Lens Express

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Lens Express, Inc.
Industry Direct-to-order
Fate Acquired by 1-800 Contacts
Successor 1-800 Contacts
Founded 1985 in Pompano Beach, Florida
Founders Engin Yesil and Yalie Golan
Defunct 2002
Headquarters Deerfield Beach, Florida, United States
Key people
Lynda Carter, spokesperson
Products Contact lenses

Lens Express was a direct-mail-order company that sold contact lenses that were available over-the-phone, and also offered a free catalog. The company was well known for Lynda Carter appearing in its ads, including her famous trademark sayings such as "I wouldn't trust these baby blues to just anyone!" and "Make your life a whole lot easier!". In 2002, Lens Express was acquired by 1-800 Contacts.[1]

History[edit]

In 1986 a business administration and finance student of University of Florida, Engin Yesil and his friend Yalie Golan started Lens Express from their Fort Lauderdale apartment. Engin was to have returned to Turkey to manage his father's shoe business, but saw a greater venture in Florida. Unlike other states, Florida provided a better opportunity for growth while still operating within state rules and regulations. This became important since Lens Express, as a company, was breaking ground for consumerism.

In the 1980s the world of contact lens usage was exploding due to the growth of the soft contact lens market. However, access to contact lenses as a product was restricted as it was unsafe for people to purchase products from anyone other than the eye doctor.

On April 2, 1985, WCBS-TV, New York Consumer Editor Betsy Ashton, interviewed by Meredith Vieira, reported on the optometric industry's battle against mail-order contact lens firms. Representing the American Optometric Association, Dr. Paul Farkas argued that mail order contact lenses were unsafe. Conversely, USA Lens founder Dr. Joseph Seriani extolled the virtues of his firm while arguing that many eye doctors' services were superfluous for otherwise healthy patients. The report also mentioned that certain states, including Hawaii, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Minnesota had restraint of trade laws in effect to prevent advertising for contact lenses.[2]

Launch[edit]

The "way" for a mail order contact lens industry did not become clear until the Federal Trade Commission ruled in 1985, that eye doctors (Ophthalmologists and Optometrists) must provide the contact lens prescription to their patients so that the patient may shop for contact lenses as a consumer. Withholding a contact lens prescription would be considered restraint of trade.

Linda J. Kaplan, MD, Ophthalmologist, a consultant to the FTC, and a liaison to the Ethics Committee for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, was an advocate for patient consumerism and joined forces with Lens Express in 1987. Under her leadership as Director of Quality Assurance the company grew into their first warehouse located in Pompano Beach. Company policy included that no contact lenses were sold to first time users, only replacement lenses were sold, all prescriptions were verified for accuracy etc.

Dr. Linda Kaplan's national television and print campaign for Lens Express was directed at educating the American consumer: "I endorse the Lens Express program because they guarantee to deliver the exact same lenses your own doctor prescribed, while making the purchase of new, fresh replacement lenses, easy and convenient for thousands of men and women across America" Linda Kaplan, MD, PA, FAAO.[3] The message impact of safety, quality and convenience was strong.

In the 1990s Joe Seriani filed a lawsuit against Lens Express charging that founders, Yalie Golan and Engin Yesil, used drug proceeds to start Lens Express.[4] It is unclear if Yalie Golan had been involved with USA Lens, but it seems the Florida Attorney General's Office did investigate that company as well.

As a result of the charges, disruptive nature of the criminal investigation and professional threats, Dr. Linda Kaplan resigned from Lens Express and withdrew her endorsement. Concomitantly, Lynda Carter's husband, Robert A. Altman, a former attorney, made the acquaintance of Engin Yesil.[5] This lead Lens Express to procure the services of former Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter for the new national television campaign: "I wouldn't trust these baby blues to just anyone!"

In 1992 with the triad withdrawal of leadership of Engin Yesil, Yalie Golan and Dr Linda Kaplan prospects looked grim. However, Lens Express had developed a business model that could not fail.[6] The second group of Lens Express Directors included Mordechai Golan, Menderes Akdag, and Brian O'Neill. Lens Express pioneered the direct to consumer contact lens industry offering significant savings on factory sealed contact lenses.

Ownership changes[edit]

May 1996, Summit Technology acquired Lens Express for $32 million.[7]

In the 1990s Summit Autonomous Inc., was bereft with patent and other business litigation related to their excimer laser systems and procedures. (In 1995, they were the first excimer laser company to receive FDA approval for its excimer laser system for the correction of mild to moderate myopia in the U.S.) Their business model plan for expansion included the owning and operating of vision correction centers, via their subsidiary, Refractive Centers International, Inc. There were 19 such centers in the U.S. many of which were affiliated with prestigious national teaching hospitals. It was thought that additional to the positive cash flow of Lens Express, the acquisition of Lens Express' market base could create a channel for patient flow to convert contact lens wearers into Laser patients.[8]

May 2000 Summit Technology entered into an agreement to sell its Lens Express business unit to Strategic Optical Holdings, Inc. for $31 million cash, plus a minority equity interest in the acquiror.[9][10]

September 1, 2000 Summit Autonomous, Inc. was acquired by Alcon.[11] and.[12]

November 26, 2002 – Lens 1st, a leading direct to consumer contact lens replacement company owned by Camelot Ventures, a Southfield, Michigan-based investment firm, acquired Lens Express. At that time, Lens Express had sold over 100 million contact lenses to over two million consumers.[13]

December 16, 2002, 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc. signed a letter of intent with Southfield, Michigan-based Camelot Ventures to acquire select assets of Lens Express and Lens 1st, the two leading U.S. mail-order contact lens retailers. Under the terms of the agreement, 1-800 CONTACTS acquired certain assets of Lens Express and Lens 1st, including databases, customer information, web addresses, phone numbers, and intellectual property rights. In addition, acquired assets included certain property, equipment, inventories and other tangible assets with an expected total value at closing of more than $5 million. The consideration to be paid included 900,000 restricted shares of common stock, $6.5 million in cash and the assumption of current liabilities with an expected value at closing of approximately $4.8 million.[14]

January 17, 2008 Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) announced a long-term agreement with 1-800 CONTACTS. The alliance aligns the independent eye doctors located in nearly 3,000 Wal-Mart Stores and Sam's Clubs with 1-800 CONTACTS.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1-800 CONTACTS to Acquire Lens Express and Lens 1st". Camelot Ventures Group. 2002-12-16. 
  2. ^ Dr. Joseph Seriani (13 March 2013). "Dr. Joe Seriani Interviewed by WCBS's Betsy Ashton (1985-04-02)" – via YouTube. 
  3. ^ Cosmopolitan Magazine, pg 277, May 1991
  4. ^ Case # 92-22923, FL Circuit Court, 11th Judicial Circuit, Dade County, FL filed Oct 26, 1992
  5. ^ {U.S. v. YESIL, 968 F.2d 1122 (1992) , UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Engin Kamil Yesil and Yalie Golan, Defendants }
  6. ^ America at Night: "The True Story of Two Rogue CIA Operatives, Homeland Security Failures, Dirty Money and a Plot to steal the 2004 US Presidential Election – by the Former Intelligence Agent that foiled the plan By Larry J. Kolb" Riverhead Books
  7. ^ http://sis.windhover.com/buy/abstract.php?id=199610104
  8. ^ "SEC Info - Summit Autonomous Inc - Filings". 
  9. ^ "Asset Purchase Agreement - Lens Express Inc. and Summit Technology Inc. - FindLaw". 
  10. ^ http://www.allbusiness.com/company-activities-management/company-structures/6478433-1.html#ixzz1k8Wei3Oj
  11. ^ "Susquehanna Resources & Environment Inc - www.inknowvation.com". 
  12. ^ "SEC Info - Alcon Holdings Inc, et al. - ‘SC TO-C’ on 5/26/00 re: Summit Autonomous Inc - EX-99". 
  13. ^ "News, Camelot Venture Group". 
  14. ^ "News, Camelot Venture Group". 
  15. ^ "Press Releases - 1-800 CONTACTS".