One last hurrah: Vision Expo East celebrates last year in New York

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The Vision Council's CEO Ashley Mills previews a nostalgic year for Vision Expo East, as it celebrates and looks back on almost 40 years in New York.

There is a lot to be excited about for the upcoming Vision Expo East event, according to The Vision Council CEO Ashley Mills. 2024 marks the last year that the event will take place in New York, which is slated to run from March 14 to 17. 2025 will be the event's first year in Florida, a decision made in order to appeal to market, consumer, and eye care provider demands. Mills sat down with Optometry Times to discuss what she thinks will be this year's highlights at the event.

Video transcript

Editor's note - This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Jordana Joy:

Hi, everyone. I'm here today with Ashley Mills, CEO of The Vision Council. She has a total of over 10 years with the company, which is gearing up for its 2024 Vision Expo East to be held from March 14 to the 17th in New York City. So thank you very much for taking the time to chat today.

Ashley Mills:

Thank you for asking me.

Joy:

Awesome. So tell me a little bit about The Vision Council and how you guys are feeling about Vision Expo East's last year in New York, are there any special commemorative events that you're looking forward to?

Mills:

We're absolutely thrilled. We always look forward to Vision Expo and we're so proud to be a part of this show, so I'd love to start by thanking our exhibitors for supporting Vision Expo. It's not widely known, but just a moment to explain: Vision Expo is how The Vision Council funds everything that we do and support promoting growth for the entire optical industry. So when you exhibit at the show, when you attend the show, when you take CE the show, that goes directly back into our work on Capitol Hill, and with consumer awareness and with data and research, all in the spirit of promoting a stronger, bigger, more relevant optical community.

Joy:

Awesome.

Mills:

So we're always excited. In terms of this last hurrah in New York next month, we're thrilled. It's going to be incredibly celebratory, it's a very commemorative event. We've almost been in New York for 40 years. The first Vision Expo East in New York City was in 1986, so there certainly is a feeling of nostalgia and pride going into this event, and there's also a lot to celebrate. Several of our exhibitors are commemorating milestone anniversaries, so it's a great time to really look at how far the industry has come and how these companies have grown and changed and the mark that they've made. For example, I mean, Clear Vision Optical is celebrating 75 years in business at Vision Expo East this year, so stop by and see what color David Friedfeld is going to dye his hair. It's always a surprise until we get there. LTD is also celebrating 75 years Coburn 70 years, and 20/20 magazine is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year at Vision Expo. We have an incredible activation put together that's a retrospective of just how far eyewear and optical has come over the last 50 years. Fashion, technology, the product, like what makes the eyewear, all of that has changed so much, so that'll be really cool. So several anniversaries, and just a spirit of celebration and I think gratitude for a great run.

Joy:

Wonderful. It's a great accomplishment. So could you elaborate a little bit more about what has changed about Expo East in the nearly 40 years that it's been running?

Mills:

Oh, gosh, well, the industry has changed so much, and so Vision Expo has evolved with it. I mean, just think how differently business is done now. So 1986, you were writing orders on the show floor and faxing them back to your HQ. So now obviously that is different, but we've seen so much in the materials that make eyewear lens technology fashion. The fact that vision care is really health care, there's so much on our show floor now, that really speaks to the health care side of the equation. And then of course, there's the technology side as well and all of that will be on full display.

Joy:

Beautiful. So what inspired the move to Florida and how do you hope that this move sparks further growth for future Vision Expos.

Mills:

So like I said, we started in New York City in 1986, and the industry has changed so much. Think about how buying is done, think about how sales are done, think about the kind of reach exhibitors need to have. So we've been talking with our exhibitors and our attendees for years, and so we've heard time and time again, that it's time for a different experience. We really think that we can deliver that. We're working really closely with the Orlando Convention Center and the visitors bureau to do something completely different experientially. So just think about brand activations, and the parties and the show and the education and all of the events, the awards, the the networking, the parties, everything that takes place, currently now spread out all across New York City will now be all so much more easily accessible in a very central location in Orlando, and that's like that's one piece of the puzzle. There are so many other things that we really look forward to doing differently. But the real spirit of the move was an answer to our customers feedback.

Joy:

For sure. So what are some exciting vendors and presentations to look forward to at this year's event?

Mills:

There are a lot. We have our NOW Pavilion, if you haven't seen it, this is the third year we have the NOW pavilion. It is part eyewear, part art exhibition, and part fashion show all in 1 activation that is carefully curated. All exhibitors are invited to submit frames and then they are put together in groupings around the hottest trends that we're seeing right now in 2024. We've had already 270 contributions already. Everyone's encouraged to participate, but they're curated into what the trends are for 2024 and it's a pretty dazzling display. So I'm very excited to see that.

Our exhibitors continue to tell us every day of different activations launches, and events that they have in their booths, and I would love to highlight a few: L'Amy America is launching a collaboration with two gentlemen who go by the name of Two Blind Brothers. They are obviously blind, but they have a fashion and accessories company where the proceeds go to raise money to cure blindness. They will be in the booth and L'Amy will be showing this new product line. I got to preview it last month, it's gorgeous and it the designs, the colors, the way it's packaged, everything has relevance to the mission of Two Blind Brothers and curing blindness. So that will be there and they will be in the booth and the proceeds that L'Amy realizes from that product mine, at least some of them, will go to that charity. So very cool, worth seeing, worth engaging with, and I'm really proud that it's happening at our show.

Hoya will have a DJ in their booth throughout the show, so high mood, high energy, and a lot of new lens technologies that they're showcasing. I just got to preview the Essilor Luxottica booth this week and among many, many things, including raffles and swag and athletes, this will be the first time the optical community gets to experience the nuance product that just launched at Consumer Electronics Show. So definitely a very hot technology and a really much anticipated product hitting the market and the first time that the eyewear industry and eye care professionals can see it. So that is also very exciting.

Joy:

Right. So what do you hope that eye care providers get to gain from this event?

Mills:

So the value of Vision Expo and the reason that we're so incredibly unique is that this is the place, like this is where the optical community, every single part of it, comes together. And that connection is powerful, so yes, you are going to see everything new and beautiful, and all of the latest products. It's all at Vision Expo, we'll all be there, and yes, you will get over 300 hours of education for your entire practice. We have a strong optometry program, and our partners at Opticon have put together another great opticianry program. So CE is also there. But that connectivity and that sense of being part of something so big and so relevant, that's what I hope people walk away with. I mean, you'll be dazzled by what you see on the show floor, but hopefully also really encouraged by the strength of the industry you're a part of.

Joy:

Super. Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't touched on?

Mills:

I would encourage everyone who's not registered to go to east.visionexpo.com and register there's still time and also to download the app because what I've shared with you is what I know about today, but there's so much more happening and things continue to be added every day going into the show.

Joy:

Super, okay. Well thank you again very much for taking the time to chat today. Appreciate it.

Mills:

Thank you.

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