The Cotran brothers at work in their lab: Robert, Ralph, and Ron (left to right).
Located in East Syracuse, NY, US Optical is a state-of-the-art digital surfacing lab that was built from the ground up. The Cotran brothers, Ralph, Ron, and Robert, had previously owned a conventional surfacing lab in the Syracuse, NY area. Nine years after selling it, they launched US Optical in 2008 with the future in mind. Since two of the brothers have engineering backgrounds, they did a fast-forward to free-form surfacing.
FULL SPEED AHEAD The Cotran brothers also committed to bringing customer service up to a new standard of speed without sacrificing quality.
According to Ralph Cotran, “we not only advertise our trademark, Fastest Lab in America™, but we are the fastest lab in America! There are even some other labs that use us because we are faster than their own manufacturing processes.”
SERVICE FIRST The lab prides itself on service. All their customer service personnel are highly trained internally and they ask lens manufacturing brand reps to train their staff every time they visit. Staff is encouraged to wear any and as many lenses as they want, which helps them answer questions and to recommend choices to their customers. The three brothers tout that US Optical possesses a talented array of optical knowledge thanks to their experienced employees.
“The team work among our customer service reps is superb and the personnel we have dates back a long time, even before we owned US Optical,” explained Ron Cotran. “The customer is the reason for our success and we know and appreciate that fact. Everyone is in customer service—lab manager, shipping manager, Zeiss anti-reflective (AR) coating manager, quality control personnel; every employee is in customer service no matter what department they are in. We want eyecare professionals to succeed!”
THE FUTURE IS FREE-FORM Free-form surfacing is the future of the lab business but the cost of equipment and infrastructure make it more difficult for start-ups and smaller labs. Labs that do not embrace this technology will likely not be viable in five years because free-form technology will make traditional progressives obsolete. The equipment will continue to become more sophisticated with higher quality. It will also require a new breed of intelligent technicians.
Ralph Cotran admits that the learning curve from conventional surfacing to free-form technology was challenging. “The learning curve for digital free-form was definitely difficult,” he said. “However, I am very lucky to have two brothers who are engineers and love new technology and gadgets. They are extremely smart and while the technology was challenging, they figured it out pretty quickly.”
It took US Optical five months to become comfortable with free-form surfacing. According to Robert Cotran, they received excellent support from Satisloh North America Inc. and Schneider Optical Machines Inc. from the outset. They also received excellent support from Seiko Optical Products of America Inc., Shamir Insight Inc., and Carl Zeiss Vision Inc.’s free-form technical specialists. It took almost as long to master their MEI s.r.l. edger (a sophisticated milling-type edger). They use it on 6.00D and 8.00D base sunglasses and wraps, and for quality work on drill mounts as well as overall edging. Ralph indicated that it definitely complements the free-form digital surfacing technology, although mastering it took as long as the free-form equipment.
While others may argue whether US Optical is indeed the fastest lab in America, there is no disputing their commitment to quality and customer service.
Sharon Leonard is a licensed optician and contact lens practitioner in the Syracuse, NY, area.