Massachusetts children’s eyewear shops go big on selection, friendly atmosphere
Optical stores serving kids are a growing speciality, but Massachusetts optician Dana Cohen practically invented the genre. After 34 years serving youngsters’ eyewear needs, he says that while succeeding in this niche isn’t exactly child’s play, with patience, you can build a strong pediatric eyewear business. — JULIE FANSELOW
THE IDEA: When Cohen was a pre-med student, his father, a longtime optometrist, taught him to grind lenses. “He told me ‘You can make an extra $50 a week,’” Cohen recalls. Instead of going to med school, Cohen began Medford Optical and had been in business about five years when he put up a “We Love Kids” sign in his shop in 1981. It was a novel idea at the time, and he now serves a clientele that is about 80 percent children.
Selection is a big part of Cohen’s success: He has more than 600 children’s frames in stock, and about 70 percent of his customers come from 45 minutes away. “It’s more of a regional business,” he says. “People will travel for their children.”
As kids find frames they like, Cohen checks first to be sure each pair will fit well. If not, he says something like, “Oooops, that may hurt your nose,” and it goes back on the boards. Fit-worthy frames go into a “maybe” pile. Once a child has four or five options, Cohen works with the parents and child to choose the winner — and it’s bound to be a strong, flexible frame that’ll last a child at least two years. Favorite lines include Miraflex and TurboFlex by Aspex Eyewear.
Medford Optical drives new business via a Honda Element colorfully shrink-wrapped and sporting the number Cohen snagged about 20 years ago: 1-800-OPTICIAN. Cohen also had the foresight to snag the kidsoptical.com website domain.
THE REWARDS: Cohen says he used to offer inexpensive frames to soothe parents’ cost concerns, “but kids were breaking them or they were falling apart within months.” With better-quality eyewear that lasts longer, everyone is happier.
Parents are increasingly willing to pay extra for sun protection, too. Cohen recommends Transitions and says about 40 percent of the glasses he sells now have photochromic lenses, up from 10 percent a few years ago. Many parents like the idea that their child won’t need to keep track of another pair of glasses.
Since many of his young customers have diverse medical needs, Cohen strives to make good eyewear affordable for families, even if it means a sizable discount. “I have a passion for fitting children,” he says. “Price is not the main concern.” Cohen’s humanitarian impulse doesn’t stop in his shops. A trombone player, he’ll once again be on board for the EyeRock benefit for New Eyes for the Needy at the Hard Rock Cafe on March 21 during Vision Expo East. See www.new-eyes.org/eyerock/
James Magay contributed to this story.