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Alex Bennett: Caffeine and Aspirin Keep Me Going

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If you know Alex Bennett, you probably have a hard time keeping up with him. He drinks 10 cups of tea a day, runs to “clear his head” and recently got into obstacle racing for funsies. “It’s a workout for my body and mind,” he says. But that’s nothing, considering that for the last two years he’s also been regularly contributing to industry publications and working full-time as an ABO-certified optician at Peepers optical in Denver, while completing prerequisites for optometry school. “Caffeine and aspirin keep me going,” he jokes(?).


  • I got into optical accidentally. In 2008, I had my dream job at Boulder Forest Rehabilitation but the economy crashed. I was unemployed and needed a job. I got one edging lenses in a lab at a Fort Collins, CO, office. The same day I started, someone left and they asked if I wanted to be a frame stylist. A year after I started, I passed the national exam.
  • After four years in Fort Collins, I moved down to Denver to start at Peepers. The OD asked me where I saw myself in five years. I thought maybe ABO Advanced? But he said “Man, if you’re going to do that much, just commit. Just go for it and go back to school.” 
  • Usually each morning I go for a run and then I load Daily Optician to see what’s new. There is always a little nugget of information that helps. And then I try to bring something creative from the day before to our morning meetings.

  • Some opticians are all about style, others are all about lenses but can’t fit a frame. I like to bridge the gap between the two when fitting a patient.

  • I attend as many CE opportunities as possible to network. I speak and work with as many people as I can. It’s important to me to do a lot of reaching out to people — reps, lab techs — everyone knows something that could be useful to my development.
  • To be a good optical salesperson, you need to have technical knowledge, styling skills — since it relates so closely to offering the best product, and problem-solving/adjustability skills. That all takes a lot of time and a lot of practice.
  • If I weren’t working in optical, I would probably be cutting down trees, in land management, forestry or a wildland firefighter. I was considering that too when I got the lab tech job.
  • My advice to anyone just starting out, ask more questions of your OD than you think necessary. When the doctor presents a patient, I try to capitalize on that moment, ask questions in the handoff in front of the patient so they are part of the conversation and a part of their own care.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of INVISION.

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Smooth Sellers

New York Eyecare Pro Wages War on Uninspired Service

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ALTER EGO
Jody Shuler
BASE OF OPERATIONS
EyeCrave Optics, Watertown, NY

In 2015, this crusader for consummate eyecare surveyed his domain, and realized all was not well in the North Country. People were getting eyecare, but they craved something more, and they were willing to pay for it. His mission was clear. “Much in the optical world is left to the prearranged ordering systems of insurance companies. Creating a special approach to the store, people are likely to spend a little more. I just try to give people a higher level of service,” says EyeCrave Optics owner Jody “Sir Assistor” Shuler.

Setting up shop in the historic Woolworth Building in downtown Watertown, this swashbuckling ECP declared war on a rogues’ gallery of conformity-enforcing insurers, uninspired opticals and the forces of evil they have assembled: humdrum eyewear, impersonal service, a World Wide Web of false economies, and – worst of all – crummy coffee. “They all had the same mindset.” No longer. Daily, he fights the good fight against all things uninspired and champions the “fun, funky and fabulous.”

Complacency is kryptonite, and Shuler fretted over the foothold it was gaining in his region long before he founded EyeCrave. “I’ve been at this for 27 years,” he reminds us coolly. But his old foe never sleeps, and has deep pockets. “The insurance sector is dumbing down the average consumer, as well as the average employee.”

Wherever a customer is in need of honest style counseling, Sir Assistor swoops. “Rarely will I allow someone to shop unassisted. Clients need assistance selecting eyewear just like I need assistance selecting the right footwear.” Whenever cut-price conventionality looms, Shuler materializes. “In a chain store, you get a pair of glasses; at EyeCrave people can really express themselves. They get a quality fit and a beautiful look. It’s an escape from the norm.” Whenever a customer threatens to deny themselves those FEB31sts they secretly crave, Sir Assistor descends in the nick of time. “Sometimes people are standoffish [at first] but they know if they want the best products and the best service, they’re going to pay for it. After a while you wear those people down …”

His only reward: a superhuman capture rate. “I for one don’t like a pushy salesperson,” Sir Assistor insists. “I like to give people an experience; style them, give them a proper fitting, give them advice, and let them make the decision. I have a pretty high capture rate.”

In one of many breathless notes posted by grateful citizens to EyeCrave’s Facebook page, the relief is palpable: “He was like my very own personalized eyewear stylist!” a customer gasps. “Customer service boils down to going that extra mile for people,” Shuler explains. “The whole golden rule thing … I really believe everybody wants the best product, the best service. They want to feel special.”

Naturally, if you’re going to wage war on poor taste, you do it with panache. It should look effortless, and you need a few goodies around. “I usually have chocolates out, coffee. I serve wine. It’s very laid back, but it’s a true boutique, and I try to treat it like that.”


This article originally appeared in the September 2017 edition of INVISION.

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Smooth Sellers

Meet the Pint-Sized Do-Gooder Working to Help the Children of Oregon See Better

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Alter EgoElla Osborne

Base of OperationsPortland, OR

Ella Osborne is not your typical 9-year-old. She was born with a cataract, which was discovered when she was just 3 months old. Diagnosed with amblyopia, she began patch therapy. She started wearing glasses at age 2 and has gone to the eye doctor every three to six months ever since. All of this makes her special, but it’s not what makes her remarkable

ThumbelElla is a tiny wonder: At age 7, after hearing some people discussing the fact that they couldn’t take their kids to the eye doctor because they lacked money and insurance, she decided to do something about it. “I’m lucky that I could get the treatment I need, but I know lots of kids can’t afford to go to the eye doctor. I wanted to do something to help,” Ella says. “I remembered there was a fun run for someone in my neighborhood who was sick and thought that would be a good idea. I wanted to do something in my community for people who aren’t as lucky as I am.”

So, Ella founded the Vision Fun Run, a fundraiser for the KEX Kids Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides free exams, eyeglasses and hearing aids for children in need. The second annual Vision Fun Run took place on May 21, 2017 and raised nearly $6,000 with the help of the Essilor of America, who saw her story after the first run. Local Opticraft Optical lab has offered their  lab services to the cause as well.

 In fact, this little powerhouse is so passionate about good vision that she recently testified in front of a state senate committee in support of Senate Bill 187, which would provide money so every elementary student in Oregon can get an eye exam. “I gave a speech. It was very intense and scary,” says Ella. “But, I think it’s really important that children should be able to see and get the eyecare they need.” The bill should be decided on this July.

No doubt, ThumbelElla is a local superhero. “My community is so happy and excited,” she shares. “They are amazed that here I am, this little 9-year-old helping people.” And according to Ella’s mom, Dede, plans for the run are only growing. “There are a few places in Portland that have strong running communities, and so next year there will be more than one run in Oregon,” she says. But Ella isn’t stopping there: She dreams of taking it national or worldwide, “like in New York and San Francisco.”

Asked what advice she has for grown-ups who might tell kids they are too young to change anything, she says, “Listen to your children more often and believe and big things might happen. I told my Mom that I wanted to do something to help kids who need glasses and she said OK. More parents should do that. Listen, believe and never give up.”

From the mouth of babes …


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of INVISION.

 

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Smooth Sellers

Florida Practice’s Secret Weapon is a Master of All Tasks

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Jade Kowalick
Rophie Vision Care, Dunedin, FL

The Taskmaster has kind eyes, a disarming smile and a quick wit. From her perch at Rophie Vision Care in Dunedin, FL, she uses her powers for the forces of good — switching effortlessly from task to task with the superhuman ability to master every angle of the business.

Children are especially comforted by her whimsical approach. They relax at once as she guides them through vision therapy and fittings. Her co-workers feel at ease — even when things in the office get tense — thanks to her entertaining ways, funny remarks and save-the-day attitude.

For the keen of sight, her spirit animal — the owl — is just visible in a constant state of alertness for the next task, the next hurdle, and the next challenge to conquer.

And when we say “just visible” we mean it. Jade Kowalick’s owl rests high on her chest, just beneath her neck. It’s a stunning tattoo of a giant owl with colorful wings, a huge heart and the striking eyes for which the animal and this industry are known. Those eyes see everything. And what they see these days are satisfied customers of all ages and colleagues who know The Taskmaster is there to make sure everyone gets to the end of the work day in one piece.

“I’m cross-trained in every aspect of the field. I can go from the doctor’s side to the retail side flawlessly,” Kowalick says. “I save the day every day for my co-worker Pam. I entertain her and make her laugh after my not-so-pleasant boss ruins her day.”

(Is she kidding about the not-so-pleasant boss? We suspect so, though even the best bosses can occasionally be a handful. Kowalick also notes that, a lot of the time, “he’s pretty hilarious.”)

Like any good superhero, Kowalick never considers herself a finished product. There is always more to learn.

“I’m an optician-to-be (currently enrolled in the Opticianry program at HCC in Tampa), a certified Ophthalmic Technician and Certified Lab Technician. I’ve been in the optical field for nine years in both chain and private offices. I currently do everything in the office from pre-testing, optical sales, frame buying, insurance pulling and billing, scheduling appointments, and recalls.”

Even a multi-tasker such as Kowalick has specialties. Hers is one that is sometimes overlooked in the field — children.

“I’ve always loved working with kids. I can get children to be really comfortable with me with vision therapy or just getting them fit with glasses. I’m able to joke around with them, and then turn around and explain to their parents what their needs are. I usually end up having a really close bond with the kids, which makes the parents even more comfortable.”


This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of INVISION.

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