2014 has seen Waterside Labs exceed even its creator’s vision of a vibrant and forward thinking company. This independent company is now positioned firmly at the forefront of the Smart Glass and lens technology revolution
UK-based Waterside Labs is anticipating significant growth in its international business having recently established Vision Technologies Europe (VTE), suppliers to the European and world markets of Smart Frames and Smart GOLD lenses for Google Glass and Smart Solutions for other brands of Smart Glasses including Vuzix and Epson.
VTE is working in an exclusive capacity with Rochester Optical, one of the leading US-based creators and manufacturers of Smart Glass Solutions.
This successful move into the Smart Glass sector is the latest chapter in the Waterside Labs’ story of consistently delivering quality and choice while embracing new technology.
The Waterside story began in 1976 when Ray Smith, an experienced glazing technician, had a vision to build a customer-focused company offering first-class quality and service to the independent optical sector, and so Waterside Laboratories was born.
The UK optical industry has seen many changes over the years, but family-owned Waterside has stayed at the forefront by adapting to these changes and embracing new technologies without ever losing sight of Ray’s core values.
As a truly independent company under family control it prides itself on the experience of its management team and the personal relationships it enjoys with its customers (many of whom have been dealing with the company for well over 20 years). Waterside enjoys a special relationship with all of its customers, who appreciate the fact that they can talk directly to knowledgeable people responsible for production on a day-to-day basis.
Ray is still very much a ‘hands-on’ owner who enjoys interaction with customers and closely monitors every element of product supply on a daily basis. Whilst in common with many modern labs, Waterside now employs the latest technologies and systems (including robotic glazing, computerised ‘freeform’ surfacing, online ordering and ‘track and trace’ programmes), and its core strength is the knowledge and experience of its personnel and management teams who each understand the fundamentals behind these new technologies.
The family tradition continued when Ray’s son Chris joined the company in 1993. After spending 2 years studying the art of lens production, Chris implemented full lab computerisation in 1995, and he is constantly looking at how new technologies can be integrated to benefit both customers and product supply.
Following Ray’s elevation to company chairman, industry veteran Bob Forgan became the most recent ‘new’ addition to the management team when he re-joined the company in late 2012 after a gap of over 20 years (having first been a shareholder/director in the 1980s). As joint Managing Directors, Bob and Chris share a vision of how an independent lab can compete in the modern environment, where the big keep getting bigger and the small often just disappear.
“Waterside has survived and flourished by delivering quality products and great customer service from day one. Having known Ray for over 30 years, I knew better than most his business ethos and therefore fully understood his decision not to ‘join the club’ when he was approached by a major player who was interested in purchasing the business. Having been groomed as his successor, his son Chris was determined to keep Waterside independent, and my advice was that if he really wanted to make the company a force to be reckoned with and ensure its survival in the long term, it would be essential to have all the necessary ‘tools’ in order to compete,” says Forgan.
Proud To Be Different
Today, Waterside has a unique position within the independent sector in having a price list that does not include products from the major lens companies, but instead concentrates on offering a product range that is ‘different from the competition’. This in turn allows its independent optician customer to also ‘stand out from the crowd’ in an increasingly competitive environment.
Recent introductions, such as the INFINITY NANO X HD progressive with a minimum fitting height of only 10mm, mean they are even breaking new ground and offering products that are available from no other UK lens company.
The exciting OptikamPad Dispensing System is an iPad-based system which is both a dispensing aid to show the benefits of premium lenses, and also captures all the measurements necessary for dispensing Waterside’s own individualised INFINITY progressive lens range.
Waterside’s newly updated and improved ‘freeform’ INFINITY progressive lens series is the epitome of this; cutting-edge technology resulting in advanced lens design options delivering a comprehensive range of individualised lens designs in the widest choice of materials available, from standard index CR39 through to tintable 1.74.
In addition, its UK exclusive Cool Couture designer glazed frame packages deliver great value complemented by attractive packaging and displays to help independent practices stand out from the competition.
Recognising the independent practitioners constant need to be ‘different’, Waterside’s INFINITY Colours range of photochromics is unique in offering six exciting colours (pink, green, blue, violet, orange, yellow) as alternatives to the traditional grey and brown.
The Future Is NOW
Given its commitment to offering innovative products to customers, it’s not surprising that Waterside Labs is at the forefront of the march towards making Smart Glasses technology accessible to all. Working in conjunction with US eyewear manufacturer and wholesaler with a full service optical lab, Rochester Optical, the company is in the process of a Europe-wide launch of Smart Glass Solutions including Smart frames and Smart GOLD lens design for Google Glass, which provide a distortion-free zone for viewing Heads Up Displays – positioned in an area where aberrations would otherwise occur (Smart GOLD lenses are available in an extensive prescription range in Single Vision, Bifocal and Progressive designs).
Bob Forgan says, “Products like Google Glass are currently attracting a huge amount of attention and I believe a whole new category is going to evolve within optics to provide solutions for wearers who require vision correction.”
Another exciting development is the launch of Smart frames by internationally renowned designer Simon Chim. Following the successful launch of Chimmm by Simon Chim for Google Glass at Vision Expo West Las Vegas in September, exclusive distributors Waterside Labs gave European customers a sneak preview of this exciting new collection at SILMO 2014.
Bob Forgan explains, “The launch of our new Chimmm for Google Glass 2015 frame and sunglass collections by the innovative Hong Kong fashion designer Simon Chim attracted a great deal of attention in Paris as it showed the importance of combining technology with fashion.”
“The interest in all our Smart Glass products during Silmo was amazing. This is a rapidly developing product area that everyone really wants to know about and we opened many new accounts during the show; with orders not just for customers in mainland Europe but also as far afield as Asia and Australia,” adds Bob.
Waterside Labs is showing no sign of slowing down on its mission to bring innovation and choice to its customers. The next 12 months will see the company raise its international profile. With Rochester Optical, the company will be showcasing its Smart Glass Solutions including Smart frames and Smart GOLD lens design for Google Glass at leading international trade fairs in Hong Kong, Europe and the USA.
1972: Ray Smith establishes Waterside as an ‘edging only’ lab at Eastleigh Airport in Hampshire UK.
1976: Company incorporated in UK as Waterside Laboratories Limited and surfacing department created to produce glass lenses.
1984: Business relocates to Millbrook in Southampton, commences surfacing of CR39 lenses and creates relationship with newly established UK optical chain.
1989: Decision taken to concentrate solely on the supply of lenses and edging services to independent opticians.
1993: Ray’s son Chris Smith joined the company with production and technology upgrade remit.
1995: Total computerisation of systems and production achieved.
2004: Relocates to Totton, installation of robotic glazing, online ordering and ‘track and trace’ programmes.
2011: Investment in digital surfacing equipment and launch of ‘Infinity’ own-brand lens range.
2012: Introduction of UK exclusive ‘Sun Active’ range of Photochromics and ‘Cool Couture’ frame collections. Ray Smith becomes Chairman and Bob Forgan re-joins the company as Joint Managing Director after a gap of over 20 years.
2013: INFINITY NANO X HD 10mm fit progressive and OptikamPad Dispensing System added to product range. Plus unique INFINITY range of photochromics in 6 fashion colours.
2014: Europe-wide launch of Smart Glass Solutions including Smart frames and Smart GOLD lens design for Google Glass following strategic alliance with US based Rochester Optical.
2015: Introduction of Smart frames by Simon Chim – the internationally renowned designer; Chimmm by Simon Chim for Google Glass.