MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich.— Ken Stann and Rob Farrell, OD, began a management partnership 10 years ago this month that has produced an optical success story almost unmatched in the eyecare sector.
Ken Stann and Rob Farrell, OD
from SVS Vision
The two friends acquired SVS Vision from its previous private-equity ownership group after they were brought into the company to find an outside buyer for the business. They tried unsuccessfully over a five-year period to put together a deal with outside parties, and when nothing materialized, they finally decided to take on the challenge of owning and operating SVS Vision themselves.
Looking back, Stann now says the partners may have been “a little bit naïve” at the time of their deal in 2007, but their efforts to develop a winning formula has translated into a successful optical business model. Indeed, SVS is planning to further its growth and expansion this year with the opening of eight new office locations.
SVS Vision also expects to complete a major update of its optical lab over the next few months. All of the planned expansion will be financed internally by operational cash flow, Stann told dba. “We’re truly an independent optical retail company,” he said in an interview.
SVS Vision, which counted 50 office locations in 2007 when the partners closed on the acquisition, has grown to 70 offices in eight states today. The firm also has completed a relocation of its headquarters to a nearby facility and introduced its own exclusive EyeDef Lens collection.
In recognition of the 10-year milestone, SVS Vision corporate employees surprised Stann and Farrell with a party to celebrate the anniversary. The SVS Vision management team is among the best in the optical industry, Stann said. “We have a wealth of knowledge [among these executives] and Rob and I would be nothing without them.”
“We have the best people working with us,” added chief executive officer Farrell. “Some have been with the company for more than 30 years. Ken and I have always been and always will be dedicated to our loyal employees who have helped make SVS Vision a great company.”
Stann, a CPA who holds the president and CFO titles at the company, noted that at the time the partners acquired SVS Vision its major customer segment, people employed in the auto industry, was under pressure and the U.S. economy was also challenged by a recession. In spite of these operating roadblocks, Stann said the duo’s strategy was to invest and upgrade just about every facet of the SVS Vision business. “We were a little bit naïve, so I think it helped us,” he said.
SVS Vision upgraded its optical centers with new eyecare technology and expanded the selection of frames to ensure patients would have the latest styles from top designers to choose from. A majority of the 50 locations that existed at the time of the deal have either been moved to a new facility or been completely remodeled, he said, projects that were undertaken while the company was also adding 20 net new stores.
The partners also made “a gigantic investment in the brand,” he said, and developed a strong advertising effort to help them kick off their new ownership of the business. Stann also credits the company’s partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase for providing the wherewithal to execute the plans the new owners set for SVS Vision back in 2007.
This allowed the partners to make a significant investment in SVS Vision’s manufacturing operation, which this year will produce nearly 350,000 pairs of eyeglasses. All of the manufacturing is done by union workers at the lab facility in Mount Clemens, which is about 25 miles northeast of Detroit.
“A lot has changed in the past 10 years and everyone is excited about the future,” Stann concluded.