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Lighthouse Has Eyes Wide Open With Mattingly Buy

Lighthouse International's acquisition last month of privately held Mattingly International, a wholesale optical products distributor, propels the nonprofit vision-care organization squarely into the international catalog marketplace and instantly grows its catalog operation threefold. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The marriage gives each organization something it lacks. Lighthouse International gains entrepreneurial drive from Mattingly, and Mattingly gains the resources to expand globally. “By combining the two, we have a mega-company of the two leading distributors,” said Bill Mattingly, former president and chairman for Mattingly International, who is now vice president for professional products at Lighthouse International.

The newly combined company, which will retain the Lighthouse moniker and will be folded into its Lighthouse Enterprises unit, will have combined revenues of about $6 million at the outset, making it the No. 1 marketer of specialty vision-care products to professionals. The business is expected to grow by at least 10 percent in its first year, according to Mattingly. “Lighthouse has international contacts that will make it easy for me to expand the business in North America and worldwide,” said Mattingly. “Once that business begins to develop we're going to see tremendous growth.”

It will also realize an immediate benefit in cost savings from merging marketing, fulfillment and customer service operations. Mattingly, who will lead the combined catalog business, will remain in Escondido, CA, where the call-center operation will consolidate. Fulfillment will be centralized at Lighthouse's fulfillment center in Carlstadt, NJ, and purchasing and inventory control will be handled by Lighthouse Enterprises' New York operation. “I think this will allow us some economies of scale in both our businesses.” said Donald Eidschun, director of finance and operations for Lighthouse Enterprises.

Lighthouse International is a well-known nonprofit organization with an international reputation as a resource for visual rehabilitation and education. The nearly 100-year-old organization boasts a “who's who list” of regular corporate contributors such as Hearst Publications and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Lighthouse's core focus has historically been to provide worldwide vision rehabilitation services to blind or partially sighted individuals, as well as education, research and advocacy programs. Its wholesale and consumer catalog operations have been until now a small part of the overall focus.

Mattingly's experience with both the marketing and the educational aspects of the business may serve the merged entity well. In addition to its catalog business, Mattingly International hosted educational programs through regional seminars across the United States. “We would educate doctors who didn't know anything about the field of low-vision rehabilitation,” Mattingly said.

The courses were aggressively advertised through targeted direct mail brochures, which included an option to respond for a free catalog. The seminars became an effective way to market the company's vast product offerings and introduce doctors to the most current technological advances such as autofocus telescopic spectacles. “It's a great marketing tool.”

In addition to his new vice president role overseeing the sales and marketing activities of the professional products division, Mattingly also will oversee the division's educational activities. He is considered an expert on optics and low vision and lectures frequently to various specialized ophthalmological and optometric professional meetings and conferences.

Mattingly originally launched his catalog 16 years ago while working at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, CA, to answer the need he saw for a simple way to order specialty optical products. “It was kind of like the Home Depot approach to put everything in one catalog, and it was an instant success,” he said. He left Scripps four years later to devote full time to the catalog business, and he watched his company grow an average of 40 percent in revenues for the first several years selling wholesale products to the trade: optometrists, ophthalmologists and vision rehabilitation clinics. Revenues for fiscal 1998 were $3.3 million.

The design of the Mattingly International catalog is in stark contrast with Lighthouse's catalog. While the former is a low-tech, desktop-published, text-heavy 240-page book self-described as an “exhaustive catalog of low-vision products,” the latter is a perfect-bound, four-color, 110-page title with high-quality product photos. The design direction the newly combined catalog will take has not been determined yet, although Mattingly says he will be involved in that process.

Whatever its design outcome, Mattingly is confident the new catalog operation has unlimited potential. “Being a nonprofit organization, Lighthouse just didn't have the entrepreneurial spirit to compete in the marketplace,” he said. “They get the benefit of having me running the company, and that competitiveness, combined with their goodwill, will provide unlimited potential for this business.”

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