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American Vision At the Court Connects With Families at the Country’s Largest Mall

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America's Finest American Vision at the Court

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of INVISION.


Q U I C K   F A C T S

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LOCATION: King of Prussia, PA
WEBSITE: americanvisionatthecourt.com
OWNERS: Dr. Gary Kirshner and Cindi Kirshner
OPENED: 1981
AREA: 1,200 square feet
DESIGNER: Eye Designs

EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time, 5 part-time (not including owners)
TOP BRANDS: Face à Face , Lindberg, Barton Perreira, TD Tom Davies, Lafont, Blac, Bevel, SALT Optics, Francis Klein
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/Americanvisionatthecourt
TWITTER: twitter.com/American_Vision

With more than 400 shops and nearly 3 million square feet of leasable space, the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia has a dozen places to buy eyewear. Yes, you read that right: a dozen places to buy glasses, most of them chains.

With more than 400 shops and nearly 3 million square feet of leasable space, the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia has a dozen places to buy eyewear. Yes, you read that right: a dozen places to buy glasses, most of them chains.

But with its prime location beside Bloomingdale’s and frames that people won’t find elsewhere in the mall, American Vision at the Court has garnered loyalty both among customers and staff. “We’ve created a family,” says Cindi Kirshner, co-owner and office manager. “We call ourselves the American Vision family. Patients who walk in here feel this honesty and camaraderie.”

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The King of Prussia Mall actually includes two adjacent shopping centers, the Court and the Plaza, that will merge later this year under one roof to create the largest mall in America. In this high-volume, fast-paced atmosphere, teamwork is a must — and American Vision’s staff works hard to be sure that everyone who walks through the door gets personal service. “Everybody does everything that needs to be done to make our place special and multi-faceted,” says co-owner Dr. Gary Kirshner. “We pride ourselves on our reputation as a mom-and-pop store with the advantage of being in a mall setting.”

Staff at American Vision at the Court

From left: David Shatley, Denise Bonsera, Dr. Gary Kirshner, Cindi Kirshner and Diane Chernaskey sell service and style at American Vision.

American Vision started as a franchise in 1981 with Gary Kirshner as the original optometrist. He bought the franchise in 1992, and five years later, he became fully independent with a buyout. The store has always been in the mall, but it has moved three times — most recently to its second-floor location in the Court complex in 2014. It’s one of two independent optical retailers in the mall.

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The staff includes opticians Denise Bonsera and David Shatley, who both previously worked at Optique, the first luxury eyewear store in Philadelphia. “We have too much fun together because we love what we do,” says Denise, whose interview with American Vision “ended in a hug here 12 years ago!” Adds David, the atmosphere is “relaxed, fun and family.” There are six full-time employees and five part-timers: a receptionist, an optometrist and three opticians. Most have been with American Vision between 10 and 20 years and each travels a good distance to work.

The store is open seven days a week, but — as in most malls — business is especially brisk on Saturdays as people throng the 1,200-square-foot space to select frames, pick up their glasses or have eyewear adjusted for free. American Vision carries about 20 frame brands at prices from $200 up to $800. “We like to buy new lines like Francis Klein, handmade in Paris,” Cindi says. “We have the best selection of frames. Each year we try to improve ourselves with our customer service and by having better lines.”

A former elementary school teacher who has been married to Gary for 34 years, Cindi started working in the store part time 26 years ago before coming on full time. She and Denise do all the frame buying, both at Vision Expo East and year-round, and they dress the windows. “Denise has expertise and flair and Cindi has the eye,” Gary says. “This has stretched us to become a boutique luxury eyewear fashion store. It also took the pressure off me to run the business.”

Cindi manages day-to-day operations and every staff member answers the phone and responds to emails. “We’re a well-oiled machine,” she says. “We distinguish ourselves with our staff. We have a good flow and we offer our customers a pleasant experience. They have fun with us!”

Staff at American Vision at the Court

Creative displays help create a boutique ambience at American Vision at the Court.

A majority of American Vision’s customers are between ages 30 and 65. On busy days, Gary may carry out 12 to 15 eye exams. The store has one full testing lane with all the latest equipment including a Marco TRS-5100 automated refractor and Optovue’s iScan digital eye scanner. American Vision also has its own finishing lab where it cuts about 75 jobs a week. “We have a top-notch lab and we work at a quick pace,” Gary says. “We don’t just sell eyeglasses. We do complete medical exams and offer contact lenses, too.”

Because the Kirshners trust their staff, they can take one vacation each year. (Five years ago, they didn’t take any vacations at all.) “We enjoy life,” Cindi says. “We’re together 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we still love each other!”

Gary believes American Vision at the Court stands out from the big discount retailers because the business focuses on service and handpicked quality eyewear. “We’ve developed a culture of reputation,” he says, adding that people sense that his staff really know what they’re talking about. “We’re not a chain. We’re private. Patients see our beautiful store and get that feeling of warmth.”


Five Cool Things About
American Vision At the Court

Six-foot frames at American Vision at the Court

The six-foot lumber and steel eyeglass frames are a highlight of the store’s decor.

1. Big Specs: Six-foot oversized eyeglasses made from reclaimed lumber and steel are the focal point of the store’s decor. The Kirshners commissioned the work from Peter Trout Gard, a sculptor.

2. Always Grateful: Dr. Gary is a huge Grateful Dead fan. He quotes from “Days Between” by the band’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, to explain how his store has evolved: “Once we grew into our shoes, we told them where to go, walked halfway around the world, on promise of the glow …”

3. Power of Choice: Half of American Vision’s business comes from outside prescriptions. Customers visit with an Rx from another eye doctor because they prefer American Vision’s choice of frames.

Dr. Gary Kirshner (center) with Gordon and Shirley Aderman.

4. Memory Bank: Dr. Gary remembers everything and everyone. Gordon Aderman, a patient, says, “Dr. Gary is like a member of the family who remembers everything. We’re both big readers so we share book ideas. We travel and they travel so we talk about where to visit.” Another patient, Etta Szeftel, says she gets “outstanding service. I trust Gary and Cindi. I love their products and their people. I feel comfortable here and my husband comes here, too.” Customers love the store so much they bring visiting relatives to shop there.

5. Free For All: Anyone who walks through the door can get free adjustments whether they’re a patient or not. Gary believes this incentive brings repeat business.


F I N E   S T O R Y

A LIFE-CHANGING HAIRCUT

Ten years ago, the Kirshners’ daughter, Ariel, was having her hair cut in a salon downstairs in the mall. She and the young woman washing her hair were chatting about work. The woman mentioned she also worked part time at an optical store but was not happy there. Ariel said, “Oh, my parents own the optical store upstairs and I know they are looking for part-time help.” Gary and Cindi went downstairs to meet Giulia Tinari and hired her. She fell in love with optics. After six years working at American Vision, she left to attend optometry school and now works as Gary’s part-time optometrist. Giulia’s younger sister, Paola, even joined the staff and wants to go to optometry school, too.


Dispensing bar at American Vision at the Court

F I N E   F E A T U R E

DISPENSING BAR

A dispensing bar rather than traditional dispensing tables distinguishes American Vision’s look. Staff member Denise Bonsera and owner Cindi Kirshner came up with the idea. “It has been very well received by our customers and it helps create a very homey atmosphere,” Cindi says. Eye Designs from Collegeville, PA, designed the store with constant input from Cindi and Denise.


   


   

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America's Finest

A Second Optical Location Hitting the Next Level of Candy Crush in Cleveland

People said their business would be ‘too funky’ for the Midwest but they proved their critics wrong.

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3RD Place: EYE CANDY OPTICAL PINECREST | Cleveland, OH

Next Level Candy Crush

People told these optical biz owners that Cleveland wasn’t ready for ‘funky, futuristic and weird,’ but they proved them wrong a second time.

OWNERS: Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov | URL: eye-candy-optical.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2012 |YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018 | AREA: 2,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EyeCandyOpticalCle | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyecandycle | TWITTER: twitter.com/ECO_Cleveland | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eye-candy-optical-beachwood | TOP BRANDS: Sospiri, Matsuda, Face à Face, Dita, Theo | BUILD OUT COST: $1.1M with equipment | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helen Rogic, ONE Interior (one-interior.com), and Jeff Bogart, Bogart Architecture, Inc.


Like many business ideas, Eye Candy Optical was born of a need. Steve Nelson, who launched Eye Candy Optical with Anton Syzdykov in Cleveland, OH, in 2013, recalls: “We couldn’t find fashionable glasses in our hometown.” They set out to change the local optical landscape by bringing a world-class eyewear shop to the city “based equally on fashion and function.” As industry outsiders, they felt they could avoid tunnel vision and preconceived notions. Of course, it’s one thing to identify a need — it’s how you go about filling it that matters. Eye Candy Optical’s founders were determined to do it with flair. “We asked ourselves: ‘What if Victoria’s Secret and House of Blues opened a glasses shop?’” The result was their first store in Westlake, west of downtown. Five years later, Nelson and Syzdykov opened a second location in the Pinecrest mixed-use development in Orange Village, one of Cleveland’s upscale eastern suburbs.

The goal with the second location wasn’t to duplicate the success of the first, but to build on it. “We had built a store that could compete with the best New York, LA, London or Paris shops,” says Nelson. “Sadly, many industry people, neighbors, competitors said we would fail. The shop was ‘too funky, futuristic and weird’ for the Midwest. Fast forward to today; we are very successful and have opened a second location.” Incorporating their five years of experience, the new location takes the strengths of the first store to the next level with added creature comforts, a superior lab and the latest in exam-room gear.

According to Nelson, it took several years to find the right space. “It was more than finding the right location, it was finding the location within the location,” he says. “We insisted on a spot caddy corner to the Whole Foods for the best visibility and parking.”

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It took many tries before they hit on the right design. “Truthfully we almost blew it and created an awful space that was fun but tantamount to a medical office instead of a sexy shop. We had to go back to basics and really recreate a better version of our first location. Sometimes you have all the answers right in front of you.” He acknowledges Helen Rogic from ONE Interiors, who did their displays, as a key contributor. “Without her … I don’t know how we would have tackled this project. She’s an amazing talent.”

“Sexy, cool, and very rock n’ roll” was the look and feel Nelson and Syzdykov were going for —fitting for a store just miles from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The optical’s layout is based around a circle of custom European displays by ONE Interior surrounding a coffee bar offering real Italian espresso and artisan teas.

When opening their second location in Cleveland’s Orange Village, Nelson and Syzdykov focused on the ‘location within the location’.

A large open window allows customers to see directly into the lab. Behind the center wall is a hallway that leads customers “back stage” where they find a first-class lounge with designer couch, bar seating and fridge with drinks and snacks. This area houses the state-of-the-art exam and pretest rooms, plus the “sexiest bathroom in optical with techno music and lights.”

Disappointed with the quality and selection in the mid-market category, the pair decided to design and manufacture their own frame line, Sugar Specs. It was a lengthy learning process and has been both labor and capital intensive, but well worth it, they say. “We set out to improve our position in this important price category by taking the bull by the horns. This is not simply choosing a design from a box of samples; instead we do our own hand and 3D drawings and get inspiration from our staff and customers,” says Nelson. They offer about 15 models in four colors and are working on getting it up to 50 models in the next 24 months. Frames are made from premium acetates or titanium with European hardware.

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The way Nelson and Syzdykov see it, they have “a vested interest in making customers look awesome.” What they strive to deliver, they say, is not just an amazing pair of glasses, but compliments and social validation from each client’s friends, peers, and relatives — with some fun along the way.

Thinking back on Eye Candy’s arrival on a staid Cleveland optical scene six years ago, Nelson says, “Look, we were different. People are always afraid of what is different. We were unapologetic when we said, ‘We are going to be the sexy rock ’n’ roll optical in Cleveland.’ Be bold, be brave, and stick to your vision.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Nathan Troxell: The Eye Candy Optical brand and persona is embraced throughout the entire patient experience and across all consumer touch points. Terrific connection to their home city by embracing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the attitude that goes along with it.

Stirling Barrett: Eye Candy Optical is showing that eyewear can be creative, exciting and fun. They care not only about getting customers in a frame that looks great, but they also have a fun approach in getting their customers to try new styles and push their comfort zone.

Beverly Suliteanu:This is a serious business that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fun, cool spirit throughout, from interior design to frame collections, marketing material and online platforms. They are quite high tech and appear to put as much emphasis on the substance (eyecare) as they do on the style (eyewear).

PHOTO GALLERY (28 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT EYE CANDY
 OPTICAL

1 EDGE ON THE COMPETITION. Eye Candy’s lab has a commercial edger from MEI Italy that allows the practice to make glasses on demand in minutes.

2 GET WITH ‘THE PROGRAM.’ Eye Candy staff wrote their own POS and accounting software that integrates with their edgers, labs, and medical equipment, simply called “the program.” A major undertaking, the end result is a streamlined system that has cut the average transaction time by 50 percent.

3 2020 VISION. The new store has the latest Visionix and Reichert pre-test and exam equipment for faster and more accurate exams.

4 IN THE MOOD. Eye Candy uses the SONOS system to set up to four different music stations. “The mood needs to be different on the retail floor versus the exam room,” says Nelson. They have everything from oldies and lounge to metal and techno.

5 WOW FACTOR. A front display window includes an advanced LED light show. The idea, says Syzdykov, is to “dazzle customers with an ever-changing screen with inspirational photos, sayings and memes, and to make it fun.”

Fine Story

“We are really proud of the ‘Eye Candy Process’ we utilize to get the customer to their perfect frame,” Nelson says. To do this, opticians and stylists are asked to pull five to seven frames for each client that “push their fashion comfort zone,” in a variety of colors, styles and price points. “Then we play a game called ‘Hate/Don’t Hate.’ If they ‘don’t hate it’ it stays in the tray.” (They used to say, “Like/Hate” but customers found the word “Like” too committal.) More frames get pulled, the cream rises to the top, and, eventually, the customer can be certain they found the best frame. It sounds simple but it takes a very skilled person to lead the process and consider the client’s style, facial features, skin tone, color palette, occupation, and the image they want to project. “Try doing that at a chain store! Here we are all psychologists, detectives, artists, and stylists!”

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America's Finest

America’s Finest Optical Retailers 2019 Winners Announced!

This year’s winners are eyecare business masterpieces designed to inspire.

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas

Despite a basis in medicine, running an exceptional independent eyecare business isn’t a science… It’s an art. A fine art. And nothing demonstrates that more than the top three winners of this year’s America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest. Nothing cookie-cutter here; our first, second and third place winners all demonstrate an individuality that cannot be replicated and a creativity that is quite literally hard to beat.

“I had so much fire in me and so many plans.”
Claude Monet

In speaking with this year’s honorees, many expressed a dissatisfaction with the more traditional routes eyecare has to offer. Sometimes burnt out, or otherwise just not interested, each determined that corporate optometry or a big box setting just wasn’t for them. Not fulfilling enough, not creative enough, not welcoming enough to big ideas and even bigger dreams.

“To create one’s own world takes courage.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

So they each took the leap. And they went BIG. Each pursued their idea of what an eyecare business should be. Whether they started from scratch or changed an established business, are a business in their infancy or have several generations behind them, each of this year’s honorees changed and tweaked their businesses to fit their most authentic expression of experience.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
Salvador Dali

But none of these businesses came about by happy accident. The businesses recognized this year have achieved their success through passion, creativity, hard work and an unrelenting drive to offer superior products and service to their customers. They are dreamers. They are doers. They are thinkers and they are artists. They are, in short, an inspiration.

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America's Finest

Stunning Interiors and Exteriors Draw Fine Eyewear Fans to This Unique Memphis Practice

They had faith that the neighborhood would support them; and they were right.

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1ST Place: Eclectic eye | Memphis, Tn

Down to a Fine Art

A Memphis couple built an optometric practice and eyewear boutique that reflects and enriches the vital, art-loving neighborhood they grew up in.

OWNERS: Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Michael Weinberg, OD | URL: eclectic-eye.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2002 | AREA: 3,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | TWITTER: twitter.com/EclecticEye | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eclectic-eye-memphis | TOP BRANDS: Anne et Valentin, Moscot, Krewe, Theo, Jacques Marie Mage | BUILD OUT COST: Original $400,000, Renovation $425,000 | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Archimania: Jeff Blackledge, Todd Walker and Stephanie Wexler


Eclectic Eye was born out of husband-and-wife team Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream to establish a viable, engaging and artistic business in Midtown Memphis — the community in which they grew up, went to high school and first got to know each other — and where they had long hoped “to live, work and play.”

Midtown is known for its ethnic, economic and architectural diversity, thriving art scene and established LGBTQ community. According to Johnson Weinberg, however, it is still recovering from the effects of “white flight” experienced in the 1970s and ’80s after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and generations of Jim Crow racial oppression. By the late 1990s, after decades of depopulation, the neighborhood was sorely underserved. “We wanted to be a part of the solution by being in the city, in the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. In a way, they were hoping for a personal rebirth to match the revitalization they wanted to see in the community. At the time, they were both hustling in jobs for other people and beginning to feel trapped.

“We considered moving out of town briefly but eventually decided that what we wanted, most of all, was to open our own eyecare and eyewear boutique in our beloved Midtown community … We honestly believed that if we put a business in Midtown, people would support us.” They were right. “With our youth, naivety and lots of enthusiasm we threw open the doors in October 2002 and blew past our first-year projections within the first three months.”

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Eclectic Eye fits in effortlessly with many of the mid-century businesses on Midtown’s Cooper Street, which has long been a primary artery connecting affluent, growing communities with all the city’s resources. “We wanted to be sensitive to the varied architecture and the activated, walkable community it once was and be a part of its return.” That process wasn’t a simple one, however. The location itself was found through sheer perseverance. The real estate broker they originally chose wasn’t comfortable with their vision; he simply didn’t believe Midtown was sustainable for the level of investment they wanted. “Back in the late 1990s,” recalls Johnson Weinberg, “Midtown was not pleasing from an economic or aesthetic standpoint.” In an era whose aspirations were characterized by big box, suburban living, “moving back into the urban core was an anomaly.” But after months of searching they found a new broker who was developing the space that eventually became Eclectic Eye.

Opening Eclectic Eye was the realization of Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream ‘to live, work and play’ in Midtown Memphis.

Eclectic Eye’s design expertly brings the outside into the store with large windows taking up two whole walls of the dispensary. Inside the space feels vast but approachable, always focusing on the eyewear. A large acrylic tower in the center houses the pre-test center. From here, custom wooden work areas run for approximately 20 feet, mirroring the tower and its dropped ceiling shape. The store’s 1,200-piece collection of unique eyewear is showcased in custom glass and wood boxes that are variously fitted into the windows, lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Floating, suspended custom cabinetry provides storage for cases, books, cloths and other items.

Johnson Weinberg describes the store’s feel as “modern and industrial with homage to the mid-century style that’s all the rage today.” Flooded with natural light, the interior’s materials are primarily glass, stainless, aluminum and acrylic with warm wood tones for furnishings. A high, exposed-ductwork ceiling rises 14 feet above a richly textured, grey concrete floor. The frames themselves are displayed by brand. “To us, each brand tells its own unique story which must fit into the overall narrative of our story,” she says.

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Over the past three years Eclectic Eye has put particular effort into its online presence, and has been gratified to see its follower numbers grow consistently across all channels, generating strong reviews. Johnson Weinberg acknowledges this is a never-ending process and credits the PR and advertising team at Inferno for creating a consistent brand message across platforms. The need for content challenges her to keep coming up with fresh ways to market the business, she says.

As they don’t take any insurance, Eclectic Eye is able to make it a policy to give patients one hour each with their doctor. “The doctors have time to listen to them, talk with them about their vision and their lifestyle, and maybe even have time to hear about their latest travel excitement or a kid’s escapade. They truly get to know their patients,” says Johnson Weinberg. A core goal of the practice has always been to provide the most comprehensive exam possible. To this end, they are always adding new technology. Exams include everything from taking blood pressure and obtaining an extensive family history to having their own OCT and visual field machines, which are used on each patient.

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Eclectic Eye has its own lab and Dr. Weinberg is somewhat unique as an OD, as he grew up working in his dad’s lab. “That’s the other side of his passion,” says Johnson Weinberg. “He loves the process of understanding how that extremely challenging prescription might be designed to fit in an exceptionally unique frame.” She adds that her husband has worked hard to train their current lab team, as they view the lab itself as being equally important to their brand.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Stirling Barrett: Eclectic Eye’s brand brings together design, style, art and eyewear under one roof and with a purposeful, clear vision. Their community focus is refreshing and they lead with a commitment to customer hospitality.

Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian: Now this is a contender!

Beverly Suliteanu: From the onset, there was a clear vision of the type of business Michael and Robbie wanted to build and they have succeeded in building a thriving, caring business that has stayed true to their mission and core values. Their love and commitment to the Memphis art scene, and to Memphis itself, is apparent. All of their initiatives speak to their core value of strengthening their community and building their team.

PHOTO GALLERY (55 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ECLECTIC EYE

1 IN-DISPENSABLE. Patients are always set up for dispensing appointments with the team member they worked with originally. They receive a reminder text similar to those for doctor’s appointments. “We value the time for all of our staff and their expertise is scheduled accordingly,” says Johnson Weinberg.

2 TESTING TIMES. To boost team performance, all staff participate in Enneagram personality testing, a process that Johnson Weinberg admits “requires some deep diving.” She adds: “It’s been an awakening and continues to unfold.”

3 EYE CATCHERS. The exterior walls are adorned with two huge murals from local muralists. These and a large local sculpture constantly draw new customers.

4 NOT A SCRAP. NOT A SCRAP. Eclectic Eye has been a paperless medical office since it opened in 2002.

5 OUT AND ABOUT. In early 2018, Johnson Weinberg gave staff a Saturday off to participate in the September Memphis Gay Pride parade. She donated the day, the materials, the costuming, and whatever else they needed, and they designed and built a float and costumes. “They worked with each other outside of work to make it happen. It was a magical experience to watch it all come together!”

Fine Story

From its inception, Eclectic Eye was designed to host art shows. The store has hosted over 120 of them in the past 17 years. “This is one way we give back to the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. “In addition to providing our space, Eclectic Eye takes care of all of the event planning, advertising, PR, food, drinks and staffing of their event. In turn, a local artist gets to showcase their art to a whole new group of people for 7-8 weeks a year.” Eclectic Eye sees its independent eyewear designers as artists, and each frame as wearable art. So, showcasing local artists is a natural next step. The shows are fully dedicated to supporting artists (the Weinbergs don’t take a commission) and are separate from the store’s trunk shows. “We do, occasionally, sell a frame or book an eye exam, but that is the exception. The art is then on display until the next art show,” she says.

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