Andes Optical mini-mobile optical center

Tennessee shop takes its selection, service out for a spin with an innovative mini optical

Downtown Knoxville, TN, has undergone a resurgence in recent years, with stores, restaurants and other businesses bringing new life to many once-vacant buildings. But there’s no optical shop, and that’s where Faith Andes McDaniel saw an opportunity. “We started thinking about how to bring optical back to downtown without actually moving downtown,” says McDaniel, owner of Andes Optical, which is located 6 miles west of the city center. Her solution: the Andes Mini Mobile Optical. — JAMES RITCHIE

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


THE IDEA: Downtown Knoxville has transformed from a near ghost town into a popular place to eat, drink, shop and hang out. But the business district has been without an optical retailer since August 2013.

McDaniel decided to join the mobile vending trend and offer her products and services downtown. The Andes Mini Mobile Optical made its debut in September at the monthly “First Friday” event.

She loaded up her white-on-red Mini Cooper with a selection of what she carries in her store to create what she calls “an onsite eyewear showroom and repair mini shop.” McDaniel can do most of what she does in her bricks-and-mortar shop, except she doesn’t bring a lensometer or any means of cutting lenses.

It’s a way to reach customers who have hectic schedules. Referring to her regular store, McDaniel says, “We have people walk in here who have been carrying a prescription with them for nine months because they just couldn’t find time to come in.”


Trying on new glasses at a First Friday event in Knoxville.
THE EXECUTION: Costs to launch the mobile optical were minimal. For starters, McDaniel used her own vehicle. “It’s a fun car and people remember it,” she says.

She displays frames in an “extra-large, very industrial-looking” medicine cabinet that she got at a thrift store for $125. For the debut event, she was given permission to use a parking lot next to the Knoxville Visitors Center, a high-profile location near some food trucks. First Fridays draw lots of fashion-conscious young people, so McDaniel brought along brands including Jimmy Choo, Armani and Cavalli.

Andes Optical continues to take its show on the road in 2015. “Along with downtown we are going all over town to different locations, business parks, medical parks, larger companies,” says McDaniel, and the rotating schedule allows working professionals to visit during lunch hours and breaks. “We can adjust, repair, talk to them about their prescriptions, show them what products we offer, verify insurance benefits and they can even place an order on the spot with us.”


THE REWARDS: The mobile optical has been great marketing, McDaniel says. Customers may not buy right away, but they remember the Andes name. Recognition grew even more after the Knoxville News Sentinel wrote a story about the Andes Mini Mobile Optical.

McDaniel is exploring the possibility of serving folks who find it hard to get out. “We are getting calls from seniors that need someone to come to them,” she adds. But visits to the University of Tennessee campus are a possibility, too — because all ages like to save the time and trouble it sometimes takes to get new glasses.

DO IT YOURSELF

Know the rules. Cities vary in their requirements for mobile vendors, with zoning and permit laws often coming into play.

Partner with other businesses. Andes Optical may team with a clothing truck for special events.

Consider your audience. “If you’re in a town that has a strong creative class, that’s huge,” she says. “They think a little differently. They’re looking for new things.”

Although she likes the branding effect of her Mini, you don’t need a specific make — or a car at all. McDaniel is open to setting up her mobile optical in a conference room or other location.

Be ready to work. “You’re going to end up doing a lot of evenings and weekends,” she says. “You have to put the time in to make it happen.”

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