America's Finest: Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear

America's Finest optical businesses Eyepolis

South Carolina business blossoms in new digs


This article originally appeared in the November-December 2015 edition of INVISION.

Q U I C K   F A C T S

LOCATION: North Charleston, SC
OWNER: Dr. Kelley Perkins
AREA: 1,900 square feet
TOP BRANDS: Garrett Leight California Optical, Bevel, Ahlem, OVVO, 141

For Dr. Kelley Perkins and his full-service optometry practice, Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear, there’s no better place to be than Park Circle.

The up-and-coming district in North Charleston, SC, is a progressive one, attracting folks with a passion for supporting the local creative class. Chefs, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs form the community’s economic backbone, launching small businesses including a farm-to-table pizza restaurant, yoga studio and independent theater, all within walking distance of the practice. It’s exactly the environment that Perkins, a Park Circle resident himself, wanted when he moved his business to the area in 2014.

“Park Circle is a magnet for younger people who are into arts, food and beverage, and things that are more in line with what I wanted to do from an optometry practice standpoint,” he says. “I wanted to cater to people who actually cared about how their glasses looked and how they said something about who they are.” It’s a dramatic change of scenery for the business, which spent the previous eight years located in Moncks Corner, a community 25 miles north with an aging population. Moving to Park Circle freed Perkins’ imagination. He could make his practice look and feel the way he always envisioned it, though having full creative dominion over design and layout meant making a big investment.

Exterior of Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear

Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear has quickly established a strong brand via signage that speaks to its new neighborhood.
That happened in 2013 when he bought and began renovating a 1,900-square-foot building built in the 1940s. Perkins installed windows and skylights and incorporated a new color scheme. The result is a gray exterior that he says is “nondescript,” yet it “doesn’t look like any other building in the area.”

Inside, concrete flooring, reclaimed wood and vintage furniture create an aesthetic that Perkins describes as both “rustic and industrial.” The cabinets are hand-made, as are the mirrors. Altogether, it’s an artisanal, modern space that he designed to make people feel like they are in a Park Circle living room.

“When patients walk in, they’re greeted with music and have a nice sofa to sit on,” Perkins explains. “It’s a cool moment when you notice two strangers on opposite sides of the sofa talking like they’re old friends. I think that says something about the environment we set.”

Perkins took a less traditional path to this point in his career, compared to some of his optometrist peers. He spent seven years as an optician — first in the United States Navy, then later with LensCrafters and other chains — before graduating in 2005 from the New England College of Optometry. The decision to become an eye doctor, he says, came after he felt like he had reached his limit as an optician. “I wanted to complete the picture where I could diagnose diseases, give prescriptions, and also help (patients) if they needed glasses. It was my journey to becoming an all-around eye guy,” he says.

Furniture at Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear
Perkins Eyecare features a Mission-style dresser used to display sunglasses.
Perkins credits his military experience for his development as an eyecare professional. While working as an optician in the Navy, he learned to make complex prescriptions for everyone, whether seaman, admiral or some rank in between.

Today, his practice can solve many different problems. Its services run the gamut, from medical eye exams to Lasik to visual therapy sessions. Perkins plans to learn orthokeratology, which uses specially designed contact lenses to reshape the cornea and reduce myopia, among other refractive errors. “I have to get my feet wet with Ortho-K,” he says. “I think that will be something that every doctor will need — some kind of specialty to keep the boat afloat, so to speak.”

While Perkins handles the medical end of the business, he relies on his brother Eric — the practice’s only other full-time employee — to complete the customer experience. “I trust (Eric) as far as frame styling and handling the front of the office,” Perkins says. “Eventually we’ll bring on more staff, but we’ll keep the same friends-and-family vibe.”

“This is a tight-knit community where word spreads fast,” he says. “I think customer service above everything else is what’s going to either sink your ship or sail it.” And as a former Navy officer, he would know.

Five Cool Things About
Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear

Dr. Kelley Perkins of Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear
Dr. Kelley Perkins worked as an optician before going to optometry school to become “an all-around eye guy.”
1. Independent Streak: Don’t expect to hear Justin Bieber blaring through the speakers while you’re perusing frames. Perkins is a fan of indie rock, so patrons are treated to the sounds of Radiohead and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, to name a couple of his favorites.

2. Perks by Perkins: For non-insured folks, the practice offers its own vision benefit plan designed to make its eyecare accessible to everyone. The plan gives a 30 percent discount on comprehensive eye exams as well as a 30 percent discount on any prescription frame and lens purchase.

3. Artsy Vibe: To help connect his business with the greater community, Perkins offers up the walls of his practice for local artists to hang — and sell — their paintings and other creations. Down the road, he anticipates hosting revolving art shows.

4. Fine Furnishings: When he’s not examining patients, Perkins enjoys shopping for vintage furniture with his wife. You’ll see the fruits of their labor on the floor of his practice, which showcases several mid-century modern pieces as well as a Mission-style dresser that’s used as a display for sunglasses.

5. Sweet Goodbye: Perkins doesn’t do much advertising, but he does believe in making a lasting impression on his patients. For anyone who makes a significant purchase such as a luxury frame or a year’s supply of contacts, they walk out the door with a local handmade chocolate bar (sea salt and caramel flavor; see photo below) that bears the practice’s logo.

Eyewear and chocolate from Perkins

F I N E   S T O R Y


“We had a patient who had been in the same pair of glasses for four or five years, and she had come in with a certain style of frame in mind. We had to slowly coax her into trying on different frames and different looks, and she finally settled on a look that was nowhere what she had envisioned herself wearing, so she picked up her glasses and was excited about it,” Perkins recalls. “Then she shows up three weeks later, and she’s got a whole new outfit, a new hairstyle — she did a complete makeover. It totally gave her a new sense of self. We didn’t have to point it out, but we knew it was because she got new glasses. Eyewear has the power to help people’s self-esteem. That resonated with me.”

Perkins Eyecare + Eyewear