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6 of the Best Out-of-the-Box Ideas Dreamed Up by Optical Retailers

2018 has been a year for creativity in the eyecare business.

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IF INDEPENDENT ECPS share a common trait, it must be creativity. Here are six of the best out-of-the-box ideas dreamed up by optical retailers we’ve come across in the past year.

A Glaring Solution

“My area is overwhelmed with opticals and the only way to be truly successful is to differentiate yourself,” says owner Kevin Kretch of Eyes on Chagrin in Woodmere, OH. One of the many ways he does this is by removing demo lenses before showing frames to customers. “99 percent of our Rx glasses have anti-glare coating and most demo lenses do not,” says Kretch. “Therefore, cosmetically, the frames look nicer with no lenses at all than the demos on the shelf.”

Conversation Pieces

At Optique’s two locations in Austin, TX, owner Dr. Courtney Rhodes prides herself on making a study of what makes for top-flight service. Since 2009 she has analyzed what her team does from start to finish to find ways to improve her customers’ eyecare experience. One very cool touch that has resulted from this is having staff choose their favorite frames and place “Staff Pick” cards by them. Aside from highlighting certain classic and newer lines, “It also helps spark a conversation between the optician and patient,” says Rhodes.

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Sweet Surprise

How many eyecare practices come with a dietary warning? “Not for the calorie conscious!” entreats David Moore OD, owner of Clear Eye Associates + Optical in Fort Worth, TX. “Our customers receive a delicious custom cookie with a personalized handwritten note delivered to their home after their visit.” And that’s AFTER they’ve scarfed down the cappuccino, chocolate and craft beer available in the store while waiting in the comfortable lounge area!

In-House Bridge-Builder

One of the most consistent messages we hear from eyecare biz owners is that B2B networking almost always translates into better service for customers. So the benefits of having a networker-in-chief should be obvious. “We promoted our receptionist to Public Relations Coordinator,” says Holly Andersen, co-owner of Uptown Eyes in Fayetteville, AR. Twice a month this staff member creates gift baskets and goes to local businesses to share the store’s mission. Focusing on local businesses has not only been a great resource for the practice, but also helped Andersen and co-owner Megan Baureis build relationships.

Next-Level Recycling

Do your patients feel a twinge of guilt as they peel open and discard another daily contact lens foil pack? Whether they do or not, how much thought have you given this? At Falls City Eye Care in Louisville, KY, owner Michael Martorana OD and his wife Theresa have thought about it plenty, especially since they learned that these foil packs are so small they often get sifted out of the process at recycling plants and end up in landfill anyway. Now, they staple a note to every contact lens order that goes out, stating that patients who save their foil packs and return them to Falls City Eye Care will get a $20 discount on their next year’s daily contact lens purchase. “We also pledge the foil packs will make it to TerraCycle, a company that makes sure plastics that typically get sifted out of a traditional recycling center are, in fact, recycled,” says Theresa.

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Upgrade, Don’t Discount

Scarsdale, NY practice Eye Designs of Westchester were looking for a way to offer patients referred by other doctors a major incentive without using a monetary discount. Their solution was to offer free upgrades to blue light-blocking lenses. “In this situation,” says office manager Harris Decker, “the patients get a more advanced lens and we get to keep the value of our frames and lenses at a premium. Doctors that refer to us like this will plan [to do so], because they can be assured their patients will not only get a high quality product, but a blue light blocker as well.” Decker says the key for ECPs is to offers a value without making their products less valuable. He advises other ECPs to think about adding something at no charge, as opposed to discounting a certain percentage. “We’ve even begun to do this with patients not referred by other doctors,” he says. “If someone is spending thousands on a new pair of glasses, we might upgrade them to blue light blocking technology instead of offering a discount.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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For the third year in a row, Safilo has looked to trusted eyecare professionals to star in its American Eyes campaign for its Elasta and Emozioni collections.Their latest testimonials are from Peter Tacia, O.D. and Heidi Dancer, optician, of Alma, MI, talking about two best-selling collections: Elasta and Emozioni.

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America's Finest

Want to Know What ‘Start-to-Finish’ Service Really Looks Like?

This Fort Worth, TX practice reinvented itself into a boutique optical with high tech examinations.

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Clear Eye Associates + Optical, Fort Worth, TX

OWNER: David Moore, OD; URL: cleareye.com; FOUNDED: 2007; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Norman Ward Architect, EyeDesigns, and Entirely Interiors; EMPLOYEES: 12 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 11,000 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: ic! berlin, Rolf, Dita, Barton Perreira, Face à Face; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/ClearEyeOptical; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/cleareyeoptical; YELP: yelp.com/biz/clear-eye-associates-optical-fort-worth-2


EXPERIENCE,” SAYS DR. DAVID Moore, “is in the eye of the beholder.” Put another way, each patient has preferences unique to them, whether they care most about time, convenient and upfront pricing, carefully curated and unique frames, or a high-tech examination experience.

‘In today’s market you have to do a little of everything to be competitive,’ says Clear Eye owner Dr. David Moore.

It’s a lesson Moore learned over 10 years in private practice at Clear Eye Associates + Optical in Fort Worth, TX and fully implemented by introducing a new concept in 2017; an optical boutique procuring mostly independent lines. “The idea was the easy part. Overcoming, retraining and rethinking how the current consumer wants to shop has been the challenge. The age-old idea of personalized service, customer experience, and product expertise has become the linchpin for growing the business,” Moore says.

Central to the concept is customer immersion in what Moore refers to as the “CLEAR experience,” from the time they book and select their arrival item — be it a cappuccino, chocolate or craft beer ­— to the personal handwritten “thank you” note and custom cookie that arrive for them in the mail in a special CLEAR box. Staff follow this up with a call a few weeks after the customer has received the product to make sure they are satisfied.

For those who haven’t booked, “We try to impact our patients prior to their appointment so we begin with a tailored check-in experience. Our staff presents a menu, with offerings ranging from chocolate to cappuccino or a seasonal cocktail.”

According to Moore, the store and the service are designed around creating an experience and offering products that appeal to the aficionado. “Our intent is to cater to people that want to feel special, where their time is valued, and their needs are met.”

EyeDesigns and architect Norman Ward were able to create a modern design with Lum lighting that highlights the detail of the frames and allows customers to look their best.

Frames are displayed by brand but in a carefully controlled way. “We want patients to recognize brands from distinct signage that looks like our store, versus our store looking like 20 different brands,” Moore says.

When Moore discusses pricing policy, the value he places on being “upfront” and “transparent” quickly becomes apparent. But he admits that achieving this goal is complicated by the presence of so many different insurance plans with different pricing.

“Our team has done a great job learning the plans and developing methods to more quickly give accurate pricing for customers,” he explains. “For uninsured customers, we have selected products that provide value and state-of-the-art fashion while fitting within their budget. We feel that giving customers lens pricing first then allowing them to select the perfect frame is the most transparent way for customers to purchase spectacles.”

Moore says digital marketing is second only to personal referrals as a driver of growth at Clear Eye. “We do well with Google, Facebook, and are growing our Instagram presence. What we have learned is that in today’s market you have to do a little of everything to be competitive. Photography is key to making everything pop.”

Having an on-site lab is important to Moore because it enables the practice to customize lenses and lens shapes. And quick turnaround is something they pride themselves in. “Our Mr. Orange edger helps us do this,” says Moore. “The edger has been great for us. Although we are a boutique optical, we want to provide the most comprehensive eyecare possible.” The practice prides itself on a full range of equipment as well as top-level dry eye treatment.

This no-stone-unturned approach would seem to be Clear Eye’s signature achievement, whether it’s online, at reception, in the optical or the exam lane. As Moore defines it: “Expertise and personalized service in a modern, clean aesthetic that provides a unique experience for our customers.”

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Clear Eye Associates + Optical

1. QUICK CLEAN. Clear Eye’s optical features the OpticWash, a device Moore describes as a “car wash for glasses … an ingenious inven­­tion that does a great job of cleaning frames and lenses.”

2. GET THE MESSAGE. Patients are sent a text after their glasses purchase with details on their frames. The text contains links to the product’s brand story so that the customer can learn more about their frames prior to them being completed.

3. SMELL OF SUCCESS. The list of items offered to patients prior to their arrival goes beyond just drinks and sweets; even the music and scent have been selected specifically for customers.

4. NO SURPRISES. Price transparency is one of Clear Eye’s core goals. To ensure this is maintained, the practice makes a point of working up special handouts with pricing information on lens benefits and cost.

5. FULL TREATMENT. Clear Eye takes special pride in its dry eye treatment. “Dry eye impacts our core demographic to such an extent we felt the need to have the technology to solve this problem for our patients,” says Moore.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Interesting color scheme; the natural wood looks great and is a contrast to the whites. Offering craft beer is a great idea too. Mick Kling, OD, Invision Optometry, San Diego, CA
  • The “CLEAR” logo is handled in a very nice way, where it is important to the conversation but does not dominate it. Their dedication to making information accessible to the customer is evident in their materials, and the delivery of a customized cookie and a handwritten note is a charming touch. Brent Zerger, l.a. Eyeworks, Los Angeles, CA
  • Texting a customer cool details on the frame they’ve purchased is CLEARly brilliant and impactful! Their “Seeing Good” campaign is wonderful: they donate generously AND they’ve “branded” it. One of the best URLs I’ve ever seen; simple and in line with their overall brand. Robert Bell, EyeCoach, San Francisco, CA

 

Fine Story

Clear Eye donates 100 frames each month to a local charity clinic as part of its “Seeing Good” campaign. “Although we don’t publicize or market this, we feel that local is important. We are fortunate enough to be able to partner with Community Clinic in Fort Worth, which is run by the University of Houston College of Optometry. They see thousands of patients a year at little to no cost in the First Christian Church downtown. Donating frames is our way of helping the local community.”

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A Stunning Milwaukee Practice That Is the Culmination of 3 Decades of Constant Improvement

Being served here ‘is like meeting a friend in a coffee shop.’

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Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare, New Berlin, WI

OWNERS: Dave Ziegler, OD, and Chap Leffingwell, OD; URL:zleyecare.com ; FOUNDED: 1981; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION:2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Plunkett Raysich Architects, Briohn Construction, EyeDesigns; EMPLOYEES: 20 full-time, 4 part-time ; AREA: 7,400 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Ørgreen, Robert Marc, Blackfin, Etnia Barcelona, Prodesign; TWITTER:twitter.com/zleyecare; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/ZieglerLeffingwellEyeCare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/zleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $250,000


WHAT IS NOW ZIEGLER Leffingwell Eyecare began life in 1981 in Milwaukee, WI, as a small, two-day-a-week office purchased from a retiring OD. In 1983, Dr. Dave Ziegler moved the office to a new location with one employee. Over time the staff doubled in that building until the business moved to a larger space in 1996 and added Dr. Chap Leffingwell as a partner. After years of growth, Ziegler’s daughter Dr. Kristen Ziegler joined part time in 2015. Two years later the practice relocated to a new standalone building.

The present location is in New Berlin, a middle-class suburb of Milwaukee. According to Ziegler Sr., the optical was designed around high-end brands not well known to the average consumer. “This gives us the opportunity to tell brand stories about the quality eyewear we display. This selection also differentiates us from the competition, since the brands we carry are rarely found in the state.”

Dr. Dave Ziegler, left, bought the practice from a retiring OD in 1981. Dr. Chap Leffingwell, right, joined as a partner in 1996.

Inspiration was found in Nordstrom and the Apple Store. “We wanted a large, open space to separate our brands with what we call ‘white space,’ he says. “This gives the patient the opportunity to process what our optical staff has told them about … a particular frame … They can then leave that area, browse around and engage with another brand.”

Custom-made cherry communal tables encourage movement throughout the space, with frame trays recessed into tabletops to keep things orderly, and risers at the ends of the tables drawing interest to collections. Shelving and recessed cubbies abound; pegs are banished. LUM lighting ensures the frames’ design features and color are displayed to best effect. EyeDesigns helped the practice develop a consistent aesthetic.

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The retail and reception spaces overlap, changing up floor textures, colors and materials to create interest. Ziegler has strict rules for the concierge desk: “No clutter… Just a couple of Macs, a phone, a credit-card processing pad, and two welcoming faces. I’m a minimalist.” The silent phone is for internal use only; incoming calls go to the back office.

Some of Ziegler Leffingwell’s staff have been with the practice for over 30 years; Ziegler credits its carefully crafted culture of mutual respect. Management comes up with “purposeful agendas” to provide a platform for discussion at monthly staff meetings. “We’re constantly searching for ways to improve the patient experience while learning from our failures,” says Ziegler, who believes it’s important that this process begin with the doctor or owner. “It is crucial to make the investment in the leadership skills necessary to build your own culture of excellence,” he says.

The medical experience at Ziegler Leffingwell is underpinned by a simple idea: “We help patients understand the different solutions to their vision problems so they feel included in the process and feel confident with our treatment plans. The most important document we have is the blank pad of paper with our practice logo in our exam room. This is where we write our recommendations and explain everything from lens options to ocular diseases. Hand-written explanations in easy-to-understand language show the patient you care enough to make sure they fully understand. It’s not uncommon for patients to bring in those notes years later.”

All patients are pre-registered by intake staff, and pretest suites have glass walls for an open feel. The concierge desk staff have a view of these rooms, improving patient flow. The six exam rooms are named for Milwaukee landmarks, which are depicted on their walls in specially created murals. “The themed exam rooms are the most talked about feature by our patients,” Ziegler says.

Disliking the way typical dispensing tables force staff and customer apart, the practice added two cafe tables and asked sales staff to sit alongside the patient instead of across from them. Ziegler says this creates a collaborative approach. “It’s like meeting your friend at the local coffee shop.” Rounding off the experience, a show is made of dispensing. The eyewear is brought out on a leather tray in branded cloth shopping bags containing a case with the patient’s name embossed on it, a customized portfolio explaining the eyewear features, and a piece of Ghirardelli or Lindt chocolate.

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Ziegler Leffingwell’s success reflects its constant search for ways to personalize the patient experience. “We look for ways to connect with patients and treat them like family,” Ziegler says.

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare

1. MAJOR LEAGUE. Ziegler Leffingwell has been an eyecare provider for the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer, cycling teams and other pro sports organizations.

2. KIDS’ STUFF. The “jungle play room” for young patients has a starlit ceiling, dragonfly lights, Brio train set and lots of other toys. All kids get an ice cream cone Rx after their exam.

3. TAKE YOUR PICK. An online curated selection of glasses shows the staff’s faves for five different fashion personalities. Patients can preselect their favorites, which will be ready for viewing at exam time.

4. FIVE-STAR SERVICE. Dr. Ziegler got the idea for the practice’s concierge-style reception space while strolling through a hotel lobby in San Francisco.

5. GLAD YOU ASKED… Sales staff have flashcards for each frame brand with three talking points (memorized, ideally) about that brand.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Applause for thinking through the displays so each brand can have a voice and not overwhelm the customer. All elements of the practice demonstrate thoroughness and competence, which inspires confidence and ease. Brent Zerger, l.a. Eyeworks, Los Angeles, CA
  • A private label frame line to fund a vision clinic doesn’t get you top optical retailer but it does tell us you have the largest hearts (and Souls.) What does? How about the most brilliant and personalized marketing campaign I’ve ever seen in this industry and a website that gets it’s not about the practice, but the consumer. Robert Bell, EyeCoach, San Francisco, CA
  • The marketing is next-level and they show mastery in both the medical and optical sides of the business. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH

 

Fine Story

Among their selection of independent brands is Ziegler Leffingwell’s private label — Soul, manufactured by SHO Eyewear — which helps fund a clinic they’re building in Haiti with Mission of Hope Haiti. From every purchase, $40 is donated. The goal, says Ziegler, “is for the Haitian technicians … to do the refractions with a SV-1 handheld autorefractor … upload the data to the cloud using Revolution EHR… A group of ECPs in the U.S. review the refractions and enter an Rx to meet Haiti’s requirements. This triggers our supply chain through Essilor labs to send them uncut lenses, which are edged onsite.” He is also showing them how to make a small profit on each transaction so they can be self-sustaining.

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This Ontario OD Is Off to a Flying Start

When her hometown’s original fire hall went on the market, she knew it was time to open a business.

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EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob, Kingsville, ON, Canada

OWNER: Abby Jakob, OD; URL:abbyjakobeyes.com ; FOUNDED: 2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helena Ventrella Design Limited, LaSalle Millwork Patrick Michaud, Maurice Michaud; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Oliver Peoples, Kate Spade, Tiffany, Tom Ford, Swarovski; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/abbyjakobeyes; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/abbyjakobeyes; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


After working as an associate at a private practice and several commercial offices, Dr. Abby Jakob took the leap and opened her own practice in her hometown of Kingsville, Ontario in 2017. She hadn’t expected to make such a major move so early in her career — it had only been three years since her graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry — but when the town’s original fire hall went on the market, the choice was all but made for her. “My experience was serendipitous, as I wasn’t even searching for a location — I didn’t think I’d be starting my own practice yet — and this historic building went up for sale. It’s right on Main Street, where traffic is the busiest. I called my dad right away to come see it with me, and as soon as we both saw the potential, I put in an offer the next day,” she says. Jakob had saved a lot in her first two years of practicing, and was able to come up with a 20-percent down payment, so financing wasn’t an issue. Also, the building has one other commercial unit, and two residential units upstairs, which already had paying tenants, so that covers her mortgage each month. “I’d definitely recommend owning your building if you have the opportunity,” she says.

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After being away at school for eight years, Jakob was ready to come home to Kingsville, Canada’s southernmost town. She describes it as “small, ‘boutiquey’ … with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and I wanted my office to have that same character and charm.”

Jakob renovated the site to look bright and airy with lots of natural light, but with warming touches such as three sparkling crystal chandeliers above the optical and a barnwood wall in the front desk area. “I love the shabby chic look, so I added a touch of rustic charm” with the wall, she says.

When Kingsville, Ontario’s original fire hall went on the market, Jakob knew it was time to open her own practice.

Her main challenge was making design decisions. “I am not a natural at picturing the ‘after’ while looking at the ‘before,’” she admits. For this reason, she’s a strong advocate of getting outside help. Jakob says the first person she called after buying the building was Ohio-based optometric practice consultant Dr. Richard S. Kattouf. He helped with the design and layout of the office, and offered advice on hiring and running the business. “For anyone overwhelmed at the thought of opening a practice cold, but who knows that it’s their dream, I’d highly recommend hiring a consultant … A quote that has stuck with me is ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’”

Jakob doesn’t target a specific clientele, but says she sees a lot of women between the ages of 20 and 40, and believes this has to do with the big role that social media plays in her advertising. “My optical caters to much more than this specific demographic, but I would say these patients are the ones that spread the word on my pretty boutique optical, and offer a lot of support on my social media platforms.”

Jakob does all her own social media. She devotes a considerable amount of time to it, posting something “cute, clever or informative” on Instagram and FB daily, something she’s quite sure has attracted many new patients. She had Cowlick Studios design her website and logo, but since then has done all of her own branding and advertising, including POP, gift certificates, thank you cards and social media posts.

Frames are merchandised as male, female or unisex, as well as by brand. Her favorites are Oliver Peoples, Maui Jim, Tom Ford, Swarovski and Kate Spade, but Jakob is interested in private label and hopes someday to design a house brand.
EYES has its own edger, and “amazing staff member Pauline makes all of our glasses in house.” The practice does not currently have an inventory of lenses, but the labs Jakob uses are quick and most jobs are done in a week or sooner.

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Jakob prides herself on keeping up with the latest technology. However, she keeps the patient’s perspective in mind when it comes to tech. “One thing I’m proud of is that patients always tell me how much they appreciate how thorough I am and that I explain everything I am doing and why.” She believes this has helped grow her practice quickly. “Patients don’t care how much you know,” Jakob says, “until they know how much you care.”

PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob

1. AWARD WINNER. Dr. Jakob received the Young Professional of the Year Award from the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce at the 28th Annual Business Excellence Awards in April last year.

2. BLOOMING FRIENDSHIP. Every woman who has an exam at EYES is given a flower afterward.

3. FAMILY TIES. The optical at EYES is adorned by an eyeglasses-themed table made by Jakob’s “amazing” father-in-law, with help from her “awesome” husband.

4. A GOOD SIGN. EYES’ distinctive exterior sign was made by local metal company, Bailey Inc. “Since opening, I’ve actually had several friends ask for his information and he even made a logo for another OD in Connecticut.”

5. FULL SERVICE. Jakob performs a screening OCT on all adults, and retinal photos “on any patient old enough to sit still long enough for it.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” Hello all ECPs? Read it. Learn it. Be it!!! Congrats, Dr. Jakob, That’s the ballgame. You move to the front of the class with that one! To be just starting out, like this, tells me we have an optometric superstar retailer on our hands. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • The logo and awning have a lot of impact. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • What a great little boutique practice! It has a nice, modern, fresh look to it that is very inviting. I like the energy of the owner and her eye for details in design. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story

Jakob has some interesting ideas on the best way to use social media. “Don’t just post the usual ‘eye’ and ‘glasses’ stuff you can search for on Pinterest, that you didn’t make. Think about what’s on your mind that day and then search for clever quotes about it … Then if you want to make it your own, create it in an app like WordSwag. It doesn’t always have to be about the eyes!” Jakob says she always gets more likes when she posts a picture of herself, her staff, her pets or her patients (with their permission), “because everyone loves to get to know people, and people love supporting people. I recently got married, and so many of my patients are so supportive and interested, so for those of you that have big events going on in your life, patients love getting a glimpse into that, and I believe it makes their connection to you stronger.”

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