LBI Eyewear

LBI Marks Sixty Years in Eyewear Business

CHATSWORTH, Calif.—Shelly Lehrer—eyewear “maverick.”

That’s the description many use, including LBI’s Lehrer and his family, to describe the entrepreneurial spirit that’s guided the company he founded in 1949 to reach its place today as a diverse manufacturer, designer and distributor of eyewear, lenses, cases and other products to a range of U.S. and international customers.


Shrek Eyewear—durable, well fitting, comfortable and high quality children’s frame created around the loveable ogre. Shrek and Friends—a more couture line including Princess Fiona, Donkey and other favorite Shrek characters.

St. Moritz—a premier line of house-branded eyewear influenced by the most contemporary frame styling in Europe.

Limited Editions—stylish basics for adults and children in a wide breadth of designs.

Bella Italia—a colorful offering of bright and pastel colors with an eye to fine detail.

Ce-Tru—one of the leading generic eyewear collections, priced at the more affordable end of the market.

Woman’s Day—practical, yet fashionable color styles targeted to the over 20 million women, who read Woman’s Day Magazine.

Safety First—manufactured to comply with the Z78.2 industry safety standards.

Garfield—children’s frames built around the internationally known comic strip character Garfield.

Sheldon “Shelly” H. Lehrer was one of the first to import frames from Europe. Before importing from Europe, the company, initially known as Atlantic Optical, was a local distributor of domestic brands including: American Optical, Built-well, Stensel and Son, Bausch and Lomb. Lehrer bought frames, which he then wholesaled to independent optometrists.

    LBI’s founder and chairman, Shelly Lehrer, in a shot from the 1980s and at the LBI offices today.
After serving in the U.S. military during the Korean War, Lehrer returned to the eyewear business. He started to take note of the dazzling eyewear that adorned some of Hollywood’s most famous faces, highly ornamental frames produced in France at the time. Lehrer traveled to Oyonnax, where he located a factory, and promptly ordered 100 frames in 10 different models. The order took a year to fill.

As his visits to Europe continued, he learned the language and his custom design work in New York grew along with consumer demand for European-style eyewear. Through years of trial and error, Lehrer trained himself as a master engraver.

In the early 1970s, on a sales trip to Asia, Lehrer saw frames made in Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea and recognized an opportunity. As early as 1971, Lehrer began importing Asian-made optical frames for distribution in the U.S. market. As his son Keith, now CEO of LBI, relates, Lehrer was known as “the Godfather” in Taegu, South Korea, and referred to as “the Cowboy” in Hong Kong. He imported record quantities of frames and set up a sales distribution network around the U.S. Through this effort, he built a powerful team that included Dunn and Bradstreet executive Robert Perry. They were joined by an outside sales force that included such industry notables as Larry Bell, Al Wolfe, Duke Goldberg, Herman Zimmer and Stu Winefsky.

The company stocks nearly 50 different kinds of lenses, including photochromic polycarbonate lenses, and numerous lenses with extended ranges. The case division offers over 100 products.

In 1980, son Chett Lehrer joined in an effort to expand the company’s global activities. Several years later, Chett’s older brother Keith graduated from law school and joined the family firm.

Global expansion continued from Hong Kong into China. In the early 80s, LBI appointed Denny Yu as regional director of Far East operations to oversee the completion of the project that enabled LBI to be the first non-Chinese owned frame factory in the People’s Republic of China.

Located on a 10-acre site in the Gun Lan area, today LBI China employs over 2,000 workers. Branding has developed with the times and LBI’s involvement has increased.

LBI has struck licensing deals for children’s frames branded with the animated character Garfield. In October, 2008, the company debuted a line based on the characters from the mega-popular “Shrek” movies in partnership with Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc. "Shrek is a global brand for us,” said Kerry Phelan, head of worldwide consumer products for the Glendale-based animation company, “so the fact that they match up in all of our top territories and can do this on an almost worldwide basis was important to us.”

Lehrer pointed out, “LBI is the original value provider.”

Several customers chimed in. Doug Barnes, OD, founder and president of the 80-unit Eye Mart Express, said, “The team are straight shooters who have always gone over and above our expectations in terms of product quality and frame design.”

Al Bernstein, president of Arizona’s Nationwide Vision chain, has done business with LBI since 1985. “For nearly 25 years, they have exemplified what you would want, need and expect from a resource,” Bernstein said.

Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers, UK, noted, “We have been delighted to work with LBI since Specsavers began 25 years ago and congratulate them on their 60th anniversary. LBI are excellent supply chain partners.”

--Article from 2020 Magazine, reprinted with permission of Jobson Publishing.


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