When Good Companies Make Bad Decisions

When Good Companies Make Bad Decisions


One of the early stories I recall my father (Joe Cherry, co-Founder of Cherry Optical, Inc) sharing with me about the opportunity the wholesale optical industry provided him was about a laboratory owner who sold, bought, and then re-sold their laboratory. While the laboratory and person in his story will remain nameless, it is worth pointing out that they were very successful and disruptive to the status quo that was the wholesale laboratory industry at the time. As my father’s story goes, this person told him, “The problem with the optical laboratory business is that Y’all don’t run laboratories like a business. You’re always trying to support your customers first and make money second.” If you know anything about my father’s dedication to our industry, you know he worked hard and with impeccable integrity; but, if you really know Joe, you know he is very quick and insightful. His response was spot on, “The problem with the way you choose to conduct business in this industry is that when you’re gone, I’ll still be here to deal with the messes you created.”


When I scheduled a meeting with my Carl Zeiss Vision (CZV) representatives at Vision Expo West, I was legitimately interested in discussing ways we could grow the brand. Recently, CZV hired a new account representative to work with us. This person had extensive industry experience with lens sales and laboratory operations. Leading into our meeting at Expo, I felt we had quickly built a good rapport and looked forward to building upon this professional relationship.

The primary driver of our increase in CZV sales was our ability to produce their designs on-site. With on-site production, we can control the quality and, most importantly, service levels. Cherry Optical, Inc delivered steady, incremental-growth of Zeiss branded lenses; the type of growth that is real, maintainable and a sign of strength. As expected, the principal driver of this success was on-site production. Customers that previously ordered their Zeiss freeform designs from other sources appreciated getting their orders completed in 1-2 days from us; correctly, I’d like to add. Additionally, we made a concerted effort to expose all our customers to Carl Zeiss designs; most of whom had limited knowledge of the brand. Little did we know; Carl Zeiss Vision HQ in Germany and their leadership in the US didn’t share in our glee.

As we walked through the maze of hallways to get to our scheduled meeting, I shared with Joann Capossela, Sales Representative for Cherry Optical, Inc in Long Island and New York City, “I rarely do meetings at Expo. I’m really here to see new equipment, hang with friends and enjoy Las Vegas for a couple nights.” I brought Joann with me because I was expecting the meeting to be insightful and respected her opinion on the promotional and growth ideas we were surely going to discuss. Surprisingly, the meeting outcome turned out to be as cold as the sandwich I was about to be served.

Joann and I walked into a large meeting room with a long table, projector, and screen. After a short wait, our representatives from Zeiss were present, a box lunch was served, and we were seated for the presentation. Up to this point, everything was a standard-issue, lens-company meeting. The presentation started with the normal intro-slides and then quickly turned to bad news. With a few clicks of a mouse and a deadpan delivery, we were informed that Carl Zeiss Vision had decided to remove their freeform production enablement from nearly-all Independent laboratories in the US market. They plan to consolidate production to their wholly-owned laboratories; including a “super-lab” in Kentucky. Another click of the mouse and we were informed that not only would we not be able to produce Carl Zeiss freeform designs on-site, but they are also raising our lab-to-lab costs. A few more clicks, something about how long Carl Zeiss has been in business, and the presentation was over.

I took another bite from my ham-sandwich, then a scoop of potato salad and finally a swig of Coke. By this time Joann, a born-and-raised New Yorker, had already shared her displeasure with the information and started in with some questions. The answers were vague, with some reference to proprietary manufacturing technology and quality control. I wasn’t buying that answer and was quick to share Cherry Optical, Inc had passed every quality-control test we were asked to do in the few years we’d been producing Carl Zeiss freeform on-site. I then shared that my father was born-and-raised in Kentucky and warned them about possible QC issues at their own laboratory; especially, during squirrel season. You see, squirrel season is a big deal in Kentucky, and it runs from August to February with a short break in November for the opening of the gun-deer season. At this point, clearly, I had checked out of the meeting. Joann continued to share some opinions and at one point looked at me and asked me to share some more of my impressions. I smiled, “I’m just trying to finish my sandwich so we can get out of here.”

The meeting ended with some pleasantries, a couple laughs, and a strange handshake. I called the other members of the Cherry Optical, Inc team at Expo to learn that they were having a great time hanging with a representative from KBco; enjoying sushi and a couple mid-day cocktails. I really wish I would have gone to that meeting instead. Then I reminded myself that I don’t enjoy scheduled meetings at the Expo. I thought briefly about our future without on-site Zeiss freeform production, and then Joann and I hit the exhibit floor to research new equipment to improve Cherry Optical, Inc


Fast forward a couple months from that meeting. We’re in Southbridge, Massachusetts for the Opticians Association of Massachusetts Fall Education Conference and Annual Meeting. Interestingly, the event is held at the former site of American Optical’s (AO) central manufacturing plant. At its height, AO was a world leader and at the forefront in the creation of new lenses and instruments; employing more than 6,000 people worldwide. AO was acquired by Scientific Optical Laboratories Australia (SOLA) in 1996, and then both companies became Zeiss in 2004. The AO facility in Southbridge shuttered in 2005, it’s now a hotel and convention center. The Optical Heritage Museum is just around the corner, and the area pays a unique homage to its optical industry past. It provided a unique opportunity for perspective about the distant and recent-past of optical lens manufacturing in the US.


So, now what? What does the future hold for Cherry Optical, Inc and Carl Zeiss Vision? To start, we will be deactivated from Zeiss branded freeform production on January 1st, 2019; Happy New Year, right? We will still be able to produce non-Zeiss branded designs utilizing their calculation-engine, but all new Zeiss freeform orders will need to be sent to their laboratory in Kentucky. Cherry Optical, Inc will still have access to the full portfolio of Zeiss designs, we just won’t be able to control the service level and quality during production. This indeed is a step backward for us; something we’re not accustomed to doing. It also raises a lot of questions about Carl Zeiss Vision’s interest in supporting Independent laboratories in the US. Since the meeting at Expo, I’ve sent at least twenty communications to the leadership at Carl Zeiss Vision. Their responses have been a consistent and firm, no. No interest in the discussion. No interest in reconsidering. No. Nein.

As we finish up this story, I want to share why I choose to tell a story instead of some well formatted, letterhead-printed notice to customers. The way I see it, the story isn’t over. In my now 16-years in the wholesale optical laboratory industry, I’ve seen people and companies come-and-go. Some companies have merged, many laboratories have sold, and a handful have gone out of business. I don’t have ill-feelings about the people that move through our industry; they’re just doing what they need to improve their lives. I also don’t blame the companies that make decisions they feel are necessary for their success; creating a profit must be the primary function of a business “The problem with the way you choose to conduct business in this industry is that when you’re gone, I’ll still be here to deal with the messes you created,” my father’s words. Cherry Optical, Inc will be here to deal with the messes created now and into the future.

I encourage you to reach out directly to me to discuss how this story may impact your business relationship with us.


Adam Cherry