A Look at X-Cel Specialty Contacts, A Walman Company
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
J. Mark Parker, vice president and general manager, X-Cel Specialty Contacts, A Walman Company
This month, we focus on X-Cel Specialty Contacts, a Walman Company. X-Cel offers custom soft and GP lenses as well as frequent replacement lenses. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Vice President and General Manager J. Mark Parker.
Q Mr. Parker, please tell us a bit about your company in terms of its history and direction.
X-Cel began in 1978 when Bob Fedler, a salesman for Aquaflex contact lenses, bought an Aquaflex distributorship in Atlanta that also manufactured a few hard lenses. Bob never intended to manufacture specialty lenses, but the introduction of GPs in the late 70s helped grow the business.
When I joined the company in 1986, it was growing rapidly based on service, fast GP delivery, and precedent-setting warranties. We expanded to four locations by the early 90s and aligned ourselves with several large buying groups. We were also a distributor for every major line of soft lenses.
Bob passed away in 1993. In Sept. 1994, Walman Optical acquired X-Cel. Walman is a 100% employee-owned company, which we think makes a big difference in the way we treat our customers.
Between 1998 and 2007, we acquired nine custom lens manufacturers. We also expanded into custom soft lens manufacturing by acquiring the Flexlens and Westcon custom soft lens lines in the early 2000s. In 2010, we exited the distribution business and also acquired Hydrogel Vision. We currently operate in eight locations, with manufacturing in two.
Possibly the single greatest strength of our company is our 14 NCLE-certified consultants. Practitioners may want to fit specialty lenses but not know how to begin. If they can schedule three patients on the same day who have indications for custom lenses, we will send a consultant to work with them and their staff on how to schedule, manage, fit, evaluate, and educate those patients.
We also take seriously our professional responsibility to give back to the industry. Walman donates to industry charities every year, but we’re proudest of providing $75,000 to $100,000 a year in optometry school scholarships for more than 12 years.
Q Tell us about any new products or new developments in which X-Cel is involved.
Walman is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015, and the entire company is undergoing a rebranding process. Starting this month, our name has changed to X-Cel Specialty Contacts, A Walman Company. We are known by many different names because of all of the acquisitions that we’ve made, so the new name is a way to redefine the company.
Our most recent lens is the Flexlens ARC custom soft lens for irregular corneas. We’ll introduce an Extreme H2O daily disposable this year in multiple fit options, and we’ll also expand our Atlantis scleral with the Atlantis Pro, which will offer larger diameters and corneal cylinder correction.
Q Tell us your vision for the contact lens field in the short term (less than 5 years) and in the long term (20 years from now).
In the next five years, I think the fast expansion and reduction in price of diagnostic equipment to measure the cornea and help us better fit contact lenses is going to be a big game changer.
The dropout rate is still the biggest long-term challenge in contact lenses. We see lens comfort as a three-legged stool: a proper fit with a material that doesn’t dehydrate on the eye and a complementary lens care regimen. If we do these things correctly, we could see contact lenses grow at double-digit rates. CLS
Dr. Nichols is an assistant vice president for industry research development and professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham as well as editor-in-chief of Contact Lens Spectrum and editor of the weekly email newsletter Contact Lenses Today. He has received research funding or honoraria from Vistakon, Alcon, and Allergan.