“Serendipitous” is the word that comes to mind when OLP decided to feature Ronald Cooke, Jr. for the magazine’s first advisory board member profile. The issue’s theme is coatings and as luck would have it, not only did Cooke recently purchase coating equipment to begin coating operations this month at his lab R&D Optical in Cincinnati, but he also decided on the Quantum Fusion M (see page 7) coating machine to provide its customers with next day delivery of AR and mirror lenses.
“We did a lot of research and a lot of negotiations before making ultimate equipment decisions,” Cooke told OLP. “Some decisions were more difficult than others.”
Cooke has 27 years of optical industry experience behind him, beginning in 1991 when he started working in the frame distribution center at Diversified Ophthalmics, Inc. while in college. He went on to receive his optician’s license and worked as a sales representative, making sales calls a couple of days a week while also spending time in both the ophthalmic laboratory and frame department. Cooke then began commuting to the company’s location in Memphis, taking courses toward an MBA degree and building a lab in Memphis. He then became COO of Diversified Ophthalmics, in which he oversaw all operations including the lab. It was six years ago that Cooke decided it was time for a change and was the director of sales at Buhler Group (Leybold) for the U.S. and Canada before returning to Diversified, leaving soon after the company was purchased. Last year, Cooke opened R&D Optical, which began production in July.
“It has been my dream to open an independent optical lab of my own focused on new technologies,” Cooke said. “I believe there are still many independent eyecare professionals who want to work with a small local lab that is independent and is able to provide superior customer service and quality at a reasonable price. My goal is to stay on the cutting edge of optical technology, bringing my customers the newest technology to help their patients see better.”
As for the independent lab industry as whole, Cooke maintains new digital designs allow small labs to make a fair profit, in turn causing them to grow and giving them the ability to offer very high quality lenses both quickly and reasonably priced.
“Many customers are concerned about the corporate labs and the vertically-integrated business model that ultimately competes with them directly,” he said. “This gives the small guys a fighting chance.”
In addition, Cooke believes small labs can find a place in the industry via customer service. At R&D Optical, all accounts have the opportunity to speak with a customer service person they know and trust.
“Service and quality are the key areas and if they keep costs low enough, they can also compete on price,” he said. “The big part is the independence and the personal service that a small lab can provide…In addition, a small lab can focus on specialty work and difficult jobs that tend to get lost in a large lab.”