COOKE-ING UP A NEW (BUSINESS) RECIPE

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Ronald Cooke’s R&D Optical Lab is the latest independent lab start-up to hit the scene.

Ronald Cooke has been in the optical lab business for 27 years, and for all of them, he’s thought of opening his own independent lab. In June, he did just that.

R&D Optical Lab, located in Cincinnati (and yes, it does stand for “research and development”), is Cooke’s baby — a product of his desire to open a lab that can deliver the best quality lenses at reasonable prices.

“Starting a lab was always in the back in my head,” said Cooke, who worked in sales and then as COO of Diversified Ophthalmics, Inc. for five years. “I do believe there are a lot of doctors out there who want another option, and I’m going to give it a shot myself. As I go out making sales calls, a lot of customers are interested in using local, small labs.”

Cooke chose the name R&D to reflect his mission to stay on the cutting edge of technology, and he’s looking to create occupation-specific lenses, whether for pilots or for plumbers and electricians who need reading and intermediate powers in various areas of the lens. R&D Optical will also make Rx lenses for swimming goggles and diving masks.

“I’m going to focus on my own digital designs and am looking forward to having a strong relationship with Younger Optics because it’s American and it’s independent,” Cooke added.

Currently with four employees, R&D Optical is up and running, processing jobs with the exception of some managed care orders, which R&D is filling by partnering with another lab. Cooke found a 1,200 square-foot facility in March, installed equipment in June and July, and started doing jobs right away. Cooke said he expects to outgrow the space within a few years, at which time he will move to a larger facility and add equipment as needed.

Left to right: Kevin Vallandingham, Carrie Lewis, Otis Ross, Ronald Cooke

“Being a new, smaller lab allows us to be nimble and to cater to the specific needs of our customers,” Cooke said. “There are many large lab networks that may have lost sight of the importance of personalized service to the very independent offices. R&D Optical Lab is poised to handle all of their needs.”

The lab operates a mix of machines from several manufacturers. Cooke is using edgers from Santinelli International, surfacing equipment from Schneider Optical Machines, Inc. and Ocuco’s Innovations lab management software system, which Cooke said he chose because it offers the flexibility to adapt as the lab grows. Cooke also purchased a FusionM coating machine from Quantum International that will be installed within the next few months, enabling the lab to do a “multitude of AR and mirror processes without having to batch the lenses, therefore giving us faster turn times than labs with larger units,” Cooke said.

His goal is to do 100 jobs per day as fast as possible.

“I’ve got a good history of quality and service, and I’m going to bring some of the best products available today on the market,” he said. “My customers won’t be just a number. They will be vital to my success, and mine is vital to their success as well. It really will be a partnership.”

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