Blount County Eyecare Center

Doing It Their Way,
For Their Community

Tennessee eyecare family brings a do-it-yourself
philosophy to every business challenge they face

 STORY BY VICTOR PAUL ALVAREZ

The folks at Blount County Eye Center (BCEC) are fond of saying “the best is yet to come.”

We believe them. But, given their incredible success and strong-willed vision, that’s a tall order. They’ve been part of the Blount County community for more than 50 years, they employ 21 people, and in 2015 the Tantums built a new 8,900-square-foot location with a “craftsman boutique” interior featuring 30-foot ceilings, exposed trusses and reclaimed lumber.

Drs. Lloyd and Will Tantum, OD
Blount County Eye Center (BCEC)
Maryville, TN

OWNERS: Drs. Lloyd and Will Tantum, OD
WEBSITE: blounteye.com
OPENED: 1965 (Renovated in 2015 for $2.1 million.)
AREA: 8,900 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 21
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/BlountCountyEyeCenter
TWITTER: twitter.com/blounteye

It’s hard to believe they’ll be able to top that. But if anyone can do it, it will be the Tantums.

“Natural lighting was used as much as possible to get away from a room full of LED lighting. The floors are all polished concrete and there is very little ‘branding’ of frame lines. The focus is instead on their beauty and quality, not the brand logo on their temple,” says Dr. Will Tantum.

But it’s not all aesthetics and hipster-inspired, reclaimed Americana. Says Dr. Will: “We also have over 25 TVs throughout the facility connecting earth with technology!”

And BCEC has the substance to match the style. It now also houses the region’s only full-service vision therapy clinic and kid’s clinic — BCEC 4 Kids. The Tantums also provide eye exams and glasses to any child in need through the Family Resources program in Blount County.

Oh, a little word on the pronunciation of “Blount.” Despite the spelling, it’s pronounced “Blunt.” It may not seem that words matter to a family-owned behemoth like BCEC. But they do. In fact, words are the secret of the Tantum’s success.

“Our ‘marketing’ approach is pretty cool. We don’t waste our time with papers, TV, billboards or fliers,” says Dr. Will. “Instead we focus 100 percent of our efforts on word-of-mouth growth. And it works! When you put all of your energy into the people in your office they market for you.”

The Tantums give every staff member paid time off each year to do mission and volunteer work internationally and locally. Their most beloved reward is seeing the staff represent BCEC through love and service to others. Making this fiscally possible requires a “lean and mean” approach to materials, web presence and office decorations. It’s old school DIY. Most of their decorations were handmade by Dr. Will. Almost all BCEC marketing items and website content was also created by Dr. Will in his alleged “free time.”

“Our business structure itself is pretty fun. Dr. Will serves as the practice director, overseeing and leading operations. From there, we have a leadership team made up of the amazing members of our staff,” says Dr. Lloyd.

“Dr. Will and the leadership team work really closely together on a daily basis to continue to innovate eyecare and optical. The coordinators and team leaders then work side-by-side with the staff to ensure that we’re operating like a well-oiled machine.”

So, their success is about people, community and innovation. Such an easy philosophy to espouse, one that looks good on paper; but remember: the Tantums know words are only as powerful as their relevance.

“Being a part of our community is paramount. We try with all that we have to support the community. But you absolutely have to be relevant to thrive,” he says.

“You have to be a part of the community and in-tune with the culture. People are eager to support local businesses that they connect with. If you put your focus into your staff, patients and products more than pinching pennies each day it pays off ten-fold.”

Right? Right. For a family-owned, community-focused shop the Tantums have quietly embraced what can only be seen as a punk rock attitude to success.

“You absolutely have to stay true to who you are as a business owner/practice. In an age of cookie-cutter practices, take a chance and be who you are. Let everything about your practice reflect who you truly are,” Dr. Will says.

“Never be afraid to do what others tell you won’t work or that doesn’t make sense to them. If you have a dream, make it a reality!”


5 Cool Things About Blount County Eye Center

1. Every day is Earth Day. BCEC is committed to sustainability and they keep that in mind every day. They carry frame lines and products that are environmentally conscious, while also supporting companies that support social causes.

2. One for one and all for one. Their Eye Love Wear & Share Program began as a partnership with a clinic in rural Guatemala and has evolved into an in-house, one-for-one program in Guatemala, Haiti and Blount County.

3. The kids are all right. The practice provides eye exams and glasses to any child in need through the Family Resources program in Blount County.

4. Do you want eyes with that? The Optical Shoppe has the region’s only drive-through window for quick glasses/contact/supplement pick-up and drop-off.

5. Working there is like a talent show.  BCEC received more than 3,600 applications in one month. “Spend five minutes here and you’ll want to be a part of the team as well.”


PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

Blount County Eye Center’s new 8,900-square-foot location.

Getting Out of the Office for Fun and Profit

In 2016 BCEC launched BCEConnect to entrench the practice in the community. They go to local nursing homes monthly to fix glasses and spend time with residents. They also have a concierge service for local businesses to clean/adjust frames for free. “Ultimately, it’s all part of how we chose to market our practice: Service to others yields long-term relationships and business. The best part is it’s fun to get out of the office and experience new places and new people,” says Dr. Will.

 

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of INVISION.



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