DIFFERENTIATE ... OR DIE. In this era of insane competition for vision care, it’s as simple as that. But standing apart isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. It all starts with you. Whether you work in a Main Street storefront or a strip mall, whether you’re affiliated with a chain or you’re fiercely independent, you can make your business one of a kind. We asked the INVISION Brain Squad what they’re doing to set their businesses apart. We looked at dozens of eyecare pros’ social media feeds, as well as past issues of INVISION. We found a whole lot of inspiration to share with you here. Always remember: These ideas are just starting points. By putting your own unique personality (and that of your team members) into play — and we do mean play! — you’ll instantly make your eyecare business more memorable.
Every day is a good day at European Optical in Laguna Beach, CA, where Astrid Chitamun (above, left) started working alongside her father, master optician Udo Stoeckmann, as a teen. Today, she continues the family business with the help of Elizabeth Mendizibal and Colleen Hannegan, and they all clearly know how to have a good time.
Dr. Andy Howard of La Follette Eye Clinic in LaFollette, TN, has a robust blog with posts on everything from vision to overall health to the rare planetary alignment that happened this winter. This is no boilerplate blog: Howard wrote one post while sitting in a hospital waiting for a friend who was having triplebypass heart surgery, using the opportunity to talk about how personal health habits can make or break our future. Each post gets extra mileage on the practice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.
At least once a year, think about doing something grand like Urban Optiks in San Diego, where the 2015 America’s Finest finalist throws a Raise Your Glasses gala at a swanky lounge.
The name Medford Optical doesn’t immediately help people know the specialty of Dana Cohen’s Massachusetts shop, but its URL — kidsoptical.com — makes it clear, as does the “We Love Kids” sign in his front window. (Cohen also snagged the Massachusetts toll-free number, 1-800-OPTICIAN). In Florida, Daniel Amyx owns both Hillmoor Optical and Treasure Coast Optical. “We wanted to tie them together with a single website, which would also save us time and money as well,” he says. Amyx and his wife, Lara, occasionally drive to Key West to recharge their batteries, both personally and professionally. It was during one of those trips, margaritas in hand, that they came up with the perfect URL: myfavoriteoptical.com. Let that be a lesson to you. Get away for a weekend more often.
Gosgosha Optique in Los Angeles, CA, had a pop-up shop with a neighboring plant shop just before Christmas last year. Says owner Julia Gogosha, it was part of ongoing crosspromotions “to feature people who are knowledgable in their own fields that complement our own.”
This too-often-neglected website page is actually the perfect online showcase for sharing your staff’s personality. For example, we love how at optixgallery. com, each staff member of McCulley Optix Gallery shares a favorite frozen yogurt flavor and toppings — yes, even in Fargo, even in winter! — as well as how they like to spend a rainy day. At eyeshopoptical. com, Dr. Cynthia Sayers confesses her love for 1980s rocker Bryan Adams.
It’s one of the first decisions you make when you go into business, or when you re-brand, and it’s one of the best ways to capture your personality and target market. Some of our favorites include Eye Candy (we know of at least three indie shops in the U.S. with this name, including those in Delafield, WI; McMurray, PA; and Westlake, OH); Glasses Menagerie in Minneapolis, MN; Silver Lining Opticians in New York, NY; and Goo Goo Goggles in Victoria, BC, Canada.
If you’ve been in business more than a few decades, your shop’s history is one worth sharing: in displays on your walls, on your social media feeds and on your website. A great example of this: the website for Jackson Davenport Vision Center in Charleston, SC, where a multimedia “Our History” page recounts highlights like having the first African American optician in South Carolina on staff and surviving Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
A friendly animal is one way to make people feel welcome at your business. At Eye Impact in Houston, TX, Chloe, a dog rescued by Dr. Gary Nguyen, serves as an ambassador to the neighborhood, where everyone seems to have at least one dog. If it’s not feasible to have a dog, consider a fish tank like they have at Eye-C-You Optometry in Riverside, CA.
What is the single best way to make a better impression on would-be patients and customers? Hire a professional photographer to get great photos of your business and your staff. If a photo shoot isn’t in the budget, maybe you can barter an eye exam, frames and lens package to your favorite local newspaper photographer. (Trust us. Talented but modestly paid photojournalists would love a deal like that.)
YOUR GOOD MANNERS
Clients of Ulla Eyewear in Madison, WI, get showered with thanks, including a custom-made card featuring caricatures of the staff and a box of handmade confections from Infusion Chocolates, a neighbor in the Hilldale Shopping Center. At Eye Candy in Delafield, WI, people get M&Ms imprinted with the business’s name.
Modern Eye of Philadelphia, PA, has mastered the art of window displays that make passers-by do a double take, often featuring the business’ signature eyeball people. Last spring, the window of Modern Eye’s University City shop featured three putti frolicking amid flowers. At Christmas, Santa and Mrs. Claus were the star attractions. (See a video at invmag.us/modeye.)
In Portland, OR, an art curator stops by each month to put new paintings on Optik PDX’s walls in time for second Thursday art walks. At Oakland Vision Optometry in Oakland, CA, Dr. Tanya Gill curates everything from display backdrops to works by local artists.
YOUR PURPLE COW
This is Seth Godin’s term for something that makes your business remarkable. He came up with it after his family went on vacation in France and saw “hundreds of storybook cows grazing in lovely pastures right next to the road. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling at the beauty. Then, within a few minutes, we started ignoring the cows.” This article is full of purple cows, but if you’d like to read more from Godin on how to identify yours, see invmag.us/purple.
YOUR GREEN SCREEN
Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH, makes every customer a rock star with portraits taken in front of a green screen, then posted on the shop’s Facebook feed with the motto, “Be who you want to be at Eye Candy Optical.”
Elle Tatum of Elle’s Island Spectacle has a French fling going at her Bainbridge Island, WA, shop. The Parisian vintage vibe includes a red chandelier and an over-the-top bejeweled tutu atop a three-tiered marble table.
Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source-Tifton in Tifton, GA, tells how he once bought “infotainment” software for the exam room to help patients pass the time while they waited for him. But he couldn’t get around to loading it and finally just put in a thumb drive of family pictures. Patients immediately started asking, “Are those your kids?” or “Where did you go on that trip where the mountains are?” or “I see you’ve been to Disney. When did you go last?”
Adds McElroy, “I knew the infotainment software was not getting a renewal. I now have guests who regularly ask about my family when I see them in our small town, and they tell whoever is around them about the pictures they saw on my computer while in the exam room. My good friend and idol, Dr. April Jasper of West Palm Peach, FL, says you will always get more connection to people you take care of if they see who you are outside the office than what you can do for them while you’re in your office. She puts pictures of her family everywhere and gets the same results.”
Dr. Tanya Gill of Oakland Vision Center Optometry in Oakland, CA, says the shop’s motto, We Love Eyes, “is not just a cute phrase to sell glasses” or win the 2015 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition. It’s a bold declaration of intent — not to mention great branding — that appears everywhere from the business’s front window to the inner temples of the shop’s private-label frames to a line of natural eyecare products the entrepreneurial Gill launched in 2015. Oh yes, it’s a hashtag on more than 1,800 Instagram posts, too.
OK, not everyone can pull this one off, but there’s a sandy floor at Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL. In fact, the whole place looks like the beach-town optical shop it is, with a waterfall, a tiki hut to house the sunglasses and more. “I wanted my shop to be memorable and unique,” says owner Julie Uram. “It’s cozy and casual. My mom and I did feng shui in the shop, and I bless it regularly. Only good chi at Optical Oasis.”
Who is that blue man climbing out the window of Blink Eye Care and Eye Wear in Charlotte, NC? “That is Mr. Big, our practice mascot,” says Dr. Charlene Henderson, who found a similar character for a store in Serbia while researching designs for the business’s cold opening in 2009. She contacted the designer and found a local sign maker to manufacture the characters. “We like to think we have an optical that steps outside of the box, just like Mr. Big,” Henderson says. “He is bright, fun and marches to his own beat.” The character also pops up everywhere from Blink’s website to displays throughout the shop.
A lab is a lab is a lab — unless you’re in one of the nation’s largest shopping malls and you put a window into your lab so everyone walking by can see just how finely tuned Rx eyewear actually gets made. That’s what they’ve done at Vitra Eyewear in Costa Mesa, CA. Read more about this new shop in our Best of the Best story on page 72.
YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE
Facebook remains the top dog among social media sites, and it’s an increasingly important way people search for businesses, too. Some eyecare businesses even use Facebook as their main home online, bypassing a website for a public Facebook page, like that of Park Slope Eye (parkslopeeye.com), which forwards to Facebook. There, people can book an exam, learn about Ortho-K, or even see listings for upcoming local events via shared posts from neighborhood news site Park Slope Stoop.
YOUR GREEN CRED
Maybe you walk or ride your bike to work. Maybe you’ve created a line of Earth-friendly eyewear, like Optik PDX did with five OH three, made of wood from the old stadium bleachers at Lewis and Clark College. Whatever you’re doing to make every day Earth Day, let people know about it.
“When I started working here, every time I logged onto the practice email account, Google would harass me to choose a photo for the account,” says Leslie Boyd, practice manager of Village Eye Care Optometry in Raleigh, NC. She finally relented and made the photo a high fashion model with some really cool frames. But Dr. Chris Bateman didn’t like it and said he didn’t want people to think he was a woman, so Boyd changed the pic to a male model with cool frames on.
“Dr. Bateman said that was misleading and he didn’t want the patients to be disappointed when they found out he didn’t really look like that. He told me to change it to ‘George Clooney or something,’ so people would know it obviously wasn’t him,” Boyd recalls.
So next, Boyd picked a Groucho Marxstyle glasses and nose. It took the doctor a while to notice, “and I had completely forgotten about it when one day I heard him yelling from his office, ‘Leslie! That is not George Clooney!’ He told me to change it back, but here we are a year and a half later and it’s still up there.” And email recipients smile every time they see it.
At Eyes on Fremont in Seattle, WA, winner of the 2014 America’s Finest competition, they have all sorts of unusual and fun giveaways you don’t see at the typical optical shop, from free pins dispensed from a bubble gum-style vending machine to stickers , beer koozies and snapback caps, all bearing the shop’s “Fight Evil” motto.
“I am a hobby photographer, so I decorated the office with my own photographs,” says Dr. Selina McGee of Precision Vision in Edmond and Midwest City, OK. “I am a Master Gardener and love fresh flowers, so we have a fresh delivery every Monday from a local florist (who is our patient, too) to start our week off brightly. I like farmhouse, eclectic, shabby chic decor so there are no frame boards in our office, only white bright floating shelves.”
YOUR CURB APPEAL
Erker’s Fine Eyewear’s flagship location in downtown St. Louis has red awnings you can see from way down the street. Artsee Eyewear in Manhattan’s Battery Park City has streetside windows that draw passers-by into the store’s chic interior.
YOUR THEME SONG
Says Julie Uram of Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL, “I advertise on my hometown radio station. It’s not a big station, so the cost is not like a big station.” Customers come in all the time to tell Uram they heard her ad, “which I do the voiceover for. It’s really fun. And at the end of my ad, the song Midnight at the Oasis plays, which fits perfect because my shop is called Optical Oasis.”
Aim for a mix of savory and sweet, like they do at Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC. Fresh fruit and bottled water (or an eco-friendly water cooler) help people make healthy choices, too. But don’t forget: Everyone needs a little indulgence once in a while. So every Friday is “Dessert Friday” at EyeShop Optical Center in Ohio. “No store-bought treats here. Home-baked goods by the doc herself,” says Dr. Cynthia Sayers. And at Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, trays of truffles greeted customers for a pre-Valentine’s Tour de Chocolat fashion, music and art event.
With a sofa from Restoration Hardware, midcentury-look leather chairs from Crate & Barrel and a one-ofa- kind rug from the Dallas Design District, Glass Optical in Dallas, TX, exudes a lounge-like vibe. Forget the waiting room; it’s time to give your patients and customers a place to relax and socialize. (The shop hosted its grand opening party with a neighbor, Spinster Records.)
At EyeBar in Houston, TX, Dr. Sheena Garner offers complimentary makeup sessions with every eye exam, along with eyebrow waxing, lash and brow extensions, and other pampering pluses. (See our America’s Finest feature on page 74.)
Medford Optical in Massachusetts drives new business its way with a Honda Element colorfully shrink-wrapped to spotlight the shop’s focus on children. And because owner Dana Cohen is usually in his shop fitting glasses all day, the vehicle actually belongs to an art therapist friend who spends his work hours driving to and from appointments all over town.
YOUR GOOD SCENTS
At Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC, light citrus aromas from an essential oils nebulizer have replaced a scent machine. Your customers with allergies will thank you for going natural.
Make yourself an inescapable presence in your community. “I do a lot of outside activities away from the business to keep our name out there,” says Kathy Maren of Combs EyeCare and EyeWear in Western Springs, IL. You’ll see her everywhere from the local Lions Club (always a great choice for ECPs, with its sight-saving programs) to volunteering at a women’s shelter, staying active in the local business association and serving on the board of a nonprofit.
Santa Fe Optical (below) had fun with Vinylize, the eyewear made from recycled records. We also love what super-creative optician Tamara Walker does with the displays at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA, using everything from family photos to antique fair finds to showcase the shop’s offbeat frames.
In St. Paul, MN, Northwest Opticians shares its prime downtown corner location with a branch of the locally popular Dunn Bros. Coffee chain. People can grab their favorite coffee beverage, then browse the frame offerings seven days a week.
Alissa Fields of Eye Spy Optical in Chicago, IL, owns an Airstream trailer. Of course, its name is Iris. Better yet, the trailer has its own hashtag for Instagram, #iristheairstream.
Andes Optical is located several miles from the center of action in Knoxville, TN, so owner Faith Andes McDaniel decided to outfit a red Mini Cooper as a mobile eyewear showroom. Will Taylor of Eye 2 Eye Contact in Detroit, MI, also works out of his vehicle, noting, “I go to clients’ homes, place of business and coffee shops to meet up with them.”
Patients at the Union, NJ, office of Dr. Dawn Arnold are always asking office manager Tuli Santiago what music they’re hearing. It’s actually DJ Tuli, who builds sets based on the people who are on the schedule that day. “They are super happy when I just email them the link to a set and they can enjoy it at home,” she adds.
The popular social media site is a great way to show your business’s personality. With its photocentric and largely ad-free layout, people enjoy scrolling through their Instagram feeds, and it’s an excellent place to highlight everything from happy customers with their glasses to the amazing hors d’oeuvres you’ve just put out for your trunk show.
Every Tuesday is Tiara Tuesday at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA. The tradition began since the shop is usually slower that day, when Dr. Viki Christopoulos is often in surgery. “It lightens everything up,” says Michelle Singer, who started the tradition — and who will show you her tiara on a day other than Tuesday, too, if you ask nicely.
Every December, Jeff Grosekemper at Casa de Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, brings out Santa and his team of Hush Puppies. Grosekemper explains that in the late 1990s, Kenmark was looking for the best store display for Christmas, so Kenmark rep Mark Argusa and his wife, Robin, made the sleigh team and Grosekemper featured it at the office where he worked at the time. “Every year, I bring out the team and the patients love it and bring family members by just to see the team,” Grosekemper says, adding that the 2015 display had special meaning since Argusa had passed away last year. “I’ve been offered money for the pups but won’t give them up. They’re one of a kind.”
YOUR SPECIAL EVENTS
“We like to do events with our patients,” says Tuli Santiago at Dr. Dawn Arnold’s office. Last year, a team of 10 people signed up for a mud run. A country line-dancing event was another hit.
On an everyday basis, you want to offer a selection of beverages to show customers you care, whether it’s water, herbal tea or — perhaps for a happy hour on the evening you stay open — a glass of wine. Special events call for an extra-special beverage, like the “Eye Can See Clearly Now Cosmo” custom cocktail that Urban Optiks offered at its Raise Your Glasses fundraising gala in San Diego, CA, or the beer from a local German-style brewery that they had on draft for the 10th anniversary Oktoberfest celebration at Look + See Eye Care in Minneapolis, MN.
Scott Ginsberg, aka The Nametag Guy, suggests asking a specific question as part of the message — for example, “What’s your favorite pizza topping?” It encourages people to leave a response, and it definitely sets you apart.
At Whitaker Eye Works in Wayne, PA, they have in-store guitar lessons and a regular 4 o’clock dance party with funky music. “Stacey and I — and sometimes customers — boogie,” says Steve Whitaker. “Never forget to boogie.”
With its tie-dye swirls, the cleaning cloth at Eyes & Optics in Las Vegas perfectly captures the shop’s rock ’n’ roll vibe, while doing double duty as a handy eyewear accessory and a reminder to clients of where they got their groovy glasses.
At Wood Vision Clinic in Parkersburg and Iowa Falls, IA, they’re always on the alert for great interactive campaigns. In February, for example, they held a “So you think you can color?” contest to capitalize on the adult coloring craze. Here’s the beauty part: People had to come in to the office to pick up their coloring sheet.
If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em. Whether it’s a local “Best of” honor or placing in INVISION’s annual America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest, don’t keep your honors to yourself. LaFollette Eye Clinic in Tennessee had a big America’s Finest logo made for its front door. Art of Optiks in Wayzata, MN, celebrates its 2015 America’s Finest showing on a beautifully designed website. And Sonoma Eyeworks in Santa Rosa, CA, has an entire web page full of the local and national recognition it has seen.
Optik PDX in Portland, OR, regularly gets fresh flower deliveries from Emerald Petals, a nearby eco-florist on Mississippi Avenue.