Innovation resulting in new product development has been the key to growth for Rochester Optical, and the company’s leader believes it will continue to be important for the business.
“Focusing on innovation, on creating proprietary products, is what can put a company on a fast pace (of) growth,” said Patrick Ho, president and CEO.
Rochester Optical supplies military, safety and fashion eyewear and provides additional services, including eye exams, lens and frame restoration, and custom-made eyewear.
In addition to its main location on Lyell Avenue, which includes a lens-manufacturing site and retail store, the business has retail stores at other locations in Monroe County.
Organic growth has contributed to the firm’s success.
Ho said annual sales increased by 25 percent in 2010, 30 percent in 2011, 10 percent in 2012 and 20 percent in 2013. He is projecting another 20 percent increase this year.
Employment has grown as well, and the company employs 215 people. In 2010, it had 136 employees. That number grew to 167 in 2011, 194 in 2012 and 204 in 2013. Since then, staffers have been added, increasing the total to 215.
Ho is not looking to increase the workforce as much as focusing on increasing productivity and automation. The biggest challenges for the firm include government mandates—from proposals to increase the minimum wage to changes in health care—and taxes.
“There are certain things you have no control over; you just have to deal with it,” Ho said.
Bobbie Goheen, CEO of Rochester-based leadership development firm Synthesis Management Group, has worked with Ho for the past three years. Goheen describes Ho as a learner who is humble and does not take things for granted.
“He never believes he knows everything, which keeps him open to new ideas,” Goheen said.
She praised Ho’s business acumen.
“He’s a classic entrepreneur, and he owns that,” she said. “Instead of seeing problems, he sees opportunities.”
Rochester Optical began as a manufacturer of lenses in 1932. Later it became one of the few frame manufacturers in the country and mainly supplied the Army, providing combat-ready eyewear for soldiers.
Ho purchased the company, known then as Rochester Optical Manufacturing Co., in 1990, when it was dependent on one customer and on the verge of closing.
The company’s dire straits did not deter him. They motivated him to work hard to make the business succeed, he has said.
At the time, Ho had been running his own optical frame import and distribution business out of his home. Prior to that, he worked for Norstar Bank, now part of Bank of America Corp., in Newburgh, Orange County.
Rochester Optical grew in 1995 when Ho purchased the optical lab of Waldert Opticians Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy. The move added lens fabrication capabilities to his company. He also took on some of Waldert’s staff.
In April 2001, the firm opened its first retail outlet, at its city location.
The company sells to individuals, wholesale to customers such as eye doctors, and to the military. The business used to focus on customers in the Northeast, but recently it expanded into the South, Ho noted.
Another focus is on international growth.
The firm has set up reseller-distribution arrangements in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and, most recently, Canada. Ho expects international business to continue to increase, with a focus on high-technology products such as digital vision and smart glasses.
Rochester Optical will continue to invest in new products, Ho said, noting that the business has its own research and development department.
“We are focusing on innovation to drive future growth,” he said.
Manufacturer and wholesaler of eyewear and lenses.
Top executive: Patrick Ho, president and CEO
2013 ranking: 88
The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. This year’s Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 5. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.
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