Jeff Wheaton had a new idea for a used marketplace. Based in west central Florida, he had been dealing in pre-owned optical and ophthalmic equipment for well over a decade. When he began distributing some of the industry's first "patternless" edgers for frames and eyeglasses, he came up with the idea for a company that would refurbish, sell and support state-of-the-art lens processing equipment for doctors' offices and optical labs. In March 2001, Vision Systems Inc. (VSI) was born.
With headquarters in Tarpon Springs, Fla., VSI today is the largest provider in its field, according to office manager Lynne Troiano. It deals in everything from small devices to dentists' examination chairs, which can weigh between 500 and 700 pounds each. VSI buys the equipment from a variety of sources, including distributors and retail operations such as Wal-Mart Stores, Sears Optical, Target Stores and LensCrafters. The units are stripped down "to the very nuts and bolts," says Troiano, then completely refurbished for resale to customers all over the U.S. as well as internationally.
The logistics of moving the items are nearly as complex as the work that goes into refurbishing them. VSI requires inside, door-to-door delivery. Much of the equipment is extremely delicate, and the components vary widely in size. Shipments are time-sensitive, with buyers unable to tolerate delivery or installation delays that could result in lost patients and income.
TransGroup Worldwide Logistics is VSI's vendor of choice. Based in Seattle, Wash., TransGroup services the company out of a facility in Tampa, Fla., where Jeff Greer serves as station manager of domestic. Troiano says VSI's relationship with TransGroup dates back nearly to the beginning, when Greer visited VSI in Tarpon Springs, examined the equipment to be moved, then customized a service to meet the shipper's unique needs.
TransGroup started up operations in 1986, the same year Jeff Wheaton relocated to Florida and entered the business of pre-owned optical equipment. Having established its first logistics center in Seattle, the provider quickly branched out to handle both domestic and international loads. Today, the company has more than 40 logistics centers throughout North America.
For VSI, TransGroup is involved at each stage of a movement. It picks up at the seller's location, delivers the equipment to VSI's refurbishment facility in Tarpon Springs, then handles the outbound moves to buyers. It provides the customer with a single bill of lading for shipments involving multiple modes of transportation, whether by road, sea or air. For items in transit, VSI can access daily status reports, either via the vendor's website or through direct conversations with Greer.
Troiano likes the fact that she can pick up the phone anytime and reach the individual responsible for moving her loads. Greer also fields calls from VSI's own customers, if they need to know the status of incoming orders.
Troiano estimates that TransGroup provides 90 percent of VSI's logistics needs. Her company hasn't considered spreading the business around. "We prefer a trusted vendor," she says. "They are solid, reliable and experts in the field."
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