A Look at ABB Optical Group
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
Angel Alvarez, Founder and CEO, ABB Optical Group
Our focus this month is on ABB Optical Group (ABB), the largest distributor of contact lenses and optical products in the United States, based in Coral Springs, FL. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Angel Alvarez, ABB’s founder and CEO.
Q Mr. Alvarez, please tell us a bit about your company in terms of its history and direction.
ABB celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. Prior to starting ABB, I was a sales representative for Vision Service Plan in Florida and then for Ciba Vision. I spent time with independent practitioners learning about their practices. In 1989, shortly after disposable lenses entered the market, I knew first hand that the typical practice was not set up to manage that type of supply chain, and that became a catalyst for founding ABB.
ABB has grown over the years through a rich history of acquisitions and a commitment to continuously enhance and innovate our services. There was a time when our inventory all fit in a closet, and I was the only representative…now we have nearly 250 customer service representatives and account advisors and just over 1,000 employees. We have four distribution centers across the country; our growth has enabled us to provide a more comprehensive assortment (more than 131,000 unique SKUs) and the deepest inventory in the industry. We supply more than two-thirds of eyecare professionals (ECPs) in America with brand name contact lenses, high-grade ophthalmics, and custom GP lenses; we recently reached $1 billion in wholesale contact lens business.
But our true north is to help the profession grow. If our customers don’t thrive, then we don’t thrive; it is our job to serve and honor that community by understanding our customers and anticipating their needs. We strive to help ECPs improve patient care while reducing costs.
Q Tell us about any new products or new developments in which ABB is involved.
We recently launched an initiative called EZConnect, which enables ECPs to place a single order for a digitally fabricated Rx lens in the frame of their choice. The process eliminates the need to pull from frame boards and send frames into a lab for final assembly. We are currently rolling this out with Silhouette’s Adidas Performance Rx line, but we believe that the model will benefit the broad inefficiencies in eyewear.
In addition, the breadth of practices that we support allows us to generate robust data related to what is happening in the industry. We leverage this insight on trends and growth opportunities in business reviews that we have with customers and partners daily. Further harnessing these insights is a key development area.
Finally, we offer Patient Direct, which allows ECPs to send products directly to patients. Our data show that lenses are six times more likely to be returned if they are shipped to a practitioner’s office for a patient to pick up.
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).
We’re highly optimistic about the future of contact lenses and the role they play for our customers. We’ve seen an acceleration of growth in 2015 that I believe will carry into next year. Within GPs, we see hyper growth areas in specialized fits, with orthokeratology up more than 20% in dollar growth and scleral lenses up +135%. Daily disposables are dominating the growth of frequent replacement lenses, up nearly 17% through Q3 2015.
Over the longer term, the pace of innovation is also picking up. We know of roughly a dozen new products coming in the next 12 to 16 months from the largest lens manufacturers. History tells us that innovation in this category is what results in transformational leaps in terms of growth. 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.