Greg Ruden, president, Expert Optics, and Don Ruden, CEO, who founded the optical laboratory 33 years ago.

A family-run laboratory in Illinois has stayed on top of technology, and as a result, many of its customers continue to stay with Expert Optics.

Five accounts have stayed with Expert Optics Inc. since its beginning 33 years ago. A family-run optical laboratory based in Shorewood, IL, Expert was founded by Don Ruden in 1979 and is now run by his son Greg Ruden who is the president. “Our goal is to give patients the best vision possible and to stay focused on that goal,” said Greg Ruden. “When it comes to products to enhance a patient’s vision, we buy equipment or technology to achieve that goal,” he added. Expert offers eyecare professionals (ECPs) everything from lenses to treatments, frames to accessories.

Expert’s management is proud of the fact that it works with innovators, like itself, to bring out new products on an annual basis. In the past, it operated as a stealth marketer, under the radar. “But, now laboratories are becoming more like manufacturers,” Ruden said. “We’re bringing products to market faster than the traditional manufacturers and so we’re starting to compete with them.”

He said some ECPs are under the impression that they need to offer their patients a low price but Ruden believes they would be better to find a laboratory partner that understands their needs. “If they go with price, they’ll move around all the time. We like to put a program in place and build our culture within a practice. If a doctor is looking at the short-term that’s not a good fit for us. We like to build long and deep relationships with our clients. Expert may lose one or two customers a year and that’s usually because of price.”

Five years ago, Expert entered the free-form arena and quickly became a pioneer. In fact, last year it won OLP’s Laboratory Innovator of 2011. It was the first location in the U.S. to install the Satisloh OBM (On-Block Manufacturing) digital laboratory, an automated surfacing line engineered to run hands-free 24/7.

Expert was the first location in the U.S. to install Satisloh’s OBM digital laboratory.

One of the reasons Expert got into OBM was so it could process a complete, finished pair of glasses with an anti-reflective (AR) treatment the same day, to compete with the mega free-form laboratories in China and Thailand. Expert was also forced to come up with its own proprietary technologies to keep its customers ahead in their markets: half of its business comes from Illinois, with 20% from Wisconsin, 15% from Indiana, and others in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. It has house brands in AR and free-form and has a super slick topcoat called “The Enhanser.”

The laboratory is still in the same location where it started although its premises have expanded from 3,500 sq. ft. to 32,000 sq. ft. It has four AR coating machines and offers every brand of lens manufactured. The majority of the work is done in-house. Recent statistics show that the average laboratory sends out 32.5% of its work whereas Expert only sends out 2.6%.

For the past three years, Expert has been doing Chemistrie Magnetic Eyewear. The company has been experimenting with free-form progressives as a click-on with plano distance. “For the past few weeks, we have been doing click-ons for progressives for everything from the distance to the near zone,” Ruden said. “It’s a super-thin, lightweight progressive that is something different. Most practices wouldn’t offer it to their patients because they don’t use Expert Optics. We’re a laboratory that’s on top of new technology.”

About 23% of its business is free-form. “Free-form is definitely where the growth is now,” Ruden said. “These patients are more likely to get extras like AR and Chemistrie click-ons too.”

Expert has been fortunate to have customers who have bought into their culture. “Everybody here works with a smile on their face. Clients who are in it for the long-term are a better fit for Expert Optics,” summarizes Ruden.

Carol Gilhawley is Senior Editor of VCPN.


Expert Optics Inc.

800-892-0097 •


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