America's Finest optical businesses U See LA Optometry

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of INVISION.


Q U I C K   F A C T S

LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
WEBSITE: studenthealth.ucla.edu
OWNER: The Ashe Center
FOUNDED: 2001
NEW LOCATION: 2014
AREA: 1,600 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time, 9 part-time
TOP BRANDS: Ray-Ban, Pro Design, Armani, Tory Burch, Persol, TOMS
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/uclastudenthealth

When UCLA students head back to class this month, the Ackerman Union will be one of their first stops. There, they can buy their textbooks and T-shirts, grab a coffee with friends, and maybe play some video games. Since last summer, they can even get an eye exam.

It’s a big and welcome change for the campus-based clinic and optical shop, previously squeezed into a 400-square-foot space on the second floor of the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. When it first opened in 2001 to provide vision care to UCLA students at the Ashe Center, the clinic was simply called Ashe Optometry, and it was one of many offerings available at the full-service medical facility that you don’t always find on other campuses. But students often had to wait as long as six to eight weeks to see one of the two eye doctors — and once they had a prescription, their selection was limited.

The interior of U See LA Optometry
Taking inspiration from the Apple Store, the shop’s neutral background with clean, contemporary lines appeals to the student demographic.
Two years ago, the idea of providing care to faculty and staff, as well as the local community, became a possibility. “We saw the potential, but we didn’t have enough space in our building,” says John Bollard, chief administrative officer for the Ashe Center. “We couldn’t add more optometrists or opticians, or broaden our retail space, so we got the idea that we would rent space on campus and become a retail operation.”

So last July, the clinic set up shop in the student union building. With the move came a cool new name — U See LA Optometry — and plenty of space to serve students, faculty, staff and even the public with an expanded menu of eyecare and eyewear.

The new spot is not only more convenient, but quadruple the size of the former office. “A student can get an exam between classes and come back to get their glasses or contacts,” says optometry manager Jim Kearns. “You’ll see that a lot because they virtually live here (on campus) and we’re part of the community.”

Contact lenses are big among the clinic’s young clientele, with about 80 percent fitted for them. But eyewear sells well, too, and after polling students, faculty and staff on their preferred brands, U See LA expanded its selections from about 300 frames to more than 700 with Ray-Ban and Pro Design among the most popular.

Taking inspiration from the Apple Store, the shop’s neutral background with clean, contemporary lines appeals to the student demographic. Wall-mount displays showcase a mix of zyl frames and sunglasses, while freestanding display tables offer a smaller selection of metal frames. The shop also stocks plenty of frames that will work well for the many customers of Asian heritage among the international clientele.

By adding two new doctors for a total of four, U See LA shortened the wait time for an exam to two weeks. In addition to the student health plan, U See LA now accepts the University of California’s vision service plan for faculty and staff, plus retail services to anyone who can bring in an Rx.

U See LA Optometry mission statement
U See LA takes its mission statement seriously, featuring it on prominent display in the shop.
The result: Business is buzzing at U See LA, where the staff handles 40 to 50 eye exams and 30 to 40 follow-ups a day. “We’re virtually filled up every day,” Kearns says. Summer session was a little slower, but even then, by the end of the day, every appointment slot was snapped up. Even with high patient volumes, care is personalized: U See LA doctors and pre-testers communicate so there’s no lag time in between procedures. They’ve mastered the hand-off here, too: Doctors personally walk each patient to the optical floor, where they’ll meet with an optician or patient care supervisor.

Although the minimalist vibe feels high-end, U See LA remains committed to providing affordable, accessible vision care to students, faculty and staff, Kearns notes. As part of the Ashe Center, the clinic isn’t profit-driven, so it can provide quality care at a low cost. The business even integrated its mission statement into the design of the new space, prominently featuring these words on a front accent wall in bold black type: “Our passion and aspiration is for our patients to experience the joy of sight today, tomorrow, and for a lifetime.”

In the future, U See LA may add an on-site lab for faster turnaround and possibly put satellite doctor’s offices on the far-flung campus. “We’re in the planning stages now,” Kearns says. “But expanding services is always on our mind.”


The U See LA team
U See LA has four ODs on staff. From left: Dr. Karen Yeung, Dr. Helen Yang and Dr. Annie Chang (plus Dr. Diana Nguyen).
1. Now U See Us: Easily visible through an all-glass storefront, U See LA’s new digs on the first floor of UCLA’s Ackerman Union makes it easy for students to get their eye exam, stock up on school supplies and contact lens solution at the adjacent student bookstore, and grab a bite to eat in the upstairs food court all in one trip.

2. Top Docs: With four full-time doctors on staff (three specialists in contact lenses, one in ocular diseases), U See LA can handle most eyecare needs. For patients who need advanced care, “It’s easy for us to refer them to the Jules Stein Eye Institute (at the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology), which is the number three eye institute in the country, so their quality of care is superb here,” says Dr. Karen Yeung.

3. Cultural Exchange: Located in one of the world’s most ethnically and culturally diverse cities and on a campus that celebrates its own diversity, U See LA patients come from more than 100 countries. Some U See LA staff members are bilingual, but all are sensitive to working with patients for whom English isn’t their first language.

4. Good Grades: U See LA uses Demandforce to get instant feedback from patients on their experience — and 96 percent of them report a rating of “highly satisfied.”

5. No Real Competition: There are plenty of optometry stores near UCLA’s Westwood campus, but with more than 43,000 students and 28,000 staff members, “being in the center of campus really taps us in to a large population of customers without having to do much advertising,” says John Bollard. (Rumor has it that cross-town rival USC is copying the concept.)


F I N E   S T O R Y

HIGH-PRESSURE PERFORMANCE

At its big grand opening, U See LA invited high-level UCLA faculty and staff to see what the patient experience is all about. But the new EHR system went haywire that very day. Staff didn’t let the technical issues ruin the party. “We created a paper order form for glasses and contacts until we could get our system fixed,” reports Jim Kearns. “We had someone on the phone calling EyeMed and VSP to get correct authorizations and benefits, someone collecting patient demographic information ... all while we were helping the patient. Our optometrists had to move to different rooms to conduct exams because of equipment malfunctions and calibration issues.” The university VIPs were impressed with how well U See LA staff performed, never aware that there were problems behind the scenes.


U See LA Optometry


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