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Top-Tier in Tennessee


This stunning Knoxville, TN, practice has given itself plenty of room to grow — and to shine.

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Premier Eyecare, Knoxville, TN

OWNER: Brent Fry, OD; URL:premier-eyecare.net; FOUNDED: 2002; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Studio Four Design, Eye Designs; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Hoya, Maui Jim, Silhouette, CooperVision and Synergeyes; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/premiereyecare.drfry; PINTEREST: pinterest.com/premiereyecare0228; TWITTER: twitter.com/premiereyecare; YELP: yelp.com/biz/premier-eyecare-knoxville; BUILDOUT COST: $2.2 million for 10,000 sq. ft. which includes 5,000 sq. ft. of leasable space


Dr. Brent Fry

Dr. Brent Fry

IN 2002, HAVING practiced for four years in Nashville after graduating optometry school, Dr. Brent Fry decided he wanted to build a practice in his home town. He opened cold that same year just a few blocks from where he attended high school in West Knoxville, TN. After expanding that location, Fry eventually decided it was time to move; but he went a step further and built a capacious new building from scratch with two business partners on a large piece of land.

Premier Eyecare now proudly occupies a little over 5,000 square feet of the new site with six exam rooms and a cavernous optical.

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Located in the fast-growing, affluent neighborhood of Farragut, Premier counts among its clientele many of the people who have moved into the area from other parts of the country. Patients range from infants to the elderly, but Fry says the largest age demographic is age 25-55. “Our patients appreciate having a nice selection in our eyewear gallery, and many prefer higher-end designer frames.”

Decorated in rustic wood and tile wall accents, with contemporary artwork displayed throughout, the office’s modern design is dominated by its 25-foot-high ceiling and a wall of glass thanks to its many high windows, creating a very large optical showroom. According to Fry the windows “provide light in the daytime, and a very cool, open view of our optical at night.” The office was designed for function and beauty and the large space has been especially beneficial during the COVID pandemic. A hallway with large windows surrounds the exam rooms with views of the creek, greenway and wildflowers behind the office. “We continue to get compliments every day from our patients,” says Fry.

As a practice owner, he’s constantly evaluating Premier’s brand. “With all of the social media and online tools available, it is important to pay close attention to details. We use a company to help us manage emails and texts to our patients to keep them informed on important topics related to our practice and to eyecare in general. We are in the process of implementing e-commerce to give our patients every option to buy from us.”

Premier Eyecare interior

Fry is convinced that a highly educated and caring staff is a key ingredient to running a successful eyecare business. But he’s also a believer in “hiring personality and training skills.” In other words he goes with his gut feeling about the person and is willing to invest in education later. “Focusing on personality before hiring staff has been a big emphasis in the hiring process,” he says. “We provide our staff with many educational opportunities throughout the year.” In fact, the practice pays for certifications and licensures. All techs are required to become certified paraoptometric technicians within one year of being hired. All opticians are licensed dispensing opticians. “We emphasize training and education with our staff, but personality is something that cannot be taught,” says Fry. The team has attended several practice management seminars as a staff over the years and hold weekly office meetings to continue to focus on patient care.

Premier Eyecare’s experience with COVID-19 will sound familiar to many owners: a halt to routine eye exams in April, leading to the furloughing of much of the staff, followed by a few urgent patients a day and some telemedicine. In May all staff returned when routine care resumed. Fry credits the PPP Act for helping his staff get through. The new normal now includes sneeze guards at the front desk and on the slit lamps and phoropters, as well as a new and thorough cleaning system. (Each area is marked as clean or in need of cleaning by a laminated card, which is flipped to the appropriate side as necessary.)

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The practice has an impressive six exam rooms (three currently equipped) and three pretest rooms. “Our office was built for the future,” explains Fry. A newly hired associate OD started in August to help cater to the strong growth that accompanied Dr. Fry’s return from illness (see “Fine Story”). “We have a two to three week backlog of patients on our schedule and would like to reduce that down to only a few days.”

Premier practices full-scope optometry and is heavily involved in specialty contact lenses including sclerals, hybrids, RGPs, and Ortho-k. “We have recently added a myopia management program to our practice and purchased a Zeiss IOL Master to measure axial length in order to track progression in children,” adds Fry.

PHOTO GALLERY (22 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About

1. SENSORY EXPERIENCE. Premier’s scent machine emits a wonderful, clean fragrance throughout the office through the air ducts, and ambient music wafts through multiple speakers.

2. WASH UP. The practice recently added the Optic Wash eyeglasses/jewelry cleaning device, which according to Fry has proven a hit with patients.

3. COMFORT ZONES. The previous location’s small break room, tiny offices and shared bathroom have been replaced with five beautifully decorated bathrooms and a large staff break room for lunch. The staff bathroom boasts a quartz counter top, cabinet for personal items, and decorative tile on the floor and walls.

4. PLAY TIME. An easily seen kids’ play area in the corner of the optical has a private feel, but lets patients try on glasses without distractions while being able to keep an eye on their children.

5. ON THE HOUSE. There is a beverage bar in the optical to enhance the patient experience (though this has been mothballed for the time being due to COVID).

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Quite likely a great business. ‘Build it and they will come.’ — Paul Storace, Alternative Eyewear/Plan B Eyewear, Ajax, ON
  • The construction architecture of this practice is impressive from the exterior and creates a grand “scale” on the interior. — Jan Ennis, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA
  • This practice epitomizes all that is right about an independent optometric practice. Beautiful unique interior and exterior design. It is evident that the heart and soul of the owner and his staff are on display in this practice. — Lance Anderson, OD, Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA), Portland, OR

FINE STORY: A little over a year ago, Dr. Fry was diagnosed with APL, a rare form of leukemia. “To say this disrupted my routine would be a huge understatement.” He spent six weeks in the hospital followed by ongoing treatment that ended in March, and returned to full-time work in May. “Local colleagues were so gracious to step in and help keep my practice running. My office manager organized the schedules of several optometrists in order to continue taking care of our patients. The rest of my staff stepped up their game to meet the challenge of working with unfamiliar doctors who all practice a little differently. I have received many compliments from the doctors about my staff and our operation.” Dr. Fry has since arranged donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Knoxville. “While I was out, I realized how much I love my profession and how much I missed my staff and my patients. My patients have been so patient (no pun intended) this whole time and have sent cards, gifts, and prayers for my healing. I can never express my gratitude for the kindness that I have seen throughout this whole experience. All of my reps, colleagues, and consultants have been very supportive to me. This whole experience has taught me that life is precious and fragile and to not take anything for granted.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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