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Future is Clear for Central One Optical

BOARDMAN, Ohio — When Lloyd Yazbek bought Central One Optical in July 1997, the company Felix Fontanarosa founded in 1947 employed 13 and produced up to 200 pairs of glasses daily, supplying eye-care professionals.

“At the time, we were a small, regional laboratory,” Yazbek says. “Most of the business came from Youngstown, Warren, Akron, Canton, Steubenville and Ashtabula.”

Before purchasing Central, Yazbek was vice president for sales and marketing for a sunglasses manufacturer based in Italy and ran its United States division. 

After learning the specifics of how to make a pair of glasses, he leveraged his experience and established client list to put together a strategy for expanding the Central footprint. 

Today, the company, which includes Cherry Optical and Homer Optical Co., serves customers from Maine to Florida and as far west as Arizona, employs more than 400 at five manufacturing labs, “and on any given day, we make 5,000 pairs of glasses,” Yazbek  says. 

The labs manufacture lenses for six product lines, while frames are made off-site, he says.

Central One Optical’s lab in Boardman produces about 1,500 pairs of glasses daily. Company wide, Central One produces about 5,000 pairs daily.

Yazbek, the principal owner and CEO, started by picking up business throughout Ohio, including Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. 

As sales increased, he expanded to the current headquarters and flagship location at 6981 Southern Blvd. in Boardman, which spans 22,000 square feet and houses a complete manufacturing operation that employs about 80 and produces 1,500 pairs of glasses a day.

Yazbek admits he was impatient at first and quickly learned to expand the business at a manageable pace.

“When I have my mind set on something, I’m full steam ahead. Well, I learned early on that’s not always the best prescription, no pun intended,” he says. “When you go full bore, or helter-skelter as I call it, you run the risk of losing not only the new business that you pick up, but your existing business, because your quality slips; your turn time slips.”

Maintaining a strategy of steady growth allowed Central One Optical to maintain its quality and turn time while leveraging its niche proficiencies to attract “a certain type” of eye-care professional, Yazbek says. 

The company specializes in compound prescriptions such as for glasses that require a prism in the lens, or for customers who have very poor vision. This allows the Central to serve its primary customers, as well as 15 labs around the United States.

“Most labs wouldn’t even try to compete because of the sophistication as well as the competency that’s needed by the individuals that are figuring out these scripts,” he says.

Central also specializes in blue-light-protection lenses, which filter blue light within a specific range that doesn’t impede natural colors. Too much exposure to blue light emitted from flatscreen TVs, computer monitors and mobile devices can affect sleep habits, which in turn affect productivity and social skills, Yazbek says. Central is coordinating with sleep clinics in researching the effect of blue light on young children.

The capability to manufacture specialty lenses, such as compound prescriptions and blue-light-protection lenses, helped Central One compete and expand.

“We are providing them with lenses that protect them from the harmful blue light,” he says. “Everybody that gets a new pair of glasses should ask their eye-care professional for blue-light protection in their lenses. It’s not that much more expensive, but it will do a world of good, not only today but tomorrow and in the future.”

Sales continue to increase at Central One Optical and the company is about 2% ahead of its goal for the first quarter of this year, according to Yazbek. Over the next few years, the company looks to expand its marketing west of the Mississippi River and will hire a sales force to start in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas, he says. As a result, Yazbek expects business to increase by as much as 10% in 2020 and 2021, he says.

“Once we get our feet wet over there, then we’ll start to continue to go down into Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arizona [and] Nevada,” he says. “California would be a stretch, but you never know.”

As for the future, Yazbek looks to make the transition to the next generation of leadership. His son-in-law and vice president of Central, Tyler Morton, will run the company “in the not-too-distant future,” alongside Yazbek’s daughters, Jennifer Morton, vice president of marketing, and Elizabeth Paris, vice president of finance.

“That is very rewarding for myself and my family because my children have decided that they, too, want to stay in the business,” he says. “They have a much better understanding of today’s market and today’s individual as I probably did in the ’80s and ’90s.”

The change won’t be without a stipulation, he says. “Youngstown will always be headquarters. Make no mistake about it. I told my son-in-law and my daughters, ‘You’re not moving. Not as long as I’m alive.’ ”

Pictured above: Even when Lloyd Yazbek passes Central Optical on to the second generation – son-in-law Tyler Morton and daughters Jennifer Morton and Elizabeth Paris – the headquarters will remain in Youngstown, he says.

Editor’s note:
This is the second in a four-part story entitled “They Grew from Small to BIG” that ran in the May 2019 edition of The Business Journal. CLICK HERE to order your copy and stay tuned for other small-to-big stories and videos on our website.

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.