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The Quality-Over-Quantity Optical

Frameology Optical was born of Stacy Daniel-Murphy’s frustration at having her creativity and opticianry skills stifled by industry norms. Few opticals so defiantly express an owner’s personality.

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Frameology Optical, East Syracuse, NY

OWNER: Stacy Daniel-Murphy; URL: frameologyoptical.com; FOUNDED: 2013; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; AREA: 1,400 sq. ft.; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 2 part-time; TOP BRANDS: Theo, Anne et Valentin, Matsuda, Wissing, SALT, Etnia Barcelona; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/frameologyoptical ; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/frameology ; YELP: yelp.com/frameologyoptical


ASK STACY DANIEL-MURPHY, owner of Frameology Optical in East Syracuse, NY, how it all got started, and she’ll tell you, “It’s a long path to a short history.” Emerging from that long learning curve is a business that embodies the spirit of independent optical retail: uncompromising core values, financially realistic, flying the flag for beautiful, well-made eyewear, and convinced that quality service can only be delivered by ECPs with a free hand to make good choices for their customers.

Daniel-Murphy had been in the business 20-plus years before she struck out on her own. She’d learned the ropes, becoming a licensed optician and earning a degree in finance. In 2014, after a six-year stint running a bead store, she found herself back with her old doctor, chafing under their conventional approach. “I was extremely frustrated with insurance companies dictating lens styles, and with the quality of work their labs put out.” It was time.

Just as she was getting started, a personal crisis threatened to become a professional one; a key source of funds dried up as she and her husband divorced. Switching gears, she took out a loan and covered a few bills on credit cards (not something she recommends).

Daniel-Murphy was adamant about not taking insurance, insisting on total freedom to choose labs, lenses and designers. This meant forgoing a key business driver; without insurance, “There is no real way to get people in the beginning.” So she planned for low sales and cash flow: eight pairs of glasses per month for the first eight months. “I was pretty much correct!” She set aside $8,000 the first year and did TV, print and digital. “I visited optometrists, even if they had an optical, to explain what I do and ask them to send patients my way that wanted something different.” Her ad budget has since dropped, with Google and referrals driving 90 percent of Frameology’s clients. “I am a huge believer in SEO.”

Drawn to Theo, Matsuda, Etnia Barcelona and the like — frames that are “colorful, fun, stylish, high-quality and comfortable” — Daniel-Murphy now finds most of her lines on Instagram. She was disillusioned at her old job with the styles and quality of designer licensed names. “I was frustrated about the fit first, then the style.” She was disturbed to see people spending $250-$400 on a frame only to find it was either uncomfortable or flimsy. “More than half my day was adjusting, repairing, or redoing lenses. I wasn’t fulfilling my inner optician/fashion-conscious self!” Independents, she found, “create frames that look good and fit; the temple fits over the ear, the enamel doesn’t chip, they use the best acetates so the frame stays in shape. Since I’ve been fitting these awesome frames, my adjustments and repairs are maybe one out of 15. I enjoy being an optician again!”

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She designed her space “not to feel like an optical, but to know that it’s clearly an optical when you walk in. There’s nothing traditional about it; there’s only things that make me feel at home.” The comfort is offset by interesting touches like a corrugated steel wall, copper ceiling, recycled furniture and a spiral staircase. The eyewear is integral to the design. “It’s easy to get caught up in decorating, but I try to step back and let the frames be the ‘art.’”

She’s come a long way from “begging friends to have lunch, doing Sudokus and Pinteresting like it was my job.” The key takeaway from the early days? “Patience. In optical, it’s a necessity! I worked with every single customer to build a foundation and get strong referrals. I didn’t deviate from my business plan — quality sales not quantity — and it is slowly paying off.”

Opticians, says Daniel-Murphy, are the pharmacists of the optical world. “We specialize in lenses and prescriptions. There are so many options it’s mind boggling!” Her job has always been to find the optimal fit and lens. Now, it seems she’s found a way to have a really good time doing that. “I sell the frames that I love and the lenses I believe in; it’s a good way to spend a day.”

PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Frameology Optical

1. SELF SERVICE.   Frameology’s selfie station consists of an iPad mounted on the wall. Customers can snap a photo and email or text someone for their opinion. “Customers feel comfortable about sharing the pictures which helps them make a solid decision,” says Daniel-Murphy.
2. OUT AND ABOUT.  Daniel-Murphy decided in 2016 to take her trunk shows off-site. “A friend owns a beautiful hair studio with lots of space. She has a great clientele and they all love the frames she wears (she owns over 50 of mine!) so we decided to have the show there. It was a huge success… By having the show offsite, I was able to get my name out.”
3. EXPERT TOUCHES.   The design of Frameology is basically hers, but Daniel-Murphy had some help from architect Craig Polhamus with lighting and display placement, and she also credits Dana Durdarchik, “an incredible wood worker who tolerated my changes.” The name itself is the result of “a few good friends plus wine.”
4. BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE.   Frameology boasts an 11-foot dispensing table that seats six people, which Daniel-Murphy says “encourages conversation and allows multiple people to help in the selection process. I love when there’s a bunch of us just laughing and having fun, that’s when I realize how much I really do enjoy what I do!”
5. FULL CREDIT.   Holding a Bachelor’s in finance “helped immensely,” Daniel-Murphy says. “It taught me how money works, how banks and loans work, and it especially taught me valuable accounting skills. I had a pretty good understanding of cash flow, expenses, liabilities and profit.”
 

FINE STORY

Reflecting owner Stacy Daniel-Murphy’s passion for beautiful eyewear, as well as her skepticism about what established luxury brands really have to offer, Frameology Optical seems a perfect fit for its community. “Syracuse,” Daniel-Murphy reflects, “can be a tough crowd.” But it suits her to a tee. “I’ve lived here many years, graduated from high school here and love it. We aren’t the richest or hippest city in the country but we like art and originality. My clientele are people who like service mainly.” In a previous life, as an optician for-hire, she knew she was going to have to educate herself about “color, different materials and styles of eyeglasses” because “there wasn’t any in Syracuse.”. Now that she’s done that, “I love what I do and hopefully it shows.”

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WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • The philosophy stated on their website: “To promote self-expression through distinctive, handmade artisan eyewear while being focused on superior customer care.” Folks, it doesn’t get much better than that. And having an optical trunk show off-site at a hair-studio? Sheer brilliance! Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • Nice airy open floor plan with a few nicely placed industrial materials on the ceiling and walls. Jack Verdon, Verdon Architects, San Francisco, CA
  • Frameology has a beautiful esthetic. The word ‘cute’ comes to mind, but that doesn’t fully capture the experience that customers can expect. With her years of experience, Stacy’s design has the shopping experience dialed in. The use of color reduces the barrier many customers face when choosing something bolder for their own face.James and Dr. Laura Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care, Portland, OR

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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This North Carolina Practice Greets Patients with a Beer, a Song and a Wag of the Tail

Simple word of mouth has kept them growing since day one.

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Swell Vision Center, Leland, NC

OWNER: Craig Scibal, OD; URL:swellvisioncenter.com; FOUNDED: 2016; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: BMH Architects, Bryan Humphrey Designs, Ken Hardy, Jonathan Pratt; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Todd Rogers, Moscot, OGI, Seraphin, Maui Jim; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/swellvisioncenter; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/swellvisioncenter; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


Owner Dr. Craig Scibal’s favorite patient is one that ‘comes in with their dog, has a beer and gets to know the practice while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music.’

H AVE YOU EVER asked yourself who your favorite type of patient is? Or is that the sort of question small business owners are no longer allowed to permit themselves? Dr. Craig Scibal, owner of Swell Vision Center in Leland, NC, has no such qualms. “My favorite patient is one that comes in with their dog, has a beer, gets to know us while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music, and then leaves excited to tell their friends about their experience.”

Clearly, here’s a practice that knows who and what it is, something its clientele — described by Scibal as “mostly newly retired happy folks from the Northeast,” seem to appreciate. Scibal and his team have pulled off that rare feat of delivering top-level patient care and eyewear while remaining true to themselves.

Swell Vision Center opened its doors cold one April day in 2016 in Leland, a small town west of Wilmington. Their first patient walked in around 11 a.m. and asked if they were open. “Admittedly shocked that somebody came in, my staff member and I were slightly speechless and stumbled upon the word ‘yes.’ Since that day, Swell has continued to grow, with most of our advertising and marketing being word of mouth.”

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In high school, Scibal worked for the private practice his dad owned for about 25 years in Morehead City, NC. He later worked at Elite Vision Care, a private practice in League City, TX, while attending optometry school in Houston.

“I knew that I wanted to be in Leland, NC, based on the growth it had seen,” says Scibal. Thanks to the huge influx of retirees southeastern North Carolina has seen in recent years, Brunswick has been the fastest growing county in the state since 2015. “The area really only had one other place for eyecare, so I figured I’d try to get in early before it became too saturated.”

Swell has made a point of offering all the latest technology and frame lines, carrying mostly independent eyewear brands that are unique to the area. “We’ve tried to shy away from having eyewear that can be purchased everywhere around town and I think patients enjoy it. Not only do patients appreciate it, but staff really appreciate it when they can tell you’re invested in the practice, so it’s a win-win.”

Dr. Scibal knew he wanted to be located in Leland, NC, based on the growth the town has seen in recent years, largely thanks to retirees.

According to Scibal, the office was designed so that somebody would come in and feel at home — not at a doctor’s office. Using a lot of neutral colors, polished concrete, metal and brick, the office design relays a relaxed and professional atmosphere. The office is split into a front half consisting of a reception desk/area and optical boutique, and a back half consisting of the pretest/exam/and contact lens area. The two are separated by frosted glass barn doors that create a modern feel with a comfortable, homey twist. Candles and oil diffusers enhance the olfactory experience.

Visiting Swell is a bit like calling on that one friend who puts you to shame by being such a thoughtful host. The idea, Scibal says, is that from the moment a patient calls the practice, they start to wonder if they are even talking to a doctor’s office. “With questions like, ‘What would you like to drink upon your arrival — water/beer/wine/soda/tea/coffee?’ to ‘Are you cool with dogs?’ to ‘What kind of music do you like?’ the patient realizes this isn’t just another office.

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Little does the patient know, every answer they give is written down and studied by the staff prior to their arrival.” When they turn up, their favorite drinks and music are waiting for them. (See Five Cool Things on page 71).

The personable approach carries over to Swell’s online presence. Says Scibal, “I think your website should be quick, clean, and informative. For a lot of people, it is the first impression they’ll get of your establishment and brand.” Swell’s site incorporates professional images of the office, logos of the eyewear, and information on the staff and the doctor. “So in that sense, I see our website as all three.” Possibly due to the demographic, Scibal doesn’t see social media as much of a sales channel or foot traffic driver, posting once every few weeks or so, mostly highlighting a new frame line, staff introduction post, or a funny optometry meme.

“I am nothing without my staff,” admits Scibal. The first interaction with Swell Vision Center is typically with the thick British accent of the receptionist, Helen. “She truly defines customer service and makes every single person feel comfortable and feeling like they want a ‘cup o’ tea.’ Both of the opticians/technicians are cross-trained and can float amongst the office performing any task as needed. Both are genuinely excited about eyewear and typically rub off their excitement on patients.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Swell Vision Center

1. PARTY TIME. Every time Swell gets another 100 5-star Google reviews, they throw a staff party, ranging from axe throwing to Topgolf.

2. TUNE IN. Upon entering the exam room, patients hear the music they requested during their appointment call, streaming at 50 percent volume so they hear it immediately, then a bit lower once the exam gets underway.

3. LOCAL BREWS. Swell is constantly rotating its craft beer selection with local breweries. With the craft beer industry booming in the area, it adds local flavor to the experience.

4. SLICE OF LIFE. Every year, Swell sponsors the photo booth at the local Children’s Museum. The event, called ‘Pizza Putt,’ converts the entire museum into a putt-putt course and brings in local pizza vendors and breweries.

5. GOODIES. Swell has custom Freakers (drink covers seen on Shark Tank), custom socks, and T-shirts/hoodies/polos for giving away to loyal patients.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Swell’s personal touch and welcoming approach to eyecare and eyewear shine through in their hospitality and how they take care of their customers. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the story — something so genuine and simple about the honesty and less-is-more approach. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • This is a great example of independent optometry and the personalized service that is so critical for differentiation and success. Great cabinetry, and love the little personal service touchpoints. The attention to detail in regard to customers’ preferred beverages and music is a nice touch, as are the craft beer offerings supporting local business. The content on their digital platforms contains a nice balance and shows off the warm personality of the business. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

One of the most important members of the team at Swell is Horatio (full name Horatio Fizkin Scibal), a “very well-behaved, found in a trash can, beautiful rescue dog who is the official greeter,” according to Scibal. He greets each patient at the entrance, follows them through pre-testing and the exam (he has a bed next to the exam chair), and helps them pick out eyewear. Since the day Scibal rescued Horatio in 2014, “he has been the most gentle and loyal dog I’ve ever known.” When a new patient calls to set up an appointment they are always asked if they mind having a “sweet pup named Horatio” roaming the office at their appointment. “In 3.5 years of being open, we’ve probably had less than 10 patients say they’d prefer him not to be there,” says Scibal. Horatio features prominently in marketing material, and behind the front desk there’s even a painted portrait of him at the phoropter getting his eyes checked.

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Let This California Practice Show You What the Perfect Balance of Brick-and-Mortar Experience and Social Media Engagement Looks Like

They’ve branded themselves the ‘Eyewear Gurus’ for the millennial generation.

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Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

OWNER: Rob Szeliga, OD; URL:springhilleyecare.com; FOUNDED: 2005; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Rob Stensland, Optometric Architects (architect); Amy LeAnn Szeliga (interior designer); EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 8,300 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Dailies Total 1/Multifocals, Kate Spade, Costa, Shamir, neurolens; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/springhilleyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/springhilleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.6 million


Owner/OD
Dr. Park L. Hsieh of Eye Love
Optometry in Pinole, CA.

PRIOR TO OPENING Eye Love Optometry, Dr. Park L. Hsieh experienced the full breadth of optometry, practicing simultaneously in three modalities: a surgery owned by MDs, a multi-doctor optometric practice, and on-call coverage for a corporate chain. “It gave me a chance to evaluate in which setting I felt the most comfortable,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the continuity of care in the private practice setting, seeing the same families on a yearly basis.” Similarly, long-time collaborator Aidan Vo had his own vision of the ideal optical experience. “We decided to dive, headfirst, into taking over an established optometric practice — with me tending to the clinical care of patients, while Aidan managed matters relating to the optical.”

In 2008, Hsieh purchased an 11-year-old practice in El Sobrante, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and with Vo set about transforming it. They gave themselves a crash course in all areas of the business: customer service, patient education and flow, diagnostic tech and high-quality ophthalmic products. The optical was stocked with independent eyewear brands, including a handful of handcrafted overseas lines that helped them stand out. The next level beckoned, and they shifted to neighboring Pinole, CA, in 2012. The move allowed them to completely rebrand, and Eye Love Optometry was born. Buoyed by a 2018 remodel, Hsieh now feels the practice appeals to a wider patient base, though when pressed to name a target demographic he cites “professional women aged 25-55 and their family and friends.”

Hsieh says Eye Love’s clientele also includes many patients with an eye for art and fashion, and a substantial contingent of “more progressive, hip and edgy Millennials.” Accordingly, he and Vo opted for an aesthetic that is clean, sleek, minimalist and modern to serve as a backdrop for the eyewear, which is consciously presented as art.

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A key feature of the optical is the “eYebar,” a long custom-designed eyewear display case that also serves as a communal frame selection and dispensing table, catering to the Millennial emphasis on the unique experience. “Why else would they line up for two hours to experience a unique craft cocktail concocted by an expert mixologist? Well, since eyewear are works of art in their own right nowadays, the concept of the eYebar makes a lot of sense.”

Opticians at Eye Love Optometry are branded as “Eyewear Gurus” on their business cards, on the website, and in a monthly ad campaign in a local magazine. They essentially serve as personal stylists to patients. Says Hsieh, “They ask probing and open-ended questions about our patients’ lifestyle…as well as their preferred attire, colors, etc. They get a sense of the individual needs of each patient and, therefore, are better able to uniquely guide them, based on their own preferences.”

The team at EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY, including owner/OD Dr. Park L. Hsieh, third from left, and optical manager Aidan Vo, third from right.

Complementing the brick-and-mortar experience is Eye Love’s relentlessly creative use of social media (see Five Cool Things on p. 67). Hsieh hired a professional to photograph selected eyewear frames, “strategically using rays of sunlight, which hit the frames at certain angles, to cast interesting shadows behind and around them. Playing around with the position and number of frames, unexpectedly beautiful shapes were created. We were then able to integrate this photography into our website and social media.”

Eye Love’s dedication to staff development is serious, involving bi-weekly check-ins, quarterly reviews, continuing education and visits from ophthalmic reps. Opticians are encouraged to become ABO certified, with all costs covered. Community engagement is also stressed. Eye Love donates eyewear, supports a local Multicultural Children’s Bookstore, and has even helped pay for a patient’s journey to compete in the Junior Olympics.

Dr. Hsieh recommends an Optomap retinal scan to all patients. “Every patient who opts to have it is given the option of having the results e-mailed to them, reinforcing the high-tech nature of our practice, by allowing our patients to see the inside of their own eyes,” he says. The practice has invested in high-tech diagnostic equipment, and another standout feature on the medical side is its Myopia Control Specialty, reflecting Hsieh’s belief that many eye doctors don’t do enough to address this epidemic.

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According to Hsieh, Eye Love Optometry’s mission is twofold: “to exceed expectations and instill confidence,” in terms of both eyecare and eyewear. “Building a personal rapport with our patients has always been our secret to gaining their loyalty.”

PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Eye Love Optometry

1. PLEASE YOUR SELF. Eye Love Optometry’s iPad-based selfie photo station allows photos to be taken and sent to be shared on social media. Patients are given a “Selfie Card” encouraging them to share the photos. The station uses Simple Booth’s Halo software, which makes the service fully customizable.

2. WINNING STRATEGY. To boost social media engagement, Eye Love holds contests that encourage patients to follow it on Instagram and Facebook. The patient, after showing that they have followed the business, is automatically entered in a raffle to win a predetermined prize.

3. MONTHLY THANKS. For its “Patient of the Month” program, the practice chooses (with their permission) an ideal patient who is rewarded with a gift basket or small prize. “This reinforces to our followers that we truly do care,” says Hsieh.

4. A LITTLE YELP. Selected patients are issued a “Yelper Card” that says, “YELP us to spread the LOVE!” A QR code with instructions to “SCAN ME” automatically directs patients with smartphones to the specific web page that lets them write a Yelp review.

5. SHARING THE LOVE. The store donates eyewear to a child in need whenever a patient purchases an annual supply of contacts through LensFerry, a program allowing incremental monthly payments.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • I really like what they’re doing! NBill Gerber, Contentlinq & OMG! Marketing Group, San Diego, CA
  • Under Dr. Park Hsieh’s leadership, Eye Love Optometry have thoughtfully designed their store, logo and brand to create a space that lets the eyewear as art speak for itself. Eye Love Optometry’s use of technology, combined with a personal touch, brings forward an optical retailer that gets what customers want today. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the logo, and the minimalist design — combined with the colorful marketing — works for these guys. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The term ‘Eyewear Guru’ is an interesting way to project an aura of expertise for their opticians. The practice appears very advanced on the clinical side, which works well with the streamlined, modern optical environment. The Myopic Control Clinic is a great focus. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

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Want 15 Years of Growth While Keeping Your Team Close and Building the Optical of Your Dreams? This Tennessee Practice Can Show You How

They knew that if they treated patients right, the business would succeed.

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Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

OWNER: Rob Szeliga, OD; URL:springhilleyecare.com; FOUNDED: 2005; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Rob Stensland, Optometric Architects (architect); Amy LeAnn Szeliga (interior designer); EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 8,300 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Dailies Total 1/Multifocals, Kate Spade, Costa, Shamir, neurolens; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/springhilleyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/springhilleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.6 million


ROB SZELIGA MOVED to Spring Hill, TN, about 30 miles south of Nashville, with his family as a teenager in 1993. They were in the vanguard of an influx that has seen the population grow from 1,200 to over 40,000. He graduated from Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in 2005 and opened Spring Hill Eyecare “ice cold.” He and his wife Amy had a clear idea of what they wanted the business to be: a practice that offers the total package and only refers when surgery is needed. “I spent 100 percent of my time and energy growing my practice — not filling in elsewhere,” he recalls. “Luckily, I had strong support — a wife teaching elementary school and my mom and two sisters as my first employees. We knew that if we treated patients right, the practice would grow.” They started with 1,200 square feet, their newborn son Jackson literally growing up in the office. “My second lane didn’t have a phoropter, it had a crib,” says Szeliga. By their 10th anniversary they already had one major expansion under their belt and needed another.

Spring Hill Eyecare owner Rob Szeliga OD with his wife Amy and family.

The Szeliga’s found their dream location in a vacant 1870 farmhouse, but the structure would require demolition if it was going to work. “Without the proper approach, this would not be well received in a community growing as fast as Spring Hill, and quickly losing its small-town charm,” recalls Szeliga. They posted a letter on their blog explaining their plans, and this honest approach elicited overwhelmingly positive feedback online.
In the months before the house and barns were demolished, Szeliga would leave work, change clothes and get busy reclaiming their great features, including 11 fireplace mantles, original barnwood/beadboard, old doors (now frame boards), giant parlor doors, live edge maple breakroom tables milled from original trees, wavy glass muntin windows, and a cast-iron tub flower bed. The new building’s layout centered around preserving a giant, centuries-old oak tree.

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The juxtaposition of the salvaged fixtures and curios with the practice’s modern equipment lends a unique vibe to the exam rooms, each of which has a theme, including “garage” (the practice’s logo painted on a 1940s truck door) and “music” (with 100-year-old instruments) to name just two. Spring Hill Eyecare’s dry eye treatment center is called The Greenhouse after the one on the original property. “You go in the room with dry eyes facing old rusty tools,” says Szeliga. “When you get up from the massaging chair your view is of lush plants and flowers; you leave refreshed.”

Catering to the town’s expanding demographic, the team sees everyone from InfantSEE babies to geriatric patients. Among its numerous specialty facilities is a 900-sq-ft. sports vision/vision therapy center.
Szeliga used to spend about $400 a month on newspaper ads, but he says that all changed when, for a one-time fee of that same amount, he hired a patient to install a marquee sign under the practice’s street sign. “When the sign is not describing an upcoming event, we try to keep it full of puns or statements about pop culture, particularly eye-related ones.” He says simply keeping this sign funny and relevant generates enough community feedback and new patients that he doesn’t bother much with traditional marketing anymore.

Word of mouth is Spring Hill Eyecare’s other main form of advertising, much of it generated by creatively cultivating ties with the community through charitable and other events.  Examples include Kids’ Day and a Pre-Parade Hot Chocolate Party every year before the Christmas parade. “We even begged to get the parade path extended to go by our new location to keep this tradition,” Szeliga says. Spring Hill Eyecare sponsors many schools, teams and causes, but they also enjoy creating their own charitable events, like their “Give A Gobbler” Thanksgiving turkey campaign. The team “gobbles” loudly for donations. “For larger donations even our doctors gobble!”

One of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870s farmhouse that once stood on the site is displayed in the optical.

Szeliga says that while there are ECPs with flashier sites, he’s proud of the genuine feel he’s achieved with Spring Hill Eyecare’s online presence. “Too many websites have just generic stock photos … Our most popular posts are those involving personal photos or stories about myself, my family and my team.”

He credits the trust he has established with his prized team for much of Spring Hill Eyecare’s success. And it’s a quality he repays handsomely. A believer in continuing education, he has taken his team to the state optometry meeting for the last 10 years and to IDOC’s Orlando meeting the last five. But it’s not all work and study. “For our 2018 Christmas party I rented a Hummer limo for a Christmas lights tour and created a jigsaw puzzle to reveal clues about their Christmas gift: a four-night cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate an excellent 2018,” he says.

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Crucially, through all the rapid growth, the practice has never lost the close-knit feel of the early days. “While I no longer have family working at my office,” says Szeliga, “we’ve been able to keep the family atmosphere for 13 years.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Spring Hill Eyecare

1. TV STARS. Szeliga’s repurposing of the old farmhouse that once stood on the site of the practice was featured in DIY Network’s Nashville Flipped series.

2. GOOGLE TOUR. Its website features a Google virtual tour: the photographers liked the building so much they shot extra rooms in exchange for being able to feature them on their website.

3. NEVER LEAVING. The coffee bar has two TVs, charging stations, customized coloring books for grownups, mini-fridge and a Keurig coffeemaker.

4. ACCOLADES GALORE. Office manager Melanie Jenkins was named Tennessee Paraoptometric of the year in 2018, SECO Paraoptometric of the year in 2019 and AOA Paraoptometric of the year in 2019.

5. WALKING ADS. At a community event this year staff had low-cost suns made with their logo and a sticker: “Redeem for $25 off a pair of sunglasses.” Only a few people did, but “others [wore] them around town,” says Szeliga. Next year’s target: high school marching bands.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Outstanding community engagement throughout the planning and construction of their new location. Honoring the legacy of the former structure by incorporating materials and elements is a testament to their respect and concern for the community they serve. Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Spring Hill Eyecare has built an optical business that’s people- and purpose-focused, and they’ve fostered a growing business by organically growing their practice, while remaining true to providing quality eyecare in a welcoming environment. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • The space is bonkers! Overall one of our faves! Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The focus on local, independent optometry is evident across all aspects of the business. The website shines. It is easy to maneuver, has all the info one would be looking for and the imagery is great. I felt like I knew the practice and the doctor after visiting. The themed exam rooms are also a great idea as they create a relaxed, eclectic environment for their high-tech functions. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Beneath a window in Spring Hill Eyecare’s optical, customers will find a hefty, timeworn, earth-stained rock that, while adding natural charm, clearly bears the marks of human shaping. It was one of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870 farmhouse that once stood on the site. The stone was hand-cut in the 1860s. Says Szeliga, “Opening my practice cold was a lot like the process of forming this hand-cut stone. It took patience — and patients! Like the old house, we started with a strong foundation that was built on two pearls I learned early: ‘What’s good for the patient is good for the practice,’ and ‘See everything we do from the patient’s point of view.’ Trends and tech are constantly changing…but we continually grow based on our strong foundation.”

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