New Balance
in Bakersfield

ODs open two stylish shops, see their families again

 STORY BY JULIE FANSELOW

The writing was on the eye chart: Drs. Son Nguyen and Stan C. Yang were already working six days a week in a leased space at one of the nation’s top-producing Target Optical locations, and Sunday office hours were on the horizon, too. 

Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center
Bakersfield, CA

Owners: Dr. Son Nguyen, Dr. Stan C. Yang
URL: bakersfieldeyecare.com
Opened: 2012 (plus a second location in 2016)
Area: 1,800 square feet
Employees: 10 full-time
Top brands: Etnia Barcelona, Face à Face, Matsuda, NW77th, Salt, Zenka
Facebook: facebook.com/bakersfieldeyecare
Instagram: @bakersfieldeyecare

But the duo had an escape plan. For several years, they’d been working on the side to launch their own business, Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center. 

When their second location opened in 2016, Yang and Nguyen were ready to break their big-box chains, fully embrace independent eyecare, and — with the help of optical manager Lorie McBroom (who also worked with them at Target) — introduce a bevy of independent eyewear brands to their mid-sized California city.  

Bakersfield Eye Care’s two locations are each a short drive from the Target where Nguyen and Yang first forged their alliance. In 2012, they signed on as one of the first tenants at a brand-new shopping center in Seven Oaks, an affluent master-planned community on the city’s southwestern edge. “Our practice is the furthest west of any other office in town with minimal retail competition in the immediate vicinity,” says Nguyen. “We felt that we could fill a niche for those neighborhood residents by carrying unique high-quality eyewear that could not be found elsewhere in Bakersfield.”

Take Matsuda, one of the first high-end lines they added. Its rep wasn’t familiar with Bakersfield, but another salesperson — who’d already brought Etnia Barcelona and Garrett Leight to the shop — vouched for what Bakersfield Eye Care was up to. By the time the Matsuda rep finally visited in person, “we had already sold through most of our Matsuda bought at Expo, including a show-stopping frame priced over $1,500,” says McBroom. After joking that he’d driven through “a whole bunch of dairy cows” to find the business, the rep added that Matsuda’s website would soon tout the brand’s availability “in New York, Paris, Milan and Bakersfield.”

Some optical shops struggle to pull off even a few trunk shows each year, but Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center has staged an eyewear showcase nearly every month in 2017. “We wanted to introduce independent brands to our community, and we thought the best way to do that would be for them to see entire collections,” notes McBroom, who contacted vendors in late 2016 to get them on the calendar. The practice sent an email announcing the full line-up to its entire customer base, then followed up with social media posts and targeted emails as each show drew near.  

A bicoastal brand show in August featured both Moscot from New York City and Garrett Leight California Optical, while Barton Perreira is on deck for December. Not every event showcases top-end eyewear: One trunk show teamed with an adoption event for Bakersfield Eye Care’s favorite local cause, Marley’s Mutts. The business donated $25 to Marley’s Mutts for every NW77th frame sold that day, and it also supports the animal rescue charity’s annual Paws & Pearls gala.

The doctors’ declaration of independence has boosted their ability to maximize their individual skill sets. Since Yang has worked in ophthalmology surgical offices, he is taking the lead in expanding the practice’s medical optometry offerings — for example, bringing a new optical coherence tomography unit to the new location on the northwest side of town so the doctors can manage glaucoma, macular degeneration, and ocular surface diseases. (Both docs are certified in glaucoma care.) Meanwhile, Nguyen has accounting and payroll experience plus tech savvy; he maintains the practice website and designed an app that allows people to schedule an exam and fill out patient forms before they arrive. 

Both Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center locations are open two nights a week. “That was purely a business decision to accommodate more patients and to help us stand apart from other local private optometry practices,” says Nguyen. But aside from the first Saturday of each month (when the trunk shows take place too), the doctors and their staff have reclaimed two-day weekends. “This is one of the main reasons we wanted to go into private practice,” adds Yang, “to have flexibility in our schedule to allow for a more balanced work and family life.” 


PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)


5 Cool Things About Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center

1. Lounge vibe. Dr. Yang hand-picked the round couch in the reception area, and the doctors’ wives — Irene Nguyen (a former graphic designer) and Olivia Yang — helped design the buildout for both locations. From Pandora playing to a coffee bar, Bakersfield Eye Care is a casually comfortable place to be. 

2. Fab lab. The new second location features an onsite lens lab with a dedicated employee to keep it humming, saving turn-around time and money for the practice and patients. 

3. Go team. Staff members take turns with the title “CEO of Fun,” and they definitely like to play together. A Fitbit challenge this fall featured massages for the winners and dinner and volleyball at McBroom’s house for participants. “I’ve been in optical for over 30 years now and it’s been such a pleasure to work here because of the amount of practice pride our employees have,” she says.  

4. Full bench. With 10 full-time opticians on staff, there’s rarely a wait for help finding stylish eyewear at either location. Says Yang, “We want to make sure patients feel like they’re taken care of at all times.”

5. Habla Español. Bakersfield Eye Care has several employees who speak Spanish, including Yang, who was born in Taiwan but grew up in Argentina. That’s a big plus in Kern County, where more than a third of the population claim Spanish as their first language.

 
FINE STORY: A CALCULATED RISK

Bakersfield Eye Care has tried a few colorful collections that didn’t do well, so adding Etnia Barcelona felt like a bit of a gamble. “I said, ‘I love the brand, but it would be amazing if we could have 90 days to try it out to see how it would work.’ And the rep said, ‘Let’s make that happen,’” says Lorie McBroom. The line was a hit, “so it’s worked out for us as well as for our vendor, just to ask for the things that you want.” McBroom adds that she looks to reps as a great resource for recommendations beyond their own brands, too. Face à Face, Masunaga, and Salt are other lines they’ve brought in as a result. 

 
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

I get the feeling that these might be the nicest people in the business. They are very staff and team oriented, which is the ballgame! Creating a CEO of Fun for staff events is a great idea. — Robert Bell, EyeCoach, San Francisco, CA

Love the focus on making a difference in their community. — James and Dr. Laura Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care and Cathedral Eye Care

I like the cause marketing because it seems genuine. Store looks really good. I like the use of lighting inside and out. —Jim Sepanek, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, DeRigo REM

 

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2017 edition of INVISION.

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