America’s Finest Winner: Invision Optometry
San Diego-based practice dazzles with a contemporary look that transcends tradition
STORY BY By Daniel P. Smith
Over the last 18 years, Dr. Michael Kling has built Invision Optometry of San Diego into a premier optical operation, consolidating four businesses into a dynamic enterprise offering routine exams, eye-disease management, contact lens services, post-op care, cosmetic eyecare and vision therapy.
SAN DIEGO, CA
Owner: Dr. Michael A. Kling
(renovated on 2016)
Area: 7,800 square feet
Designer: Lori Gentile Employees: 25
Top Brands: Salt, ProDesign, Lindberg, Face a Face, Blackfin
Last year, Kling took things up a notch, moving his crew into new digs in the Hillcrest neighborhood. Surrounded by historic buildings and a diverse population of professionals and artists, Kling transformed a striking mid-century modern building into a vibrant, two-story homage to contemporary vision care.
The previous tenants had dissected the 7,800-square-foot space on Fourth Avenue into small pieces. Kling ordered a full gut job, stripping out claustrophobia-inducing low ceilings and small offices.
“We scraped the building to the bones,” Kling says of the $1.15 million project, which began in February 2015 and culminated in a May 2016 opening.
Leaning on the talents of local interior designer Lori Gentile, Kling requested a space that would be urban, hip and cutting edge. “I wasn’t interested in anything cookie-cutter,” he says.
Then he stepped back, leaving the design to Gentile and her team as well as a trusted inner circle that included Invision’s chief retail officer Amy Fowlie and Kling’s wife, Jennifer Conway.
Gentile crafted a comprehensive vision for Invision’s new HQ covering everything from flow and colors to textures and finishes, favoring natural wood and a more industrial look that would match Kling’s chic directives.
The resulting space transcends the traditional look of many practices, offering seven exam lanes and a spacious retail environment in a modern, sophisticated setting that eschews industry norms.
The first floor houses vision therapy operations, a conference room, a lab and a staff kitchen. The second, devoted to clinical care and retail, is punctuated by an oversized skylight that floods the space with natural light. “It’s an open, clean feel and you can see the entire office,” Fowlie says.
Most noticeable is the absence of a reception desk; Kling opted for a smiling concierge charged with welcoming visitors, ascertaining their needs and inviting them to peruse the eyewear and enjoy a complimentary coffee.
“Everything bad that has ever happened in our office has happened at the front desk, so we just eliminated it,” says Kling, adding that it’s asking too much of a staff member to have them cheerily answer phones, schedule appointments, check patients in, verify personal information, and collect payment. That novel decision has had a profound impact. “This positive first touchpoint helps to create a connection and establishes trust with our customers.”
Ditching the desk did create issues with initiating exams and collecting payment. Kling solved the former by installing semi-private cubicles in which technicians meet patients to gather information. On the payment side, he set up computer-equipped checkout stations his opticians can use to close sales. In lieu of a waiting area the showroom features clusters of chairs and an optical bar.
Handcrafted wooden optical shelving is found on the walls and in the showroom’s center in the form of “optical trees.” LED lighting illuminates the frames and ensures an energized display.
“It’s impossible not to be absorbed by the frames, and that’s really the whole point,” says Kling. “We wanted to keep an open mind here and really create a space that would allow us to engage our customers in new ways.”
PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About Invision Optometry
1. Local flair. Each month, Invision’s coffee bar features a different local roaster. “We love supporting small businesses in our community and this gives us some extra community buzz,” Kling says.
2. Charitable spirit.Invision donates a portion of every eyeglass sale to Optometry Giving Sight’s “I Care & Share” program, which funds access to sustainable eye and vision care services in underserved communities.
3. Forward thinking. Rejecting complacency and embracing consumer wishes, Kling is exploring a curbside pick-up service and home delivery of eyewear. “Eyecare has historically been clunky and slow, so we’re looking at ways to speed up delivery and make it more efficient.”
4. Running frames through the ringer. Invision largely stocks independently owned or handmade frames, going deep in inventory from about a dozen carefully vetted brands. “This creates value by implying scarcity, exclusivity and distinction,” Kling says. “The lines we carry don’t have to be expensive, but they must have a story that is unique and different because that drives home the message that we’re not your run-of-the-mill optical practice.”
5. Beauty vanguards. In its opening year on Fourth Avenue, Invision hosted two “Beauty Bashes” in which a makeup artist, skincare consultant and optician offered eye-accentuating tips as well as an anti-aging workshop focused on the benefits of Botox, Juvederm and chemical peels. “This helps brand us as a concept that helps you look and feel your best,” Kling says.