Where Art Meets
Virginia store finds success with
high-end style and super service
STORY BY DANIEL P. SMITH
If frames are an artistic expression of a person’s individuality, as Drs. Scott and Becky Mann believe, then it made all the sense in the world for the husband-and-wife team to turn their Christiansburg, VA-based optometry operation into a space befitting that theory.
Owners: Drs. Scott and Becky Mann, Dr. Jon Gudeman
Year opened: 1958; the Manns purchased the practice in 1990
Year renovated: 2005
Area: 4,500 square feet
Designer: John Fulton Associates
Employees: 2 doctors, 8 staff
Top brands: Lafont, Coach, Fendi, Oliver Peoples, Maui Jim
“We want to convey the intersection of art and eyewear in all that we do,” Scott says.
Today, Invision and its 4,500-square foot office continue driving the rebirth of downtown Christiansburg and serving the area’s fashion-conscious individuals’ eyewear needs — though it’s been a long, winding road.
Dr. Henry Stewart opened his namesake optometric practice in downtown Christiansburg — Invision’s forerunner — in 1958. When he retired in 1990, he sold the business to the Manns, native Virginians who met at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry.
At the time, the practice had one staff member and three green leather chairs, a glaring reminder of its roots in the Eisenhower era. Downtown Christiansburg, meanwhile, was a shell of its former self as big box stores outside town continued to quiet Main Street’s once-spirited existence.
For their first decade in business, the Manns steadily built the practice — then called Eye Care Optometric Center — gaining new patients and marketplace credibility in Christiansburg, a town of 22,000 surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In 2002, the Manns started rebranding and changed the practice’s name to Invision, a sharp-sounding, simple-to-recall moniker that didn’t tie it to any specific location or doctor’s name.
“We wanted the brand to be bigger than us and be able to grow easily if we chose,” Scott says.
Altering the name was the beginning of a more ambitious shift.
In 2005, the Manns launched a $400,000 interior renovation. “We’d outgrown the space and it was time to upgrade the brand,” Scott says.
Invision was soon a construction zone as boring glass shelves and wall-to-wall carpeting gave way to the Manns’ vision for a boutique-like space designed after an upscale restaurant or spa.
Crews cut into the second-level flooring to create an atrium-like feel, surrounding the opening with custom-made nickel railings, while a new, eight-foot skylight, 30-feet above the ground, showered the space with natural light.
“Frames display better in a cheerful environment,” he says.
The renovation also included the restoration of the space’s century-old oak floors, consistent materials (marble, nickel and nothing plastic), chair rails and cheerful yellow hues.
“Sherwin Williams Cachet Cream and Humble Gold,” Scott says of the oft-mentioned wall colors. “They look great with the light-colored wood and lighting, but don’t overpower the frames.”
During the renovation, the Manns considered every detail from the whimsy of an eight-foot tall giraffe peering over the operation and original artwork from local artist Jeannie O’Neill featuring women wearing funky eyeglasses to custom-made, backlit duratrans and floating glass shelves suspended by cable wires that invite customers to touch the shop’s nearly 1,200 frames.
“It’s very sophisticated and put together, some people even say it reminds them of an art gallery,” Scott says. “But it’s also very comfortable and cozy — upscale without being stuffy.”
In the first year following the renovation, Invision captured a “nice increase” in business. In year two, however, the jump was significant.
“The renovation completely changed our demographic,” Scott says. “Before, we weren’t capturing the upscale market. After the renovation, they found us.”
Invision’s charge has continued in subsequent years led by a veteran-laden team that delivers high-level service alongside a curated lineup of frames and custom options courtesy of on-site lens edging. Scott, in fact, calls service a competitive advantage at Invision, which boasts an average review of 4.9 on both Google and Facebook from more than 100 combined customers.
“Our staff has bought into the idea that world-class service makes the difference, and when you combine that with a nice setting, it’s a telling reason for people to visit,” says Scott, adding that Invision’s second location in Salem, directed by business partner Dr. Jon Gudeman, carries the same sensibilities and look.
In 2015, the Manns overhauled the Christiansburg building’s exterior. In addition to fresh paint, a trio of seven-foot metal eyeglass sculptures were installed on the building’s brick. Crafted by local artist Dave Wertz and painted in Invision’s orange, green and black colors, they have enlivened downtown Christiansburg and frequently appear on social media.
“We’re not the type to settle for good enough,” Scott says. “There’s always something that can be improved.”
PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About Invision
1. Big hearts. The Manns, as well as business partner Dr. Jon Gudeman, have all made numerous trips to in-need nations around the globe to provide glasses and vision checks. During a recent trip to Nicaragua, for instance, the Manns handed out more than 400 pairs of reading glasses.
2. Fresh scents. Though sight certainly takes center stage at Invision, the Manns work to create a pleasing environment for all of the senses, including smell. To that end, the office receives fresh flowers from a local florist at regular intervals and also pumps a controlled lemongrass scent into its office.
3. Survey says. The Manns have long been survey junkies, and regularly ask patients to provide formal feedback. Later, the Manns read those surveys aloud at staff meetings. “This lets us know how we’re doing and keeps us all on our toes,” Scott says. Of note, 99 percent of Invision’s more than 1,300 surveyed customers would refer the practice to a friend.
4. No fuss returns. In addition to an 18-month warranty, Invision also offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If customers do not love their eyewear, Invision promises to remake them, replace them or refund the purchase price. “If customers are not happy, then I don’t want to keep their money,” Scott says.
5. Happy matters. Within a few weeks of each eyewear purchase, Invision staff calls patients to make sure they are completely happy with their eyewear. These “Happy Calls,” Scott says, increase Invision’s touch points with customers and highlight the business’ commitment to going above and beyond.
FINE STORY: A REWARDING CONTEST
Last December, Invision’s “Give the Gift of Sight” Facebook contest invited the public to nominate someone deserving of a high-end pair of glasses. A woman named Lisa nominated her brother Larry. Though Larry faced declining physical abilities due to multiple sclerosis and his own hardships, Lisa called him an encouraging force for others.
In a week’s time, Larry accumulated more than 1,000 votes to win the contest. He selected classic frames with a digital, freeform progressive lens. Invision also provided a super hydrophobic anti-glare treatment to reduce glare and afford Larry even further improved vision.
“Anytime you can help someone with something you do, it’s rewarding,” Scott says.