Corona Virus Response

11/20/20

Dear Valued Customer,

As we draw closer to the end of the year, I wanted to provide an update on things here at the lab. As I’m sure you are aware, we have made great strides in reducing our backlog of orders.  Our service levels are still not yet quite where we want them to be, but thanks to the hard work of our team (and endless weekend overtime hours), we are getting there.  You can expect to see continual further improvement to our turnaround time over the next few weeks.

This year has been unusual and challenging as I’m sure you will agree.  I greatly appreciate your patience and understanding as we’ve navigated through the past several months.  I am very optimistic about 2021.  We are all encouraged by the prospect of a vaccine and my hope is that next year we can all get back to living our lives and returning to a sense of normalcy.

Several initiatives are in the pipeline including new equipment that will significantly expand our production capacity, help with managed care profitability, and a virtual training experience with Bud Stanton for our Basic Dispensing Classes.  Over the past few months, we have added dozens of new members to our production team and we are well positioned for the future.

Thank you for your business and support, this year more than ever.  Stay safe, and all of us here at the Interstate Lab Group wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a Wonderful Holiday Season.

Sincerely,

John Art, President

Interstate Lab Group

7/28/20

To our Valued Customers,

My last communication to you was about our process of ramping back up from the drastic downturn we experienced from COVID-19.  The “ramp up” turned out to be more like an “overnight on switch”.  The results of your full exam schedules and robust capture rates have created many challenges that we are navigating through, the most significant being longer service times.  While we are making progress, our service time is still running longer than we would like.

I fully understand the impact to your patients and the challenges that are created by our longer service times and we are tirelessly doing everything we can to get caught up. 

Every step along the supply chain has been affected from our suppliers to the delivery couriers. We and our suppliers have implemented strict safety measures within our labs to protect our employees and keep everyone working to avoid further delays, but these measures sometimes cause additional challenges to improving service times.  We have added equipment, been working 3 shifts per day as well as every weekend, and we are actively hiring more team members, but training takes time.

All these issues have increased our turn time by 2-3 days on average.  We are all working hard to catch up and we will return to the service levels you expect.  Thank you for your understanding and patience during this time.

 

Sincerely,

John Art, President

 

 

6/24/20

To our Valued Customers,

 

As you are likely aware, our service times have grown over the past several weeks since the upturn in business after the severe coronavirus downturn.  We have experienced an unexpected significant increase in our incoming orders, which are up over 20% beyond our pre-coronavirus levels.  While we are happy that business has returned so vigorously, we have been challenged with responding fast enough.

We are doing our best to manage through this issue and I want to share some of the things we are doing to adapt, and to return our service times to the levels they need to be.

  1. We brought back all furloughed employees that were able as soon as the increase was evident, and are actively hiring additional team members.  Some furloughed employees were not able to return which left us short, and with the generous current unemployment benefits it has been difficult to find qualified new employees.  That said, we have already hired several and will be hiring several more as we are able.
  2. We are operating all 3 shifts of production at our Ohio lab and just recently added a 3rd shift to our Indy lab, which was previously operating under 2 shifts of production. This increases our capacity significantly.
  3. We are utilizing production capabilities at both labs to expedite processing of each other’s orders to help us reduce the backlog of orders we currently have.
  4. Last week we added another MEI industrial edger at our Ohio lab as well as additional surfacing machinery, both of which increase our production capacity. We have almost $500,000 in additional edging equipment on order which will help us manage future growth, but the production timelines required for this machinery put this several months out.
  5. We are aggressively identifying the oldest orders we have, as well as all remakes, and expediting them.
  6. In addition to our 3 shifts of production at both labs, we are also working weekends.

I sincerely apologize to you for the longer than normal service times and commit to you that we are doing everything we can to address them.  This week we have started to see the results of the adaptations we are making.  Our in-process orders are now declining as we are now shipping more than we are receiving.  You will see positive results! 

Thank you for your patience, your understanding and your support.  We will get through this challenge and you will again see excellent service times from us in the near future. 

 

Sincerely,

John Art, President

 

5/27/20

To our Valued Customers:

It has now been about two and a half months since our lives were upended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re now living in a new reality with many adjustments and changes, but I am happy that business for most of our customers has bounced back as offices have reopened.  I wanted to give you a quick update on our labs and where we stand today.

Business for us has returned at an unbelievable rate and caught us by surprise.  After being down over 85%, we began seeing an upturn about two weeks ago and our incoming orders last week exceeded our incoming orders for the same week last year!  We are extremely thankful for this fast return of business!

We have been recalling furloughed employees steadily, have added shifts, and are reacting as fast as possible to adjust our production capabilities to match our volume.  As you likely realize, our turnaround time has steadily increased over the past couple of weeks and we are all working hard to get caught up.  Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue our ramp up and get our service times back to normal.

Following are a few reminders as we all attempt to return to business as usual (or at least return to our “new normal”):

  1. We are doing all we can to protect our employees as we ramp up, including extensive cleaning and sanitizing, daily health reports and temperature checks, social distancing and masks.
  2. Our sales consultants are again making appointments and traveling to those offices that want them to stop in (if you would rather continue for now with virtual visits, we will happily accommodate your wishes).
  3. Mercury, Wheels and Harpers Delivery Services are also well into the process of ramping up and are returning to their normal routes. All delivery services are currently under “call for pick up”, meaning that if you don’t have a delivery from us coming to you, you must call them if you want them to do a pick up for sending to our lab.
  4. Warranties that would have expired in March and April were extended till the end of June.
  5. The Essilor NextGen promotion has been extended through the end of the year.
  6. We still have some reopening supplies left including UV Sanitizing Bags and medical thermometers. ProGear Anti-Fog Gel will be back in stock by mid-June. Details on these items are in the “library” section of our web site under “optical supplies”. 

I would like to sincerely thank you for your business and support as we’ve navigated this unbelievable journey.  You are the reason we are in business and we will continue to do all we can to be the lab partner that you expect us to be.

 

Sincerely,

John Art

President, Interstate Lab Group

 

5/5/20

To our Valued Customers,

As many of you have either reopened or are in the process, we have a few items that may be helpful as you ramp back up.  Information on these items is attached.  We have a small quantity of the Anti-Fog in stock,  with more arriving along with the other two items, which will be available to ship out from our lab around May 20th.  Not knowing the demand, we were conservative on the quantities we ordered on this initial shipment so we will likely run out, but we will place follow-up orders based on the demand.

We only included a very small markup over our cost for these items, basically just to cover handling.  Our business is producing your Rx orders and our only motivation in offering these items is to help you get back to placing those Rx orders!  As these items are totally new to us, we wanted to verify that the companies were reliable and the quality good.  We received a sample of each to evaluate and we are very satisfied.  Following is some background on the sourcing:

One of our primary optical vendors, ProGear Sport Goggles, is owned by a gentleman named Lak Cheong.  We have known Lak for over 15 years and he has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy business associate and friend.  Lak offered to source these products for us.  He began the process about 2 months ago at the request of his European distributors and asked us as his US distributor if we had interest.  As we explored this, I asked some questions around quality and his email response follows:

Hi John,

I can fully understand your concerns regarding the quality and reliability of these suppliers.  Like you, they were totally foreign to us as well when we first started to look into these more than 8 weeks ago.

I guess the best way to get you some reassurance is to explain what we did in the past 8 weeks in sourcing these items.  Then you can judge if you want to take this risk with us.  I can't guarantee they will be 100% successful but I'm doing everything to limit risk.

We started by looking through the Amazon and various email offers.  Very soon we found over 90% are fake offers, and mostly "drop-shippers" without any inventory but only trying to consolidate orders from strangers.  Many do not even have much knowledge about the products they are selling, not to mention providing the proper safety/import/export certifications.  To grab responses, they deliberately quote amazingly low prices.  Most cannot even offer samples to let prospects check quality. 

We quickly changed strategy from price comparison to a focus on identifying if the suppliers are genuine factories and their relevant qualities.  So, all the items we proposed in our list are from:

1. Real factories to which we actually sent our China based QC staff to visit the actual facilities to ensure they actually exist.  Many of our early contacts were found to be only traders disguising as manufacturers.  Since our China QC staff is in Shenzhen we only sourced from factories in surrounding towns where luckily there are a lot of electrical appliances factories.  Both the UVC box and thermometers are from Shenzhen.  The anti-fog gel is made in the same factories where we produce our PROGEAR.  They may not be the cheapest but we know we will receive consistent quality products.

2. All products come with proper safety/import/export certificates (e.g. FCC, RoHS, CE, etc..), bearing the actual factory names, so that we won't have any problem in getting through customs.

3. And, of course, we evaluated all the actual samples before placing orders.  We also ensure all our customers receive the relevant samples for their own evaluation before they actually place their orders.

We are not sure if our prices are the most competitive because there is really no valid benchmark at this point in time.  We think these prices seem affordable to opticians even after adding our distributors' margin.  We are not going be selling these items long term, but just an ad-hoc project to help ECP's, so I guess competitiveness is not a huge issue.

According to the UV-C box factory, the piece we are buying (24 LED UV-C bags) normally retails for $250 and above.  The LED's are the major cost of the unit.  We researched online and it seems true.  The thermometer is a medical grade and provides accurate and consistent results.  It normally retails for $99 and above.

I hope I answer all your questions.  Let me know if I missed anything.

Lak

The link embedded in the attachment “Can you kill coronavirus with UV light” is very interesting and worth the read.  As stated above, our initial order should arrive by May 20th and we will place a follow up order based on your interest and demand.  Please call if you have any questions or if you would like to place an order. 

You can view more details on available products in the Document Center of our website.

Thank you,

 

John Art, President

Interstate Lab Group

 

 

4/30/20

Dear Valued Customer,

 

As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders and businesses begin opening up, we want to let you know that we are here and ready for your orders!

 

As an essential business providing medical devices, we have remained fully open and processing your orders and we’re eager to begin bringing back the many employees who have been furloughed.  We’ve seen a 25% increase in orders this week, which is great news, and expect this trend to continue.

 

The delivery companies are all still under suspended or limited operations, but are making plans for increasing demand.

 

Please continue to say safe.  Thank you for your orders and we are here when you need us!

 

Sincerely,

 

John Art

President, Interstate Lab Group

 

4/20/20

In support of our Nation's Pandemic First Responders we are happy to be able to offer 200 FREE pairs of lenses to First Responders & Essential Personnel.
Please call us today to learn more & we say thank you to those on the front lines of the COVID19 pandemic.

4/13/2020

To Our Valued Customers:

It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve communicated to you on the latest about the Coronavirus impact here at the Interstate Lab Group.

It is unbelievable to witness how this virus has impacted our families and way of life.  Although it is a difficult time for all, I am optimistic that we will soon overcome this, and we will return to life and business as usual.

Today I want to communicate how we are faring, and also let you know about our initiative for providing 200 pair of free eyewear for our First Responders, in conjunction with the Shamir #VisionFirst program.

I’m sure each of you have patients who are bravely serving our country as First Responders, and we’re hoping that this offer, designed to be offered and fulfilled through your office, will help.  Please see the attached brochure for details.  

As far as our businesses, we are operating and continuing to provide eyewear to you.  Incoming orders are about 20% of their norms, and we’ve made adjustments accordingly.  We have one complete shift of all departments operating at our Ohio lab.  We are surfacing and coating our Indiana lab orders in Ohio, and sending them to our Indiana lab for edging, finishing assembly and shipping.  You can feel confident that between both locations, we can fill any order you send us.

Delivery companies have also made adjustments to make delivering more efficient.  For the vast majority of you who are closed and/or are only seeing emergency patients, please email us at info@interstatelabgroup.com with your scheduled reopen date to help us in planning ahead.

Many of our employees have been furloughed, and we are anxious to start to see an uptick in orders so we can begin to bring our team back to work.

Please stay safe, and we greatly appreciate every order you send us.  This, and all prior communications, are on our website at www.InterstateLabGroup.com

 

Take care,

John Art

President

 

 

3/30/2020

To our Valued Customers,

Please see below update for Pennsylvania customers on Harpers Delivery Service

As the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue, we have been adjusting our staffing while continuing to ship all orders possible.  Two weeks ago our incoming orders averaged 3500 per day total for both laboratories.  Last Friday we received 375 total.  As our work in process continues to drop we are shutting down some lines and furloughing affected employees, but we will continue to have customer service at both labs and at least one full production line that can process your orders.  We are continuing with all possible safety precautionary measures within the labs, and have provided all full time furloughed employees with 80 hours of paid time off.  This is a tough time for all and our hope is that we can get back to our regular work schedule as soon as possible.

 

NEW DELIVERY PROTOCOL:   As delivery service shipped volume has drastically decreased, both the Interstate Lab Group and our delivery companies are being forced to make adaptations to their schedules.  We are transitioning to only making delivery stops if there is an item to deliver (UPS deliveries are not affected).  Please follow the below for current directives for each delivery service:

 

Ohio:  Effective Monday April 6th all Mercury Delivery service customers currently on “automatically stop every day” will be on “One Way” (call delivery company if you need them to pick up).  Please call Mercury at (800) 527-2187 for pickups.  For customers currently on Mansfield Delivery Service, effective Tuesday April 7thh we will transition to only UPS.

Indiana:  All Indiana Wheels Delivery customers have now been transitioned to “Delivery Only” (call Interstate Lab Group Indy at (800) 506-4703 if you need to schedule a pick up).  In addition Wheels is only running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays currently.

Pennsylvania:  We have just been notified that Wednesday April 1 (tomorrow) will be the final day that Harpers Delivery will operate.  As a result, all customers currently on Harpers Delivery will be moved to UPS beginning Thursday April 2nd.   We will be sending a supply of UPS return labels out with the final Wednesday delivery. Please call if you have any questions.

 

In addition each of the delivery companies are no longer traveling to some areas.  If your delivery falls into this category we will contact you and set up an alternative shipping method, normally UPS.  We will let you know as further changes around deliveries occur.  

 

YOUR OFFICE SCHEDULE:  Thank you to all of you who have advised us of your open/closed schedules.  It is very helpful as we navigate through this new reality.

 

SALES CONSULTANT ACCESS:  Your sales consultant continues to be readily available and can help with remote support programs such as staff training or business reviews to help you better understand your product mix and profitability opportunities.  In addition he/she can review details on all of the customer support programs that have been made available as a result of the current situation, such as free access to Essilor ECP University, new deadlines for expiring programs, and extended payment options.

 

Thank you for your business.  We will continue to keep you updated through emails and our website.

3/25/2020

For the latest letter from Rick Gadd, President of Essilor of America, please click here.

3/23/2020

Dear Valued Customer:

As you have likely heard, Ohio’s governor issued a stay-at-home order yesterday.  Businesses categorized as essential are exempt.  As this potentially affects our Ohio lab location, we wanted to again reach out to you to communicate our plans.

As a manufacturer of a Class 1 Medical Device we are an essential healthcare operation under the Federal CISA Guidance, and as such it is our obligation to remain open.  We appreciate the seriousness and sensitivity during this time and we fully acknowledge that it is our responsibility to assist in efforts to decrease viral transmission, and as such we are continuing our aggressive cleaning and sanitizing protocols, practicing social distancing in our laboratories and following the guidelines of the CDC.

As communicated previously, with our two lab locations and the support of the full Essilor lab network we are well prepared to continue to fulfill all of your orders should the situation further escalate. 

Thank you for your support.  We will continuously monitor the situation and make decisions with vigilance as supported by evidence-based information, and guided by our mission and values.

Stay safe,

John Art
President

 

3/19/2020

Dear Valued Customer:

Amid all the news around the COVID-19 situation I wanted to send an update on how the Interstate Lab Group is adapting.

Our primary concern is the health and safety of our employee team and their families as well as our customers, and accordingly we have instituted many safety protocols.  In addition to following all of the recommendations of the CDC, we have implemented extreme cleaning and sanitizing processes of our workplaces, social distancing directives and paid sick time for those employees affected or needing to care for their young children.  We have eliminated all non-emergency travel and our sales consultants are only utilizing teleconference sales calls.

As you may be aware, the Ohio governor is requiring all Ohio businesses to monitor the temperature of all employees daily and we are planning procedures to fully comply. 

Several of you have begun reducing hours, eliminated non-emergency appointments or closing altogether for a period of time.  Please inform us if you are closing so we can hold your shipments and eliminate unnecessary delivery stops.

We are well-prepared for business continuity should the situation escalate.  We have a comprehensive crisis management plan in place, using our two laboratory locations in Ohio and Indiana.  Both have full production capabilities including digital and Crizal.  We have systems ready should we need to convert to off-site customer service as well as to route orders between labs.

As part of the Essilor lab network, we also have a nation-wide network of over 100 labs and over 300 Rx partners worldwide that could be used for outsourced production in an emergency situation.  You can feel confident in our ability to always fulfill your orders.

The situation is fluid and changing rapidly.  Our goal is to adapt to the current needs while doing all we can to be well-prepared for when this crisis passes.

Please stay safe and I sincerely appreciate your business and support as we work our way through this unprecedented environment.

Sincerely,
John Art
President

Click here for a letter from Essilor