2016 America's Finest 3rd Place: Urban Optics


San Luis Obispo, CA
URL: urbanoptics.com
OPENED: 1990
AREA: 1,600 square feet
TOP BRANDS: l.a. Eyeworks, Vinylize, Garrett Leight (GLCO), Jeremy Tarian
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/UrbanOptics TWITTER: @UrbanOpticsSLO1
TUMBLR: urbanoptics.tumblr.com



STORY by Deirdre Carroll


This article originally appeared in the August 2016 edition of INVISION.

About 20 years ago, Dr. David Schultz, aka Dr. Dave, greeted a disappointed elderly patient. Her daughter had told her the story of the doctor in short pants. That was the last day Dr. Dave made the mistake of wearing long pants. Today, he is known as “The Man in Short Pants” and you’ll even see him at Vision Expo East, in New York, in the snow, in his shorts.

It’s that kind of commitment, that has kept Urban Optics, formerly Keep in Contact, thriving for 25 years. In 1990, Dr. Dave and his wife, Laurie, opened cold as Keep in Contact with the mission of providing comprehensive eyecare in a relaxed environment to their community. In 1995, they moved to their current location, a bigger space with better visibility, and in 2000, they changed the name to Urban Optics. The location and name may have changed but the mission never has.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned as a retailer is to never stand still,” says Dr. Dave. “Once you are complacent, the competition gains ground. Develop a mission, stay true, but evolve. Evolution has helped us survive 25 years. Starting with only two independent frame lines, we were told we didn’t stand a chance if we didn’t conform.Not only did we not conform, but we have pushed our frame selection to the edge,” he says.

Originally, the only two brands were l.a.Eyeworks and Alain Mikli, but they have stayed loyal to independent brands to this day. Today, they still carry l.a.Eyeworks, and continue to search out the greatest independent frame lines, like Vinylize and Zero G. As they’ve evolved so have the brands they carry, they’ve switched generations from Larry Leight at Oliver Peoples to Garrett Leight (GLCO) and Alain Mikli to his son Jeremy Tarian.

It’s not surprising that Urban Optics has embraced the next generation of independent brands while remaining true to its original mission; it is a solid metaphor for their business as well.They have patients they have been seeing for 25 years, one man started coming to them at 25 and is now 50, he’s been a patient for half his life. But San Luis Obispo, with its population of 45,000, is a college town and has a very young patient population. Half of their exams are new patients, and they do a healthy internet referral business thanks to Google.

It’s because their evolution also included embracing change in the optical, technology and social communities. In, 2012 they entered a reevaluation period and hired a marketing firm outside of optical to assess their entire image. They restructured their website, developed a new logo and color schemes, and enhanced all of their social media.

“We also have stayed in tune with technology,” Dr. Dave says. “We computerized in the early ’90s, we have continued to develop and upgrade our systems.”

They started the conversion to EHR four years ago, recently updated all their software and hardware in 2015 and now handle the majority of their patient communication via text.

“When we started doing text, people were really into it,” adds Hanna Schultz, Urban Optics office manager and Dr. Dave’s daughter. “Especially when their glasses are ready. Sometimes people wouldn’t get their email and they’d wonder where their glasses were, but people always have their phones on them.”

All of this has contributed a great deal to the success of Urban Optics but at the end of the day, the reason patients and family still travel from all over even though others carry the same brands is because of the relationships the practice has built. “One of the main reasons they come to us is because of Doc,” Hanna says. “He is the best form of marketing.”


2016 America's Finest 3rd Place: Urban Optics


Urban Optics is well-known for their epic themed parties. Whether it’s the holidays, anniversaries or trunk shows, they hardly need an excuse to throw a party, even though at many of their parties they don’t even sell product. “We simply like to thank our customers, patients, friends and community for always supporting us,” says Dr. Dave.

Dr. Dave has a wine cellar full of thousands of bottles of vintage wines. It is one of the reasons their parties are so popular. He also has a great relationship with local ophthalmologists whom he handdelivers themed bottles of wine to around the holidays.

3. ’90S KIDS:
One of their most recent parties was their 25th anniversary. There was a ’90s theme with a DJ, 1990s wine from the doc’s cellar and commemorative wine and beer glasses for guests. The practice’s pioneer patients received Urban Optics gift baskets.

Urban Optics is a family affair. In addition to Hanna, Dr. Dave’s daughter, who manages the office, the other two full-time employees, Susan Wilky, and her daughter, Andrea Pettis, have been with the practice 23 years and 11 years, respectively.

This past Vision Expo West, Dr. Dave was inspired by a class about the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotels and their “legendary service.” Dr. Dave and Hanna gured out how they could take the Ritz-Carlton strategy and make it their own. The Urban Optics Service Strategy was developed with three components: their motto, credo, and specifics. Specifics include the smell when you walk in, the music playing, calling every customer by his first name and the hand written note they get when they pick up their glasses. All employees read and agree to the Service Strategy which is reviewed at every staff meeting.

what the judges say

Their story of reinvention and progress is a powerful statement about their dedication to retailing. Their focus on independent labels is a strong differentiator. It’s also quite gratifying to hear a small business owner talk about how culture is an essential element of brand.

There is so much coolness to this place from the decor, to so much natural lighting, sensational displays and keeping it all independent eyewear since opening. Awesome social media presence posting the real people who wear your glasses.

I can completely understand how after just one eye exam with Dr. Schultz in short pants I would be a customer forever. Love this place. P.S. Nice legs!