The Quality-Over-Quantity Optical
Frameology Optical was born of Stacy Daniel-Murphy’s frustration at having her creativity and opticianry skills stifled by industry norms. Few opticals so defiantly express an owner’s personality.
STORY BY HEATH BURSLEM
Ask Stacy Daniel-Murphy, owner of Frameology Optical in East Syracuse, NY, how it all got started, and she’ll tell you, “It’s a long path to a short history.” Emerging from that long learning curve is a business that embodies the spirit of independent optical retail: uncompromising core values, financially realistic, flying the flag for beautiful, well-made eyewear, and convinced that quality service can only be delivered by ECPs with a free hand to make good choices for their customers.
East Syracuse, NY
Owner: Stacy Daniel-Murphy
Opened Featured Location: 2017
Area: 1,400 sq. ft.
Employees: 1 full-time, 2 part-time
Top brands: Theo, Anne et Valentin, Matsuda, Wissing, SALT, Etnia Barcelona
Daniel-Murphy had been in the business 20-plus years before she struck out on her own. She’d learned the ropes, becoming a licensed optician and earning a degree in finance. In 2014, after a six-year stint running a bead store, she found herself back with her old doctor, chafing under their conventional approach. “I was extremely frustrated with insurance companies dictating lens styles, and with the quality of work their labs put out.” It was time.
Just as she was getting started, a personal crisis threatened to become a professional one; a key source of funds dried up as she and her husband divorced. Switching gears, she took out a loan and covered a few bills on credit cards (not something she recommends).
Daniel-Murphy was adamant about not taking insurance, insisting on total freedom to choose labs, lenses and designers. This meant forgoing a key business driver; without insurance, “There is no real way to get people in the beginning.” So she planned for low sales and cash flow: eight pairs of glasses per month for the first eight months. “I was pretty much correct!” She set aside $8,000 the first year and did TV, print and digital. “I visited optometrists, even if they had an optical, to explain what I do and ask them to send patients my way that wanted something different.” Her ad budget has since dropped, with Google and referrals driving 90 percent of Frameology’s clients. “I am a huge believer in SEO.”
Drawn to Theo, Matsuda, Etnia Barcelona and the like — frames that are “colorful, fun, stylish, high-quality and comfortable” — Daniel-Murphy now finds most of her lines on Instagram. She was disillusioned at her old job with the styles and quality of designer licensed names. “I was frustrated about the fit first, then the style.” She was disturbed to see people spending $250-$400 on a frame only to find it was either uncomfortable or flimsy. “More than half my day was adjusting, repairing, or redoing lenses. I wasn’t fulfilling my inner optician/fashion-conscious self!” Independents, she found, “create frames that look good and fit; the temple fits over the ear, the enamel doesn’t chip, they use the best acetates so the frame stays in shape. Since I’ve been fitting these awesome frames, my adjustments and repairs are maybe one out of 15. I enjoy being an optician again!”
She designed her space “not to feel like an optical, but to know that it’s clearly an optical when you walk in. There’s nothing traditional about it; there’s only things that make me feel at home.” The comfort is offset by interesting touches like a corrugated steel wall, copper ceiling, recycled furniture and a spiral staircase. The eyewear is integral to the design. “It’s easy to get caught up in decorating, but I try to step back and let the frames be the ‘art.’”
She’s come a long way from “begging friends to have lunch, doing Sudokus and Pinteresting like it was my job.” The key takeaway from the early days? “Patience. In optical, it’s a necessity! I worked with every single customer to build a foundation and get strong referrals. I didn’t deviate from my business plan — quality sales not quantity — and it is slowly paying off.”
Opticians, says Daniel-Murphy, are the pharmacists of the optical world. “We specialize in lenses and prescriptions. There are so many options it’s mind boggling!” Her job has always been to find the optimal fit and lens. Now, it seems she’s found a way to have a really good time doing that. “I sell the frames that I love and the lenses I believe in; it’s a good way to spend a day.”
PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About Frameology Optical
1. SELF SERVICE. Frameology’s selfie station consists of an iPad mounted on the wall. Customers can snap a photo and email or text someone for their opinion. “Customers feel comfortable about sharing the pictures which helps them make a solid decision,” says Daniel-Murphy.
2. OUT AND ABOUT. Daniel-Murphy decided in 2016 to take her trunk shows off-site. “A friend owns a beautiful hair studio with lots of space. She has a great clientele and they all love the frames she wears (she owns over 50 of mine!) so we decided to have the show there. It was a huge success… By having the show offsite, I was able to get my name out.”
3. EXPERT TOUCHES. The design of Frameology is basically hers, but Daniel-Murphy had some help from architect Craig Polhamus with lighting and display placement, and she also credits Dana Durdarchik, “an incredible wood worker who tolerated my changes.” The name itself is the result of “a few good friends plus wine.”
4. BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE. Frameology boasts an 11-foot dispensing table that seats six people, which Daniel-Murphy says “encourages conversation and allows multiple people to help in the selection process. I love when there’s a bunch of us just laughing and having fun, that’s when I realize how much I really do enjoy what I do!”
5. FULL CREDIT. Holding a Bachelor’s in finance “helped immensely,” Daniel-Murphy says. “It taught me how money works, how banks and loans work, and it especially taught me valuable accounting skills. I had a pretty good understanding of cash flow, expenses, liabilities and profit.”
Reflecting owner Stacy Daniel-Murphy’s passion for beautiful eyewear, as well as her skepticism about what established luxury brands really have to offer, Frameology Optical seems a perfect fit for its community. “Syracuse,” Daniel-Murphy reflects, “can be a tough crowd.” But it suits her to a tee. “I’ve lived here many years, graduated from high school here and love it. We aren’t the richest or hippest city in the country but we like art and originality. My clientele are people who like service mainly.” In a previous life, as an optician for-hire, she knew she was going to have to educate herself about “color, different materials and styles of eyeglasses” because “there wasn’t any in Syracuse.”. Now that she’s done that, “I love what I do and hopefully it shows.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
The philosophy stated on their website: “To promote self-expression through distinctive, handmade artisan eyewear while being focused on superior customer care.” Folks, it doesn't get much better than that. And having an optical trunk show off-site at a hair-studio? Sheer brilliance! — Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
Nice airy open floor plan with a few nicely placed industrial materials on the ceiling and walls. — Jack Verdon, Verdon Architects, San Francisco, CA
Frameology has a beautiful esthetic. The word ‘cute’ comes to mind, but that doesn’t fully capture the experience that customers can expect. With her years of experience, Stacy’s design has the shopping experience dialed in. The use of color reduces the barrier many customers face when choosing something bolder for their own face. — James and Dr. Laura Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care, Portland, OR
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 edition of INVISION.