Tell us what makes your store/practice different from other optical retailers.
Eyes on Fremont operates a little bit differently based on our overriding tendency to do everything ourselves. It really permeates every aspect of the store. From daily operations, the layout and design of the retail space, merchandising, frame buying, and everything in between. It’s pretty evident when you walk in the store. We want to champion Eyes on Fremont as its own brand and experience, and in order to do so it has a different feel than most other optical stores. There is no POP, instead one side of the store is covered in current posters for community events, concerts, art shows, etc., and local artists assist in the wall covering department too. None of the fixtures are optical specific. Our main counter is a recycled bowling alley, and our dispensing tables we commissioned from a local Washington State furniture maker Atlas & Cedar. All of our marketing materials are generated in house, no stock photos, which is a serious investment from both a time and resource point of view. This is important to us though, because we really want all communications with our customers to be an authentic reflection of who we are. The last thing that really helps us stand out is our selection of frames. Our two big shows for the year are VEE and Silmo, and while we’re there we really focus on finding new lines that haven’t had a ton of exposure yet. We carry a lot of frames with no distribution here in the States, and it’s exciting to offer your customer something they haven’t seen anywhere else.
How has your business grown and improved over the past year?
Things are constantly evolving at Eyes on Fremont. Opening in 1996 it was Stan Jonasson (the founder) as the lone optician in the store, fast forward to present day and now there are 15 people that work in the store. That’s a pretty different organism. In response we’ve started a weekly meeting, every Saturday, half an hour before we open. We call it “The Agenda.” I know it sounds simple and basic but it has done wonders for keeping everybody on the same page on current topics within the store. It covers everything, from operational changes, reviewing new product, and all things “Kumbaya.” It also gives everybody some time to take a deep breath and get ready for the busy Saturday to follow.
How are you meeting the challenges of online and big-box competition?
We are doing two things to meet the online/box competition.
The first is something we have always felt to be imperative in this business: placing an emphasis on staffing. We have one of the best teams in the industry. There are opticians who do glasses and then there are opticians who do glasses because they are into glasses. Our whole staff is the latter. The continuing commoditization of glasses online and at big box competitors will do nothing but make Eyes on Fremont’s team shine brighter and brighter. For the most part we think this business is pretty transparent. People can tell if you’re into it or not, and we’re really into glasses.
The other thing that we’re doing is that we’ve started out own line of frames. The line is not big, right now we have 42 SKUs, and in total will probably grow to 75. The line is priced very aggressively, an Eyes on Fremont frame with a CR-39 lens is $175. Getting into product development has been a really exciting and daunting process at the same time. Designing our own frames, how we want them, in the colors we want is great. The flip side is that the quantities you’re dealing with are on a totally different scale. It’s tough because we’re just a single store, but we’ve averaged a little over 500 frames a month for the 1st quarter of 2014, so we’re moving a fair amount of frames. We’re certainly not the first optical retailer to do our own line, but we feel we have enough experience that by doing some of our own frames we’re enriching the overall Eyes on Fremont experience and product.
For us that’s what meeting the challenges of online and box stores is all about: focusing on your product and experience, always striving to improve yourself. There’s no way to control what they do, but everyday is an opportunity to improve your product.