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ACS-2015: Third Place -Lafollette Eye Clinic & The Eyewear Gallery

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Lafollette Eye Clinic & The Eyewear Gallery, LaFollette, TN

OWNERS: Drs. Andrew and Elizabeth Howard; URL: lafolletteeyeclinic.com; OPENED: 1988; NEW LOCATION: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 28; AREA: 10,285 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Maui Jim, Oakley, Ray-Ban, Vari and Vera Wang; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/LaFolletteEyeClinic ; INSTAGRAM: lafollette_eye


L aFOLLETTE, TN, is a town of about 7,500 people north of Knoxville. And as its owners point out, a small town in Appalachia isn’t necessarily the place you’d expect to find an ultra-modern eyecare clinic and colorful optical shop. There’s not much competition, for one thing. Then again, as Dr. Andrew Howard says, “Our competition is the Disneys and the Apples and the Starbucks of the world.”

Drs. Andrew and Elizabeth Howard and their staff of 28 offer a “Celebration of Vision” in a metropolitan-style experience for the practice’s longtime clientele. “We’ve been part of this community for almost 20 years and we’ve watched as a steady stream of people leave town for all manner of things,” Andrew Howard says. The new location gives Campbell Countians ample reason to stay local for their vision care and eyewear. People from Knoxville and many area vacationers patronize the business, too.

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The Howards met in optometry school and fell in love with the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. Elizabeth began as an associate at LaFollette Eye Clinic in 1996 and the couple bought the business in 2002. The practice was a generous 6,800 square feet in its previous location, but the Howards knew they’d eventually want something even bigger and better, and they worked with designer Barbara Wright to make that happen.

The results were immediate: In the first three months, eyewear revenue rose 15 percent, the capture rate climbed 13 percent and the share of new patients rose from 24 percent to 30 percent. Elizabeth Howard says the spacious business makes everyone feel welcome, from older people with wheelchairs and walkers to young families pushing stollers.

Says judge Andrea Hill, a luxury branding expert, “The message ‘We have great doctors, we’re a modern facility in every way, and we have something — including something fashionable — for everyone’ comes across loud and clear. These are three compelling elements that make a good strategic ‘secret sauce.’”

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Lafollette Eye Clinic & The Eyewear Gallery

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: LaFollette Eye Clinic’s previous office was hidden behind a restaurant. The new building has prime roadway frontage on U.S. Highway 25W. “The building acts as its own billboard,” Andrew Howard says.

2. WINDOW SHOPPING: Big windows offer an enticing view into the space from outside. Large sculptural glasses perched over the entry and arrayed above a soda fountain-style fitting bar leave little doubt this is a place to find stylish eyewear.

3. HAPPY HUES: Bright colors abound, from multi-colored squares hopscotching along a hallway to a color-drenched common area (a multipurpose room used for staff training and lunch breaks). The color scheme is vibrant, with blue, lime and orange alternating with earthier green and brown tones.

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4. OFF THE HOOK: Whether browsing in the eyewear gallery or having their exam, people never hear business phones ring here. A downstairs call center handles all phone traffic, leaving upstairs staff free to interact with clients without interruption.

5. PICTURE THIS: LaFollette Eye Clinic recently hosted a photography exhibition that had earlier hung in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. To show its support of the arts, the business also sponsors the annual festival celebrating area native Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, a pioneering African American musician.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • would love to visit. It looks like a happy place. Howard Purcell
  • The interior feels like the “Target” of eye retail. This is a compliment. The store is open, bright, accessible and accommodating. Andrea Hill
  • I think they just gave Disney a run for their money as the “happiest place on earth.” I can’t help but think whoever came up with the color theme was thinking “a controlled splash and burst of color, everywhere!” Robert Bell

 

Fine Story

The Howards and their staff regularly talk about eye health on area TV stations. Most appearances are arranged in advance by their public relations company, but Andrew happened to be a guest of his PR company at a chamber of commerce event the day a certain meme went viral in February. He wound up talking on TV that very night about why some people’s eyes perceived “the dress” as blue and black while others saw it as white and gold.

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