Polycarbonate lenses probably represent about 25 percent of the US ophthalmic lens market, and they may grow to 40 percent of the market in 2001, according to Vision-Ease officials. Anticipating that polycarbonate lenses will represent between 5-10 percent of the European market within 3-4 years, BMC Vision-Ease Lens has started to make major investments in finishing, logistics, marketing and sales in this part of the world. One reason is a belief that European customers are more demanding than their American counterparts about A-R coating and other quality standards. Another is the specificity of the polycarbonate lenses developed by Vision-Ease, such as its patented process to make non-laminated polarized lenses, which will soon be compemented by photochromic features.
Last March 1, Vision-Ease acquired HLP, a French laboratory which had been supplying the Alain Afflelou chain with polycarbonate lenses made by the US firm, and prior to that by Orcolite, the American polycarbonate lens specialist acquired by Vision-Ease two years ago. Late last year, Vision-Ease had already set up a big lab for the German market in Mühlheim, where another division of BMC, Buckbee-Meers, has a large facility for the manufacture of aperture masks for color picture tubs used in TV and computer monitors.
The Mülheim facility, which already employed about 500 persons, is providing useful administrative and logistical support back-up services for the new polycarbonate operation, supplementing a 5-year-old distribution center in the UK that has been working sofar with major customers in the UK and Ireland, plus some key accounts on the Continent such as Buchmann and American Optical France.
Guntram Mehl, a German engineer who worked at the Mühlheim mask facilities for the past 5 years in various capacities, including operations, sales and marketing, was appointed last month as vice president and managing director of Vision-Ease Europe. Mehl, who previously worked for Nokia's mobile phone division, is in the process of recruiting a full-fledged European staff. He has hired a laboratory manager and he is now strengthening the marketing and sales staff. Tim Donahue, a German-speaking technical service representative who worked for Vision-Ease on the US West Coast, has been brought in to assist in solving technical problems in the processing of polycarbonate lenses.
In other executive appointments, BMC named a former US Army captain, Joe Gudenburr, as group vice president in charge of all Vision-Ease polycarbonate operations, whose sales are estimated at close to $100 million a year now. Milind Gadre was promoted to vice president and managing director of Asian business operations, based in Indonesia, where the company has a big lens factory. Rich Montag was appointed as vice president of America sales and worldwide marketing. Dan Klamut assumed responsibility for the growing Vision-Ease SunsSport business, also with the title of vice president.
Vision-Ease raised by 21 percent its sales of polycarbonate, progressive and polarizing sun lenses in the 1st quarter ended March 31, which came to represent 62 percent of total sales of $35.4 million for BMC Industries's optical products group. Sales of SunRx polarized polarized polycarbonate lenses doubled, and progressive polycarbonate lenses were strong. Higher production costs and R&D expenditures caused the division's earnings to decline to $2 million from $5.6 million a year ago. Overall, BMC's net income dropped to $2.3 million from $3.2 million on 5 percent higher sales of $88.8 million.