Smooth Seller: Tuli Santiago

Dorothy Reynolds of Optical Alternatives in Fairfield CT



Tuli Santiago has one of the best-ever stories about how she got involved in the optical business. (You’ll see it below.) She’s been working at the Union, NJ, office of Dr. Dawn Arnold for nearly all of her career. She’s also a music fanatic who is working on a documentary about pioneering deep house DJs. She has 200 pairs of glasses in her personal collection. “My favorites include all 200!” she says. But she always wears something current at work, since customers always ask what she’s wearing.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 edition of INVISION.

I got started in the optical business when I graduated high school and moved back to New Jersey. When I arrived, I had no job and no money, so I asked my father to take me to see an optometrist for some much-needed glasses and contact lenses. When we arrived at the office, the doctor was working by himself and was a bit frazzled. As he was examining a patient, patients kept coming in from the optical next door, looking to book exam appointments. I started writing their names down along with their phone numbers and what they needed so the doctor could call them back when he had time. The next day the doctor called me and offered me a job.

Before I got into optical, I worked with my dad. He was a foreman at a huge factory that would process clothing, pack it up in thousand-pound bales and sell it to other countries. I knew every inch of this two-city-block factory since I grew up in it. I would often help my father by being his eyes and ears since he had over 500 employees. It’s where I learned how to multitask and also learn how to drive a forklift at the age of 14.

My favorite part of my job is the eyewear buying, of course. I do a lot of personal shopping for my more challenging fits. It makes me happy to see the patient have five awesome choices instead of just one. I often invite my difficult fits to join me at the end of a rep appointment so they can view the whole collection at once. It makes them feel special and it is very helpful to have all the colors and sizes at my reach for a challenging petite fit.

Here’s my advice for successful tradeshow shopping: Know your boards! Clean them up and know what look you are missing, then don’t stop searching until you find that style, because you will. With every purchase, try an outlandish color. You’ll be surprised how well it will do.

I had one patient who stopped wearing her contacts because she loved her glasses so much. I suggested building a collection and she agreed. Every month or so, I would find her a unique pair and would call her with the great news. She always loved and purchased the selected frame. After the sixth pair, she started buying her frames sight unseen.

If I wasn’t working in the optical business, I’d probably be running high-end catering events. I worked in that field for a while and still do an occasional event. I love the fast pace of it.

Another time, a woman called me and said, “I was told by my girlfriend that you can help petite ugly faces.” I said to myself, “Hmmm, OK. What is the right answer here without offending her?” I thought someone was playing a joke on me. After a nice conversation, I asked her to come in so I could see her. I needed a visual. After I found something for her, weeks later she came back. She wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear that I had changed her life and that she felt beautiful. I was walking on air for days after that.