Leaving the middle for higher ground
It can take days to fit a Specs client because staff goes above and beyond to find the best fit for everyone. Specs, with three locations in Connecticut, sell upscale eyewear. Chris Cannella, owner and optician, says “hugging clients” is what makes Specs special. — CAROL GILHAWLEY
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of INVISION.
THE IDEA: Cannella grew up in Fairfield, CT, and after receiving an associate’s degree in optical dispensing, returned home to apprentice as an optician. “I fell in love with working in the lab,” he says. So much so, that he opened Specs of Fairfield from scratch 30 years ago. It has now expanded to two other locations in Connecticut: Specs of Darien and Specs of Westport, all within a seven mile radius of each other. Each store is located in a downtown upscale shopping area. “We went from one store to multiple stores to meet a need in the area,” Cannella says. The store originally offered good quality, middle market eyewear but 20 years ago Cannella revamped the model to stock only upscale eyewear brands like Oliver Peoples, Robert Marc, Dita and Bevel. “I had to change my business completely to survive as an independent optician,” he says. “And I stayed away from managed care completely.”
THE EXECUTION: All three stores are uniquely designed in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish architect who represented art nouveau in the U.K. at the turn of the last century. He was famous for designing tea rooms with high-backed chairs. Cannella says he found some really good reproductions of these chairs along with some of Mackintosh’s designs to put in his stores. “We have stayed true to this theme by trying to brand Specs,” he says.
He employs a staff of 10: one operations manager for all three stores and licensed opticians in each. There is no OD on staff at this time. Ophthalmologists refer their patients to Specs to choose high-end frames and lenses.
A finishing lab in the Fairfield store services the three locations. Lenses are surfaced at Balester Digital Optical lab in Pennsylvania and then finished in-house. Specs mostly stocks Essilor’s digital progressives, especially Crizal Avancé UV, in addition to Trivex. “We do our own finishing work because we find we get a better quality finished product,” Cannella says.
THE REWARDS: Moving from middle to high-end eyewear has allowed Specs to blossom. The first year Cannella reinvented the business, revenues grew by 25 percent. The stores accept only cash and credit — no insurance or thirdparty billing. Business has remained stable over the past five years essentially because upscale eyewear is timeless.
“We’re really customer service-oriented,” Cannella points out. “To provide a good product you need to provide excellent service.” A little girl recently had an unforgettable experience at the Fairfield location. Her parents bought glasses in Boston that did not fit her properly. “They were having trouble with the glasses and we tried to adjust them,” Cannella says. “We recommended another frame but that didn’t work either.” So, Cannella called in a Safilo rep who came to fit the little girl with a Kids by Safilo frame from the children’s collection. They then did a photo shoot with her wearing her new glasses!
This commitment to finding the best fit resonates throughout the three Specs stores with Cannella and his staff believing in the art of eyewear and that “everybody deserves a nice pair of glasses.”
DO IT YOURSELF
BUILD A HIGH-END BOUTIQUE FRAME BUSINESS
➤ Find the right talent who are passionate about what they do.
➤ Design your store so it warrants a place in an upscale neighborhood.
➤ Locate in an upscale environment.
➤ Spend days to fit a client so you find exactly what they need.
➤ Rise above the rest by doing top-notch work every time.