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Wisconsin Vision's new Shorewood location will open soon.

Wisconsin Vision CEO talks glasses, new stores, screen time and more

This spring, a long time partner of OnMilwaukee, Wisconsin Vision, opens two new locations, one in Shorewood at 4163 N. Oakland Ave. and another at the The Corners of Brookfield.

In anticipation of the openings, I asked Wisconsin Vision president and CEO Darren Horndasch a few questions.

OnMilwaukee: Be honest, how many pairs of glasses do you own?

Darren Horndasch: That's a loaded question! In terms of dress glasses with my current prescription I would estimate that number to be 30 (different shapes, styles, colors and material). However, to be honest, like anyone else, I have my favorites and that brings down the rotation to around 10. Some of these glasses have traditional clear lenses while many have lenses that darken outside with ZEISS PhotoFusion. This does not include prescription sunglasses (four in my car now), non-prescription sun wear that I wear contact lenses with (20; again, different shapes, styles, colors, materials and function – dress, sport, golf, motorcycle riding) and my favorite ZEISS Officelens pair that are at my desk for computer use. Almost forgot, my prescription swim googles for the pool!

Do you wear contacts too? Dailies? (The daily wears, by the way, are awesome.)

I do wear contact lenses and dailies are my choice as there is no care or storage involved. As a casual contact lens wearer, daily contacts are ready when I am. I primarily use them when I am enjoying lifestyle activities like golf, riding my motorcycle or the outdoors. I don't think that many people understand the choices that are available today in the contact lens world – cosmetic contacts that change the color of one's eyes, multifocal contacts for those who wear progressive lenses, toric lenses for those with astigmatism (common condition when cornea is irregularly shaped), monthly lenses and two week lenses.

What's the biggest misconception people have about buying and wearing glasses?

First, let me start with the biggest misconception of the past – glasses were not cool! It is anything but today. Glasses are a functional accessory item. Most people don't own one pair of shoes, one belt, one watch. We encourage people to enjoy the fashion of the frame and marvel at the way our lens and coating technology improves what they see. Glasses are where fashion meets technology.

The other item I always like to address is cost. There is a wide spectrum of eyeglass prices (particularly if you look at the internet). However, there probably is no one item that a person with a visual imparity wears more and for longer hours than a pair of glasses. Make sure they are comfortable and that vision is clear – all of this can be accommodated by a professional optometrist and optician.

What's the latest innovation in your industry and what's on the horizon?

The single biggest change for us is in the lens technology. Today, most of our lens products are digitally manufactured. This means that rather than buying stock lenses, we buy lens material (CR-39 <plastic>, polycarbonate, high index or tri-vex) and our computers calculate the grinding necessary for the prescription. This allows us to be very precise between what the doctor prescribed and what the patient ultimately receives – kind of like televisions of yesterday and today's high-definition viewing. In addition, our newest coating technology is more scratch resistant (never scratch proof) and resists the accumulation of dust.

Are parents too freaked out about screen time and what it can do to a kid's eyes? Asking for a friend, of course.

This a great question. Digital fatigue is going to be a term that we all hear about more and more. The light that comes off of cell phones, TVs, tablets, etc. emit light that can be harmful long term. Back in my day, my mom told me not to look directly into the sun; why? The same reason – harmful blue rays (not all are harmful and we require some so that we know the sky is blue). There is new coating technology for lenses that will block most of these harmful rays – one trade name is blu Tech.

We will be offering in the near future a similar product from Zeiss that will be produced in our New Berlin lab. As a side note, my 4-year-old granddaughter, who does not have a prescription, wears glasses with this coating anytime she is on the tablet!

Give us your story, please. What is the 2-3 minute Darren Horndasch overview?

I am originally from Illinois, got my BA and MA from Western Illinois University. I got my start in healthcare on the staff of Governor James R. Thomson, where we created legislation to take the State's employee health plan to a self-insured product. I went from there to the University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics, where I was appointed the Executive Director of Managed Care/HMO operations at age 26. Three years later I was recruited to be the CEO of Wisconsin Health Fund, where I remained for nine years, returning to Illinois as the Executive V.P./Chief Operating Officer of a publicly traded healthcare company, HealthStar, Inc.

After its sale I moved back to Wisconsin in 2000 to become the President/CEO of Wisconsin Vision, Inc., where I have had the privilege of working ever since. I work out daily at the YMCA and sit as a Board member of the SW YMCA (since 1991) and on the Board of the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County.

My wife and I met at WIU and have been married 34 years with two sons Ryan (wife Ellen and children Harper, Declan and Emery), who lives in Maryland and is a CEO of an optical group, and Brandon (fiancé Jessica), who works for us in the Illinois and Indiana markets in sales and account management.

What can customers expect from your new locations? I can walk to the Shorewood one, by the way.

We are modeling the new locations off of the Third Ward design. This thought is new to this 40-year-old company, and we are very proud of the product that we represent in the other 36 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

However, the more contemporary look and feel of these locations may create a new experience for patients, and we would like to see if this resonates differently. We want to better highlight the brands that we offer. In addition, like our other locations, we want to identify products (frames) that fit the demographics of the area. In The Corners of Brookfield for example, we will be the exclusive optical in the shopping mall – this includes prescription and sun wear. We plan to extend our offerings in the non-prescription sun wear category. If this works, it will prove that you can teach old dogs new tricks!

Finally, something I like to ask everyone: define success.

That's easy. I define success not by what I have accomplished personally because that road is never paved alone, but by the people that I have the privilege to have around me – family, friends and coworkers. I am also humbled by the life experiences that I have the opportunity to be involved in. I shared with my sons a couple of key points: where there is opportunity there is challenge (and vice versa), and always view adversity as the best teacher. Not sure if this defines success but it keeps perspective.


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