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Where the Heart Is

This Chicago-area optical delivers quality care, fine eyewear, and a family atmosphere. And they know how to have fun.

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Midwest Eye, Downers Grove, IL

OWNER: Todd A. Robert, OD; URL: visionsource-midwesteye.com; FOUNDED: 2014; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Patrick Fortelka, formerly of CVG Architects, current owner of Moment Design; EMPLOYEES: 9 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 5,600 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Silhouette, Morel, Europa, Varilux X, Eyezen, Fresh Day, Proclear, Biotrue; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/MidwestEye; INSTAGRAM:instagram.com/midwesteye2600; TWITTER:twitter.com/MidwestEye2600; YELP:yelp.com/biz/midwest-eye-downers-grove


‘Hire good help’ is the most important lesson Midwest Eye owner Dr. Todd Robert has learned.

WHEN MIDWEST EYE opened in June 2014, recalls owner Dr. Todd Robert, staff spent the first month in a rented office, ordering contacts, answering calls and scheduling appointments from practice manager Pam Peters’ kitchen table, and training on new equipment at the doctor’s house for a couple of weeks. When the buildout was complete, the team moved into their current location in Downers Grove, a well-heeled suburb of Chicago. For a new business, Midwest Eye was somewhat unique in that the staff and doctor had previously worked together as part of another practice.

Downers Grove was specifically chosen as a location because Dr. Robert knew going in that it was home to the biggest share of the new practice’s patient base. “The office space was wide open, no walls, when we selected the space, allowing us to custom design what we needed,” recalls Robert, who made a point of getting his team’s input into the design of the work space, patient testing areas, reception and optical. “The entire group collaborated with our architect and builder to create kiosks for optical desks, offering a bit of privacy for our patients’ optical purchases. We created a ‘data bar’ in the center of the office complete with charging stations for our patients or reps as they show frames,” he says. The bar, situated between the reception desk and the optical, also offers additional seating.

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The open floor plan, dominated by reclaimed brick and lumber, and brightened with green, orange and yellow accents, features artwork from a local artist as well as photos from the doctor’s mission trips.

The business has developed a quirky, fun, highly personalized approach to online marketing that uses staff as models, inserted into recreations of iconic pop culture imagery, covering everything from Springsteen’s Born in the USA cover to a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off poster (a customer lent them the red convertible) to Men in Black. “This is our cup of tea! From recreating album covers to putting up a snowy backdrop and making a ‘sleigh’ for staff and patient Christmas pictures, we love to participate in our advertising projects,” says Peters. The practice’s online presence is viewed as both sales channel and branding tool, she adds. “We are still learning how to best utilize online, social media promotions, PSAs and events.”

Midwest tries to cater to all ages and styles with its eyewear, with a preference for high-quality frames manufactured in Europe, Japan and the US that are not readily available online. Says, Robert, “In setting up our optical we have worked to find a unique balance of frames for our patients — budget conscious to high-end frame lines.”

The practice is five years old, but the majority of staff have been working together for a decade or more. The team is close-knit, says Robert, adding that patients “feel the warmth.” He returns to this point when asked to cite the most important lesson he’s learned as an optical business owner: “Hire good help,” he says. “Enthusiastic employees with a passion for patient care, learning and all things optometric/optical will create an atmosphere that your patients and staff love.”

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Joining Robert three days a week is Dr. Dean Bauer, who also works with ophthalmic surgeons from Kirk Eye Center, to whom Midwest Eye refers patients for cataract and Lasik surgery. His experience interning at Hines VA Hospital for a year and mentoring optometry and ophthalmology residents has given him a strong medical background.

In addition to routine exams, the doctors see patients for co-management of cataract and Lasik surgeries and for glaucoma management. Midwest Eye is a part of its patients’ diabetic care teams and has a doctor on call for urgent or emergency visits 24/7. Says Dr. Robert, “Our constant feedback is that our patients appreciate the knowledge of the doctors and staff, the education that they get, the caring, family-like environment, the options and assistance they receive in our optical, and the attention to detail with their insurance questions and options. We enjoy seeing our patients, often sharing a hug and/or family photos as they come or go.”

 

Fine Story: Missions to Honduras

Midwest Eye has a hallway devoted to photos of mission trips the doctors have gone on. They chronicle the annual trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that Dr. Robert and members of his family have been making since 1999 along with members of his church and World Gospel Outreach, which takes teams to Tegucigalpa 30-40 weeks each year. According to Dr. Robert, “The teams set up medical clinics in little barrio churches that address both the spiritual and physical needs of the people there.” He works with a team including physicians, dentists and ODs, and brings thousands of pairs of glasses each year, many donated by his patients and the local Lion’s Club. Dr. Bauer joins a group of ophthalmologists from KEC on mission trips to Piura, Peru, sponsored by St. John the Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. During these trips, he assists with pre- and post-operative care of cataract patients, pterygium surgeries and treats diseased eyes. Taking their expertise to Honduras and Peru has been a wonderful opportunity for both doctors, says Dr. Robert, who adds he’s overwhelmed by the support of patients who collect glasses for trips; the reward for him and Dr. Bauer is the smiles of the many patients they see each trip.

 
PHOTO GALLERY (34 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Midwest Eye

1. GO GET ’EM. Every so often, staff form two groups and spread out into the two communities on either side of the office, introducing themselves, giving and gathering business cards, and selecting a winner from each town to receive a free eye exam and pair of glasses.

2. KID FRIENDLY. Midwest Eye has a live I Spy game in the office, and often gives kids books with items to find, fun facts and word searches. Kids can also do homework at the data bar.

3. POP STARS. The store is working on launching pop-up trunk shows that will spotlight one frame vendor periodically.

4. BACK TO SCHOOL. Staff are constantly learning new things while attending CE courses, and, according to Dr. Robert, “sharing what we have learned with our patients.”

5. OFF THE WALL. “We have a local artist display her artwork in the office,” says Dr. Robert, “and it’s for sale.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Beautiful, modern in-store design with a strong mix of color, materials, textures and style. Nathan Troxell, Think About Your Eyes, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The interior of this practice really upped their score. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • A playful, collaborative effort seems to shine throughout all elements of the business, which creates a nice environment for patients. The brick and wood as well as color scheme of the office create a warm yet modern appeal, and the privacy kiosks make the space feel more intimate. The eyeglass mirror and eyewear displays by the waiting area are nice little touches. The Superhero theme is fun and makes their SM posts unique. I especially liked the Superhero intro story. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

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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