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A Safe Space for Self-Expression

A vintage vibe, cutting-edge frames and a nurturing environment have set this Vancouver optical apart for years.

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The Optical Boutique, Vancouver, British Columbia

OWNER: Sue Randhawa; URL:theopticalboutique.com ; FOUNDED: 1979; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 1,000 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Anne et Valentin, Theo, Jacques Marie Mage, Face á Face, LPLR ; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/theopticalboutique; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/theopticalboutique


Randhawa enjoys the juxtaposition of antique or vintage aesthetics and The Optical Boutique’s fashion-forward frames.

THE OPTICAL BOUTIQUE was founded in 1979 and quickly became a key destination for eyewear connoisseurs in Vancouver. Sue Randhawa worked alongside the original owners for 15 years before purchasing the business in 2007. Having already built a rapport with the clientele, she opted for a minor update rather than a wholesale reinvention. But that would soon be forced upon her when the building management unexpectedly invoked a clause in the lease that allowed them to tear the site down for a complete rebuild. “What began as an unfortunate circumstance evolved into an awesome opportunity. I was involved in the entire design process [of the new store]. It was amazing to be able to see my vision for the space become a reality.”

The Optical Boutique is unmistakably the expression of a personality, rather than the sleek product of a design consultancy. Frames reside in antique draws, set off by vintage signage; they’re draped over old books with cracked spines and perched atop ancient typewriters. Randhawa’s touch is evident in large features like the store’s brick accent wall, its display cabinets, and the antiques she collects during frame-buying trips. She particularly enjoys the juxtaposition of antique or vintage aesthetics and The Optical Boutique’s fashion-forward frames.

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Randhawa tries to travel at least twice a year to European shows for buying and chooses selections with her diverse clientele in mind. “I choose collections that are handmade, unique, colorful, and whenever possible logo-free.”

The store is located in Kerrisdale, a “tight-knit” community, in Randhawa’s words, on Vancouver’s West Side that skews to the older and wealthier, though The Optical Boutique has established a city-wide reputation and is drawing a growing number of people from other demographics and neighborhoods thanks to its well-tended online presence. “Our average client is around 60-70 years old and is anything but typical. One of the things we hear often in the store is how diverse our collection is,” she says. “We often have clients in the neighborhood who come in with their friends to get a minor adjustment and end up staying to visit and browse.”

The team at The Optical Boutique strives for a nurturing environment. “We encourage positive self-talk, as the majority of people, when confronted with a mirror, become their own biggest critic. This type of service does not go unnoticed as we receive numerous recommendations based on the experience we provide.” So numerous, in fact, that Randhawa doesn’t really bother with traditional marketing. “We have spent 40 years sticking to our simple business model — to sell quality products at a reasonable price and focus on providing the best customer service possible,” she says. “It speaks volumes to us that we get most of our new clients from them seeing and loving our eyewear on existing clients and being referred in to us.”

Having said that, she does have a strong presence on social media. “I really do try to follow a posting schedule, but I find that my organic posts, the ones that I share because I like something about the image, seem to resonate more.” The store’s Facebook and Instagram accounts reflect Randhawa’s deep engagement with the local fashion scene. “The images I post illustrate the way we work; each person is different and has their own fashion journey. I like to show other women they can have fun with their eyewear.”

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Randhawa credits her staff of “unique and complementary individuals. Each has their own perspective, style, taste, and personality. I love that we all bring different strengths to the table. Some days it feels like we spend more time laughing than working.”

It says a lot about Randhawa’s achievement at The Optical Boutique that to her, entering the store “feels like coming home. I have had clients tell me it feels more like visiting a friend than an optical store. This is a place where clients become friends and people feel safe to express themselves.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Optical Boutique

1. MATCH MAKER. Randhawa has relationships with all of Vancouver’s major lens manufacturers “so we have the diversity to find the right lens on an individual basis.”

2. FASHION FIXTURE. The team are regulars at Vancouver Fashion Week. “I love seeing the designers’ concepts come to life. It’s so much fun to be a part of their journey and to collaborate with them.”

3. INFLUENCER. @theopticalboutique was voted one of the “Top 25 Vancouver Fashion Instagram accounts to follow” by a local online newspaper.

4. DOOR-TO-DOOR. Randhawa makes house calls. Sometimes with a small collection of frames to do a complete fit in the home, other times just to say hi. “It’s a lovely interlude in my day.”

5. GIVING BACK. Every year the business provides a scholarship to an emerging designer or student who shows at Fashion Week.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Sue’s love of fashion and eyewear is evident; but what strikes me even more is her desire to help patients discover their personal style: “Each person is different and has their own fashion journey.” Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Sue’s passion and enthusiasm for quality, individuality and culture clearly translate into a unique story with a strong dose of personality — all with a distinct point of view. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • There are some awesomely creative things about this shop — and the social media looks as slick and cool as the website. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The best marketing tool The Optical Boutique has is Sue. Her active involvement in the local fashion scene and her unique and eclectic style provide amazing PR that cannot be bought. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Randhawa and her team have worked hard to disabuse their clientele of the idea that they have to match their eyewear to their clothes. “For so long people have been worried that their new glasses won’t ‘go’ with what they’ve got in their wardrobe, but this has to stop,” she says. “We try to educate each client that our goal is for the eyewear to be harmonious with their own coloring, and that means they won’t have to worry about matching it. In fact, sometimes having a contrasting color can be quite striking.” Randhawa tries to show through her own eyewear that glasses can be an excellent way to make a statement, add some color to a complexion, or even elevate an outfit. “I think what we’ve created at The Optical Boutique is a safe space for people to try to test their own boundaries and explore their inner creativity in a way they might not have even considered before,” she says.

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 [email protected]

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