Dr. Todd Sims and his wife, Diana Canto-Sims, moved cross-country in 2000 to place a strategic bet on Chicago’s swelling Spanish-speaking population. Fifteen years later, that decision has produced a thriving, award-winning eyecare practice. “When you have a niche, you have an advantage,” Sims says.
THE IDEA: Buena Vista’s story began in Idaho, where Sims worked at a five-location group practice. He noticed how he rarely saw patients from the area’s sizable Spanish-speaking population, “and it wasn’t because they didn’t have eyewear needs,” he says.
Sims pushed his colleagues to welcome the underserved clientele, but encountered indifference. He considered starting his own practice, but a non-compete clause complicated that idea. There was ample potential to serve the Spanish-speaking demographic in Idaho, but “we had to look elsewhere,” he says.
So the couple moved to Chicago, where Sims attended optometry school and Canto-Sims was born.For five years, Sims worked at a local eyewear chain and studied the local marketplace. Even in cosmopolitan Chicago, he recalls, Spanish speakers remained underserved. “We felt we could do things much better,” he says.
THE EXECUTION: Sims and Canto-Sims’ passion project began in late 2003, when they bought a storefront on South Kedzie Avenue in the city’s West Lawn neighborhood, a blue-collar, predominantly Hispanic community in the shadow of Midway Airport. A fire-damaged Burger King languished across the street. A modest secondhand shop sat next door.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Sims admits, “but it was available and the price was right.”
On Valentine’s Day 2005, the couple opened Buena Vista Optical. Its very name, Spanish for “Good View,” was a gesture of welcome. “We’ve never had to put ‘Se Habla Espanol’ on the door,” Canto-Sims jokes. “People just knew.”
Sims and Canto-Sims quickly built an inviting, accommodating space for local Spanish speakers. Their familiarity with Hispanic culture and language helped them foster loyal relationships.
They kept records of their patients’ preferred language. With almost 90 percent listing Spanish as their preference, the couple made sure staff — now 22 bilingual members strong — were able to speak the language. And to accommodate large families with many members who want to attend appointments together, Buena Vista created a spacious waiting room with a children’s play area.
Buena Vista also stocks products best suited for Hispanic faces, which tend to be wider, with a flatter nose bridge and higher cheekbones. The shop ditched preconceived notions of what its primarily working-class demographic can afford, and staff members present all relevant in-store solutions regardless of price.
“Sometimes these patients can be treated like second-class citizens, but part of the patient’s satisfaction is seeing better and also being pleased with their eyewear,” Canto-Sims says.
THE REWARDS: In 2011, Buena Vista purchased the adjacent building, a former tavern, and increased the size of its operation to 3,000 square feet, growing from one exam room to three. The added space brought added demand and exams are routinely booked two months in advance. “This is a population craving caring options,” Sims says.
Do It Yourself: Better Serve Spanish Speakers
➤ Diana Canto-Sims says a well-trained bilingual staff member can be an asset to any business. The U.S. now has 41 million native Spanish speakers plus 11.6 million bilingual speakers.
➤ Make a positive and lasting impression by trying to speak even a bit of the language. Learn some basic phrases.
➤ Use technology to help overcome the language barrier. Buena Vista’s website, for instance, converts to the Spanish language with Google Translate.
➤ Word-of-mouth is key among large, connected Hispanic families. “When you please one member of the family, it earns you the opportunity to please many more,” Canto-Sims says.
➤ Serve all. About 75 percent of Buena Vista’s patients are on Medicaid. Says Canto-Sims: “It’s our way to help the community.”
This article originally appeared in the November-December 2015 edition of INVISION.