Looking to the future
By Deb Silverthorn
A&A Optical Company, the dream and reality of three generations of the Liener family, is celebrating 50 years of framing better eyesight around the world.
Arriving in Dallas in 1967, Alexander Liener of blessed memory moved three months ahead of his family to work for another optical company. Once he realized that things would work out in Texas, he sent for his wife, Agnes, and children, and the future began.
“My husband said, ‘If we’re going to work this hard, we’re going to do it for ourselves,’” said Agnes Liener. They started planning for their own company, which came to fruition in 1971. “He was on the road and I worked in the office,” said Agnes. She, like her husband, was born in Hungary and brought to the United States by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, now HIAS. The two, who met on a blind date and were married 12 weeks later, enjoyed 60 years of partnership, in every way, before his passing in 2018.
A&A Optical now has 65 employees and headquarters in Carrollton. The company provides 10 eyewear collections — for children and adults — to independent eyecare professionals, optometrists, ophthalmologists and eyecare retailers throughout Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Mexico, South America and the United States.
Robert Liener, who remembers making road trips with his father when he was 6, joined the family business full time, in 1981. It was just weeks before his senior year at the University of Texas was to begin, and he realized the family business needed him. Working alongside his parents, and now his son, Aaron, he couldn’t be prouder.
“I’ve always loved the challenges every day — new sales issues, new design concepts and new customer issues — always something new to do, to learn and to accomplish,” said Robert.
“This many years later, the business is the same and different — especially this last year,” said Robert. “In-person visits are different, and conventions and expos have disappeared, but thank God the business hasn’t suffered. We just keep putting resources into whatever is ‘next’ to keep us strong. Fifty years is a huge milestone and my goal is to have A&A celebrate another 50.”
The three generations appreciate the lessons they’ve learned from one another over five decades. For Agnes, the most important thing she and her husband believed was in creating relationships with their customers. When he traveled, Alex was often invited to stay at customers’ homes, rather than hotels.
Despite the many changes in commerce, what hasn’t changed is the priority to connect and relate to customers, Robert said. And Aaron also maintains that philosophy.
“I’m finding customers, and making friends with them, in cities I’ve never heard of. It’s a big world and lots has changed but never the voice of my Papa and Mama reminding me of the value of relationships,” said Aaron, who is now working in many areas of the business including client visits to Alaska three times a year and East Texas almost monthly. “Going above and beyond is about maintaining a small family business feel while growing all the time.
“Whether circling prospects on a paper map, or finding them online, whether it is calling in, faxing in, or pushing orders through now on a cellphone, it’s all the same.”
In addition to Robert, Agnes and Alex are parents of Tova Klein (Rabbi Lazer), of Los Angeles, California. Both Robert and Tova graduated from Akiba Academy. Through the years, the family has found their Jewish homes at congregations Shearith Israel, Tiferet Israel and Shaare Tefilla. The children of Robert and Liz Liener, Aaron, Benjamin and Sarah, are Akiba Academy graduates as well.
“Alex and I came from a different country, with hard starts to life, but we dreamed for the stars,” said Agnes, “and we did it!”