ONE-TO-ONE: HILCO’S BOB NAHMIAS

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Candid conversations between VCPN’s editors and leading optical executives about their product strategies.

Bob Nahmias is a 30-year veteran of the optical industry. Since 1999 he’s been President and CEO of the Hilsinger Company (Hilco), a leading manufacturer of professional and consumer eyewear accessories, Rx protective eyewear, and ophthalmic products in North America and the U.K. Here he discusses the company’s plan to rebrand itself as Hilco Vision.

ED DE GENNARO:

When did Hilco open for business?

BOB NAHMIAS: The Hilsinger Company was founded in 1956 by Art Hilsinger as a manufacturer of eyeglass frame components. By the “˜80s most frame production was relocated offshore and the company began to focus on delivering smart optical solutions directly to ECPs. Our products consisted of a wide of array of professional eyewear accessories-tools, machines, parts, and accessories used in eyewear fabrication, adjustment, and repair. Consumer eyewear accessories later became a significant part of the line.

ED: Your product line has obviously expanded since that time. What do you supply now?

BOB: Our product line encompasses eyewear (mostly protective), professional, and consumer eyewear accessories, and eyecare/examination products. We supply more than 20,000 products to more than 30,000 ECPs primarily in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. While many ECPs still think of us as essentially a “œscrew-and-nosepad” company, our largest business is protective eyewear, followed by consumer accessories. We’ve acquired more than a dozen companies in the last 15 years, so some customers have had a tough time keeping up with the scope of our product offering. To address this disconnect, we’re rebranding our company as Hilco Vision, and emphasizing our key product lines and brands beneath that umbrella.

ED: So how is Hilco positioned to its customers today?

BOB: Our customer base is very diverse, so we speak to them through three primary brands: Hilco, Wilson, and Leader Sports. Hilco is focused on the eyewear dispenser. Wilson Ophthalmic’s expansive eyecare product line is targeted to the optometrist, ophthalmologist, surgery center, and hospital. Leader Sports services sporting goods retailers with plano swim goggles, sports eye guards, and eyewear accessories. Our new website is structured the same way. Customers can enter through the portal that best caters to their needs but can purchase any of our 20,000 products.

ED: Any plans for expansion?

BOB: We’re seeking to expand organically and via acquisition, adding new product categories that can benefit our existing customers. We’re also seeking partners in new geographies and in places where we already have a presence, but can benefit from greater scale.  We have a list that includes about 15 companies, most of which we know reasonably well and have had discussions with over some period of time. The conditions and timing need to be right for a merger to take place.

ED: How do you find new products to offer?

BOB: We’re fortunate to have product management and sales teams with a broad base of industry experience in frames, ophthalmic lenses, contact lenses, accessories, and sunglasses. And we employ several licensed opticians and former optical retail managers. So we have a good perspective on what consumers and our customers need. When that aptitude is combined with market research, and input from our 30,000+ plus customers, good product ideas happen.

ED: What is or has been your most successful product?

BOB: Our OnGuard OG220 Rx industrial safety frame is the most successful product in our history, and is likely the best-selling Rx safety frame on the market. We designed OG220 specifically to address the needs of utility and electrical workers who required metal-free construction and desired a sporty, comfortable frame. But the frame’s usage now extends far beyond that original purpose. OG220’s sporty wrap styling, excellent peripheral vision, outstanding comfort, and value pricing appeal to men and women in most occupations. We’ve actually built a successful ECP program around this one simple product concept. We call it WorkWear, the second pair opportunity that protects a patient’s eyes without cannibalizing the fashion pair. ECPs love WorkWear because they can participate with less than $100 of investment, and little board or shelf space.

There are two important products that need mentioning. For more than a decade, our Logic nosepad, a patented Hilco design, has been a huge seller in domestic and foreign markets because it eliminates about 80% of a customer’s nosepad inventory, saving time and money.

If we talk a year from now, I’m confident that our new C2 sports goggle (ASTM F803) will have overtaken the OG220 as our most successful product. For years our customers have been asking for an alternative to previous product offerings and suppliers in this category. C2 has answered the call with outstanding styling, peripheral vision, construction, and comfort.

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