3RD PLACE

‘Giving Better’ All the Time

At this Columbus, OH, boutique optical, respect for craftsmanship paired with advanced technologies adds up to a rare eyecare experience.

 STORY BY HEATH BURSLEM 

The Optical. Co
COLUMBUS, OH

OWNER: Craig Miller, OD
LOCATION: Columbus, OH
URL: theoptical.co

FOUNDED: 2017
AREA: 1,500 square feet
EMPLOYEES:  2 full-time, 1 part-time
BUILDOUT COST: $25,000
ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: McComas Builders, Twenty Brands, Downtown Woodworks
TOP BRANDS: The Optical. Co, Eye Columbus, Article One, SALT., Kirk & Kirk
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/theopticalco
TWITTER: twitter.com/theopticalco
INSTAGRAM:instagram.com/theopticalco

Owner Dr. Craig Miller likes to think of The Optical. Co as “a true optical start-up.” Launched in 2017, its stated goal is to bring back high-quality eyewear that celebrates the optician as a “master craftsman of vision,” holding the line in a world of mass production and low standards. The Columbus, OH , practice was created, he says, to bring well-crafted vision and high-quality eyewear back to the community.

“I learned very early on that you can’t practice the same way every single day of your career,” says Miller, adding that it’s important to evolve and become comfortable with change. “When you have an organization that constantly wants to improve things for their patients, whether that is the experience, the quality of care or the level of products, it fosters a culture that is very forward thinking and adaptable,” he says. This view is summed up in his personal mantra: “Give Better.”

Miller’s revered concept of the “master optician” is conjured up as soon as you enter the optical. “When we started out designing the space we were fortunate to have such an amazing shell to work with,” he says. From the start, he and his team were focused on designing a modern retail space with “vintage bones.” The exposed brick that lines both walls has been there for over 100 years and complements the Baltic birch shelves and woodwork throughout the store. The use of birch does more than just provide a clean, organic look; it was purposely selected for its storytelling potential. “Just like a craftsman’s workbench,” says Miller, “the dents, scratches and imperfections accumulate with and tell the stories of time. We want our optician’s workbench to do the same.”

Miller credits some outside help, citing Twenty Brands with the practice’s design, McComas Builders with construction and Downtown Woodworks for the custom woodworking.

When it comes to sales, Miller has his own playbook, one that insists on packaging only that eyewear that is best suited to a particular patient. “We refuse to put ourselves in a business model that we are having to up-sell into a no-glare lens or a poly… If you have a reputation of up-selling or ‘add-ons,’ you will quickly lose that level of trust in the community.”

The eyewear is merchandised to showcase the brands and share their stories. Not allowing them to get lost in the design is always a challenge, says Miller. “We were able to refurbish and reuse these vintage acrylic frame boards that help break up the visual merchandising. We wanted the space to look just as great at night when we’re closed as it does when we’re open, so we installed LED lights that light up the frame boards.”

JUDGES' COMMENTS:

Brent Zerger: A notable aspect of The Optical. Co is their use of the walls as a place to present information, from the charming menu board behind the desk to the wall texts throughout the space. The philosophy of “Give Better” as an encouragement to embrace change and evolution is a point of view accessible to all employees.  
Dr. Mick Kling: I really like the urban feel of this place. It seems to have a cool, hip vibe to it. And I love that it’s a relatively new start-up. It takes a lot of work to stand out in this field, and I admire the way they’ve jumped into it.
Natalie Taylor: A local business vision plan is a great idea to include at an optical shop. I’m loving the jigsaw wall in the exam room! Using vinyl wall lettering to communicate important business practices is such a good idea. The online store looks really great and it loads quickly.

This focus on the experience continues into the exam room, where wide-field digital imaging and wavefront guided measurements are included in every exam. Miller says patients love the “no-puff” glaucoma testing. Digital eyewear measurements are made on an iPad when designing lenses. Miller is quick to note that, “At the end of the day we want our customers to know that it’s not the technology alone that’s doing all of the work,” adding that it’s important customers get a sense that experience, expertise, and optical know-how are what set   the practice apart.

On The Optical. Co’s commerce-centered website, one can order glasses, schedule an appointment, or chat live with a staffer. “It’s important that the customer experience is the same online and in-store,” says Miller. 


PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES) 

 

Five Cool Things About The Optical. Co

1. VINYL FRONTIER: The practice has a vintage-inspired record player and “probably too many speakers playing throughout the store,” says Miller. The Lumineers, Jack White and The Rolling Stones are staff faves.  

2. OFF THE WALL: Instagram-worthy brick walls throughout the store create multiple selfie opportunities.

3. PRICE IS RIGHT.: PRICE IS RIGHT. “No up-sales!” declares Miller. “Eyecare shouldn’t come at a huge price point. Which is why we include premium no-glare lenses at no additional charge with all orders.”

4. SEED MONEY: Through the Seeds For Sight program, The Optical. Co plants a tree for every pair of glasses sold in-store and online.

5. LIGHT TOUCH: The custom Baltic birch paneled wall in the exam room “glows” to provide subtle lighting during an exam, “while at the same time creating a piece of art,” Miller says. 

  

FINE STORY 

The Optical. Co established the Arches program to help small-business owners in the neighborhood who can’t afford to offer their employees expensive vision insurance. “Our community is full of small retail boutiques, art galleries, and independently owned restaurants,” says Miller. “Through the Arches program, their employees can have access to exclusive discounts on glasses and eye exams in our store. We love it because it helps out these local business owners, and it also offers us the opportunity to style their employees.” 


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of INVISION.