Making a Spectacle of Herself
At Great Spectacles in Stockton, CA, Lynda Winter’s eye for quality and cozy brand of elegance make for a perfect fit
STORY BY HEATH BURSLEM
Looking back, Lynda Winter’s long career in eyewear has a fated quality; she was placed in her first optical job by an employment agency at age 18. “I learned to listen and problem-solve.” A professional lifetime of selecting and dispensing later, fitting and adjusting is still, in her view, the core of what she does. It’s just that now she does it in her own thriving, strikingly original optical, Great Spectacles in Stockton, CA.
Owner: Lynda Winter
Opened: 1990 (renovated in 2015)
Area: 982 sq. ft inside, 250 sq. ft. patio
Employees: 1 full-time, 2 part-time
Top brands: Face a Face, Chanel, Dita, Anne et Valentin, Gucci, Chrome Hearts
In 1990, Winter opened Great Spectacles in a 650 square foot location with no visibility, relying on word of mouth — something she does to this day. Another constant has been meticulous inventory building. Winter joined C&E buying group, slowly built up her credit and didn’t shy away from expensive models. “Specific frames were ordered; I had one that was $500.” But she knew what she was doing. “I listened to the desires of each customer; slowly I secured select vendors. It was my desire to only carry quality products. Business was consistent.”
In 2002 she moved to an upscale shopping center. November 2015 marked 25 years in business. “It was time for a facelift. We moved out for several months and upgraded everything. Vaulting the ceiling exterior and interior created volume without adding to the 950-square foot footprint. Environmental LED lighting, skylights and a focal point prism fringe chandelier enhanced the space,” which was made warmer and more inviting.
In an age when high-end retail seems to default to minimal/industrial, Great Spectacles has authentic charm. Winter adds homelike and vintage touches to an elegance that is more than worthy of the fine eyewear on which she focuses. “Nothing cookie cutter here.”
The painted green, ombre-design front door suggests “a linen fabric or a vintage Japanese vase.” It opens onto a mahogany front desk with a built-in display that is changed every few months. Overhead, optical prisms gleam from the chandelier. Winter came up with the store’s structural and cabinet designs herself.
The signature patio is accessed through French doors, extending the appearance of space. A striped awning, artificial lawn and water feature create a calm, cozy, spa vibe, with outdoor mirrors allowing an assessment of your new frames in the light of day.
As for the eyewear, “At the end of the day, classic shapes and quality remain unbeatable.” Winter and staff hand-pick every frame and only buy one of each. “Every company has classics; a good designer will create a shape that makes you do a double take,” she says. When it comes to merchandising, she’s tried every angle. “Currently we display by brand, mixing men’s and women’s, sun and ophthalmic.”
Staff are loyal and valued. “I purchase lunch daily and we eat together. This is a very family-feeling practice. Continuing education is a paid benefit as well as trips to Vision Expo. Each employee has vacation, sick leave, a $300 yearly eyewear allotment and a retirement plan. Holiday bonuses are the norm.” To Tara Heredia, a 19-year veteran, “Coming to work is like coming home… customers are like family. We’re thanked daily for helping them — even as they pay their bill.” Sydney Humphrey, who handles the social media accounts, finds “working with our customers is incredibly rewarding… I feel fortunate to work in a beautiful environment.”
Winter’s sales playbook is concise: “Be honest! We are in a service business and are not salespeople. If the frame doesn’t fit or look good, tell them.”
She describes Stockton as “diverse with varying lifestyles. Our luxury product is not a fit for everyone, [but] … we have customers of many years that have built wardrobes of eyewear they can’t live without.” Business has been “consistently good.” The store only has one sale a year, beginning mid-January. “We go over styles that aren’t working, companies that do not stand behind their product and frames that are sold for less on the Internet” and discount those.
Nearly 50 years after being placed by that recruitment agency, Winter gets referrals from all over Northern California. Some of her clients have been seeking her out since the 1970s. The rewards haven’t diminished. “I loved the business at $1.35 an hour as much as I love it now.”
PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About Great Spectacles
1. PRIVACY PLEASE. There is a private fitting room with a sliding barn door closure and large two-way mirror so things are private but not claustrophobic.
2. SIGN ON THE LINE. All reps fill out a vendor agreement laying down what is required when returning product, and other lines they represent. “It confirms to a new account that we are serious about our business.”
3. KEEP IT CLEAN. Printed custom 12x12” and 6x6” cleaning cloths are given to each patient when they pick up their new glasses.
4. DOCS IN THE FAM. Lynda Winter’s son and daughter-in-law are ODs in Colorado. She considered asking them to join her practice, but thought better of it. “The three of us needed to make our own way in the industry,” she said. “I love having them available for answers.”
5. MINI MUSEUM. Winter’s extensive vintage collection is displayed at the entrance and rotated every few months. “Hardly a day goes by without a comment on them,” she says. They also feature in “Throwback Thursdays” on the store’s Instagram account.
FINE STORY: CHINES ART INFLUENCE
Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of harmonizing one’s environment, influences the layout and in-store features at Great Spectacles, starting with its green front door. “A green front door represents growth because it is the shade of green plants in nature,” explains Winter. It also means prosperity because it is the same color as U.S. currency. Importantly, the entrance is free of obstacles and a small box of coins with a red ribbon is always in the “wealth gua,” the area where the money changes hands. There is also a lucky bamboo and (we’re glad to hear) a closed restroom door.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
The interior makes me think I’m going to be comforted in this warm, rich space. I wouldn’t doubt if they have the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting through the air. — Robert Bell, EyeCoach, San Francisco, CA
The exterior front potted plants extend a warm welcome letting customers know what to find on the inside while the rear outside space is a secret garden. — Jack Verdon, Verdon Architects,San Francisco, CA
“I love the patio and the testimonials.” —Jim Sepanek, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, DeRigo REM
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of INVISION.