the team in 2009 as controller and progressed through SVP of finance and CFO, prior to becoming CEO in 2017. As Shopko Optical’s future evolved through Monarch Alternative Capital’s acquisition in 2019, my transition to CEO of Shopko Optical was seamless. Because I’ve been a Shopko Optical patient for more than 30 years, I’ve experienced our exceptional care firsthand and truly believe in our mission.”


Q. Where does Shopko Optical fit in the marketplace?

A. “While we offer the latest frame styles and brands, as well as state-of-the-art technology in lenses, what is most important to us is the patient care we provide through the comprehensive eye exams conducted by our optometrists.

“To deliver such a high level of eye care, we employ optometrists and opticians who truly care about their patients. Not only have we sustained this positioning through center relocations, we’ve strengthened it.”


Q. What’s in store for this year?

A. “In close partnership with Monarch Alternative Capital, our strategic plans for growth have taken off. We opened 80 centers in a 180-day period in locations that allow our loyal patients to continue seeing the optometrists and opticians they know and trust. This year, we plan to open 35 additional optical centers.”


Q. What are the benefits of building a career with you?

A. “Shopko Optical’s optometrists are the foundation of our organization. With an average tenure of 15 years, it’s their expertise and longstanding relationships with patients that make us who we are. Regardless of where they are in their career, optometrists are fully supported at Shopko Optical as an employee or lessee, depending on state laws.

“Young optometrists can begin their journey knowing they will be taken care of through competitive pay, employment benefits, and support for CE. Our staff helps make it easy for new optometrists to integrate into the communities they serve and begin building relationships with patients.

“We are only as good as our doctors, so in order to attract top talent in optical care, our teams actively work with optometry schools to identify individuals who truly exemplify the Shopko Optical brand. Future optometrists who show a passion for patient care and building relationships in communities belong on our team.” COT!