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New Balance in Bakersfield

ODs open two stylish shops, see their families again.

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Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center, Bakersfield, CA

OWNERS: Dr. Son Nguyen, Dr. Stan C. Yang; URL: bakersfieldeyecare.com; OPENED: 2012 (plus a second location in 2016); AREA: 1,800 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time; TOP BRANDS: Etnia Barcelona, Face à Face, Matsuda, NW77th, Salt, Zenka; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/bakersfieldeyecare; INSTAGRAM: @bakersfieldeyecare


THE WRITING WAS ON THE eye chart: Drs. Son Nguyen and Stan C. Yang were already working six days a week in a leased space at one of the nation’s top-producing Target Optical locations, and Sunday office hours were on the horizon, too.

But the duo had an escape plan. For several years, they’d been working on the side to launch their own business, Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center.

When their second location opened in 2016, Yang and Nguyen were ready to break their big-box chains, fully embrace independent eyecare, and — with the help of optical manager Lorie McBroom (who also worked with them at Target) — introduce a bevy of independent eyewear brands to their mid-sized California city.

Bakersfield Eye Care’s two locations are each a short drive from the Target where Nguyen and Yang first forged their alliance. In 2012, they signed on as one of the first tenants at a brand-new shopping center in Seven Oaks, an affluent master-planned community on the city’s southwestern edge. “Our practice is the furthest west of any other office in town with minimal retail competition in the immediate vicinity,” says Nguyen. “We felt that we could fill a niche for those neighborhood residents by carrying unique high-quality eyewear that could not be found elsewhere in Bakersfield.”

Take Matsuda, one of the first high-end lines they added. Its rep wasn’t familiar with Bakersfield, but another salesperson — who’d already brought Etnia Barcelona and Garrett Leight to the shop — vouched for what Bakersfield Eye Care was up to. By the time the Matsuda rep finally visited in person, “we had already sold through most of our Matsuda bought at Expo, including a show-stopping frame priced over $1,500,” says McBroom. After joking that he’d driven through “a whole bunch of dairy cows” to find the business, the rep added that Matsuda’s website would soon tout the brand’s availability “in New York, Paris, Milan and Bakersfield.”

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Some optical shops struggle to pull off even a few trunk shows each year, but Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center has staged an eyewear showcase nearly every month in 2017. “We wanted to introduce independent brands to our community, and we thought the best way to do that would be for them to see entire collections,” notes McBroom, who contacted vendors in late 2016 to get them on the calendar. The practice sent an email announcing the full line-up to its entire customer base, then followed up with social media posts and targeted emails as each show drew near.

A bicoastal brand show in August featured both Moscot from New York City and Garrett Leight California Optical, while Barton Perreira is on deck for December. Not every event showcases top-end eyewear: One trunk show teamed with an adoption event for Bakersfield Eye Care’s favorite local cause, Marley’s Mutts. The business donated $25 to Marley’s Mutts for every NW77th frame sold that day, and it also supports the animal rescue charity’s annual Paws & Pearls gala.

The doctors’ declaration of independence has boosted their ability to maximize their individual skill sets. Since Yang has worked in ophthalmology surgical offices, he is taking the lead in expanding the practice’s medical optometry offerings — for example, bringing a new optical coherence tomography unit to the new location on the northwest side of town so the doctors can manage glaucoma, macular degeneration, and ocular surface diseases. (Both docs are certified in glaucoma care.) Meanwhile, Nguyen has accounting and payroll experience plus tech savvy; he maintains the practice website and designed an app that allows people to schedule an exam and fill out patient forms before they arrive.

Both Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center locations are open two nights a week. “That was purely a business decision to accommodate more patients and to help us stand apart from other local private optometry practices,” says Nguyen. But aside from the first Saturday of each month (when the trunk shows take place too), the doctors and their staff have reclaimed two-day weekends. “This is one of the main reasons we wanted to go into private practice,” adds Yang, “to have flexibility in our schedule to allow for a more balanced work and family life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (14 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center

1. Lounge vibe. Dr. Yang hand-picked the round couch in the reception area, and the doctors’ wives — Irene Nguyen (a former graphic designer) and Olivia Yang — helped design the buildout for both locations. From Pandora playing to a coffee bar, Bakersfield Eye Care is a casually comfortable place to be.
2. Fab lab. The new second location features an onsite lens lab with a dedicated employee to keep it humming, saving turn-around time and money for the practice and patients.
3. Go team. Staff members take turns with the title “CEO of Fun,” and they definitely like to play together. A Fitbit challenge this fall featured massages for the winners and dinner and volleyball at McBroom’s house for participants. “I’ve been in optical for over 30 years now and it’s been such a pleasure to work here because of the amount of practice pride our employees have,” she says.
4. Full bench. With 10 full-time opticians on staff, there’s rarely a wait for help finding stylish eyewear at either location. Says Yang, “We want to make sure patients feel like they’re taken care of at all times.”
5. Habla Español. Bakersfield Eye Care has several employees who speak Spanish, including Yang, who was born in Taiwan but grew up in Argentina. That’s a big plus in Kern County, where more than a third of the population claim Spanish as their first language.

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FINE STORY: A CALCULATED RISK

Bakersfield Eye Care has tried a few colorful collections that didn’t do well, so adding Etnia Barcelona felt like a bit of a gamble. “I said, ‘I love the brand, but it would be amazing if we could have 90 days to try it out to see how it would work.’ And the rep said, ‘Let’s make that happen,’” says Lorie McBroom. The line was a hit, “so it’s worked out for us as well as for our vendor, just to ask for the things that you want.” McBroom adds that she looks to reps as a great resource for recommendations beyond their own brands, too. Face à Face, Masunaga, and Salt are other lines they’ve brought in as a result.

 

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • I get the feeling that these might be the nicest people in the business. They are very staff and team oriented, which is the ballgame! Creating a CEO of Fun for staff events is a great idea. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • Love the focus on making a difference in their community. James and Dr. Laura Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care and Cathedral Eye Care
  • I like the cause marketing because it seems genuine. Store looks really good. I like the use of lighting inside and out. Jim Sepanek, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, DeRigo REM, Sun Valley, CA

Julie Fanselow was the original editor-in-chief of INVISION magazine and now contributes to the publication.

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America's Finest

You’ll Be Amazed What This Minnesota Practice Did with 1,000 Sq. Ft.

Hint: A stunning optical, exam lane AND plans to put in an edger.

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Wink Family Eye Care of SLP, St. Louis Park, MN

OWNER: Dr. Roman Gerber; URL:winkfamilyeyecare.com ; FOUNDED: 2018 ; ARCHITECT FIRM: Bob Shaffer Foundation Architects; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time ; AREA: 1,000 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Ørgreen, Etnia Barcelona, MODO, Acuvue Oasys 1 Day, Fresh Day Sphere; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/winkslp; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/wink_of_slp; YELP:yelp.com/biz/wink-family-eye-care-of-slp-saint-louis-park; BUILDOUT COST: $150K


Dr. Roman Gerber had wanted to open his own practice from the moment he graduated OD school in 2011. His dream came true in January 2018.

DR. ROMAN GERBER WANTED to cold-open a practice from the moment he graduated optometry school in 2011. Life circumstances and other opportunities kept that from happening for a few years, but by early 2017 he was scoping out potential locations for his own business in the South Minneapolis/St. Louis Park, MN area.

Things moved pretty quickly and the doors to Wink Family Eye Care of SLP opened on Jan. 15, 2018. Gerber began by seeing patients at Wink three half-days a week, while still working at his previous office; but before the year was out, Wink had gone from one to two full-time employees and was busy enough for Gerber to start working there full-time himself.

Gerber’s prime motivation for choosing the St. Louis Park neighborhood was because that was where his family first settled after immigrating from Russia when he was just 4 years old.

But as he took a closer look at the area, he was surprised at how much busier certain blocks were than others not that far away. The location he eventually settled on benefits from being in a mixed commercial and residential zone with Fresh Thyme and Trader Joe’s groceries nearby, a CVS pharmacy across the street and a busy Starbucks outlet just two doors down.

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Gerber estimates that about half of his patients are in the 20-39 age group, and they’re an important segment for Wink. “However, that still leaves half of our patient base as younger than 20, or 40 and older. We try to cater to everyone.” Figuring out the ways to cater to each group has been a learning experience, he says. “We understand that many of our Millennial/Gen Z patients may prefer to communicate through secure email/text so we try to accommodate that. Although some of our Gen X/Baby Boomer patients would prefer phone calls, it has been surprising to me how many of our patients from those generations also prefer text messages.”

The store’s décor and distinctive green color scheme were inherited from Wink’s partner business, Wink Family Eye Care in Chanhassen, MN, with a few embellishments. The store’s cool feel, sleek materials and careful, efficient use of space offer a lesson in how to make the most of a smaller space. Explains Gerber: “With our young hip demographic, we focused on a classier optical. The walls are lined with stinkwood and showcase our frame lines beautifully. We have a small, 1,000 square foot, flag-shaped space. We wanted to fit a pretest room, exam room, office, and future edger without sacrificing our optical. Our architect worked tirelessly to fit all of these components and to allow a natural flow.”

Eyewear is merchandised by brand, with Tracey Eggerstedt, Wink’s technician/paraoptometric/optician extraordinaire organizing and reorganizing constantly. Once again, it’s a constant learning curve: “It’s interesting to see where people look at glasses and which locations are ‘hot spots,’” Gerber says. He adds that the store’s online focus is primarily on building brand awareness. “We like to educate our patients while still showcasing our fun vibe.”

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Gerber strongly believes in listening to staff, treating them with respect, and empowering them. “Take care of your staff and they will take care of your patients,” he counsels. Before every eye exam, staff call on the patient’s medical and vision insurance to ensure there are no surprise bills. Eggerstedt focuses on pre-testing, frame styling, and learning everything about ocular health. “She enjoys being quirky with our patients and getting to know each one,” Gerber says. But all of the staff do a little bit of everything. “Kristin [Cannon] is our contact lens guru. She loves working with scleral lenses and doing difficult insertion and removal trainings.” The key to achieving great service, Gerber says, is to “treat every patient as if they were your family. We really try to empower patients and give them information to make the decisions for themselves. Everybody’s life is different and all we can do is educate our patients on all their options.”

PHOTO GALLERY (20 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Wink Family Eye Care of SLP

1. PARTNERS IN FINE. Wink Family Eye Care of SLP has a partner practice, Wink Family Eye Care in Chanhassen, MN, another America’s Finest Honorable Mention. They share staff, records and a website, but are run as separate businesses.

2. MEET & GREET. The Wink team are huge believers in networking and spend about five hours a week meeting other small businesses in the community, looking for ways to help each other out.

3. WILL TRAVEL. Gerber has made charity trips to Honduras, India, Mexico and Peru, and for two years helped build clinics in The Gambia, West Africa.

4. AWARD WINNING. Staff member Tracey Eggerstedt was named Paraoptometric of the Year in 2018 by the Minnesota Optometric Association.

5. EASY ON THE EYE. The store’s green color theme was chosen on the basis that the green wavelength of 555nm is the easiest for the rods in the retina to see.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Great logo, clean marketing materials and excellent use of that eye-popping green. Very clean and “shoppable” store layout. Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Refreshing in its simplicity and direct messaging. A solidly cool business. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • While they obviously take the medical side of their business very seriously, there is a quirky, fun side that is evident in their marketing materials and social media posts. I like the community involvement, both local and global. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Wink Family Eye Care of SLP owner Dr. Roman Gerber’s approach to choosing the precise location for the practice was downright scientific. In early 2017, while looking for places in South Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, MN, he says, “We ran a geospatial analysis (a gathering, of imagery, GPS, satellite photography and historical data for specific geographic coordinates, i.e. a street address or postal code) on a few spaces that were available. We were aware the area was changing rapidly, but it was great to see whether our assumptions about traffic patterns were correct. For the most part they were.”

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America's Finest

A Second Optical Location Hitting the Next Level of Candy Crush in Cleveland

People said their business would be ‘too funky’ for the Midwest but they proved their critics wrong.

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3RD Place: EYE CANDY OPTICAL PINECREST | Cleveland, OH

Next Level Candy Crush

People told these optical biz owners that Cleveland wasn’t ready for ‘funky, futuristic and weird,’ but they proved them wrong a second time.

OWNERS: Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov | URL: eye-candy-optical.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2012 |YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018 | AREA: 2,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EyeCandyOpticalCle | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyecandycle | TWITTER: twitter.com/ECO_Cleveland | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eye-candy-optical-beachwood | TOP BRANDS: Sospiri, Matsuda, Face à Face, Dita, Theo | BUILD OUT COST: $1.1M with equipment | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helen Rogic, ONE Interior (one-interior.com), and Jeff Bogart, Bogart Architecture, Inc.


Like many business ideas, Eye Candy Optical was born of a need. Steve Nelson, who launched Eye Candy Optical with Anton Syzdykov in Cleveland, OH, in 2013, recalls: “We couldn’t find fashionable glasses in our hometown.” They set out to change the local optical landscape by bringing a world-class eyewear shop to the city “based equally on fashion and function.” As industry outsiders, they felt they could avoid tunnel vision and preconceived notions. Of course, it’s one thing to identify a need — it’s how you go about filling it that matters. Eye Candy Optical’s founders were determined to do it with flair. “We asked ourselves: ‘What if Victoria’s Secret and House of Blues opened a glasses shop?’” The result was their first store in Westlake, west of downtown. Five years later, Nelson and Syzdykov opened a second location in the Pinecrest mixed-use development in Orange Village, one of Cleveland’s upscale eastern suburbs.

The goal with the second location wasn’t to duplicate the success of the first, but to build on it. “We had built a store that could compete with the best New York, LA, London or Paris shops,” says Nelson. “Sadly, many industry people, neighbors, competitors said we would fail. The shop was ‘too funky, futuristic and weird’ for the Midwest. Fast forward to today; we are very successful and have opened a second location.” Incorporating their five years of experience, the new location takes the strengths of the first store to the next level with added creature comforts, a superior lab and the latest in exam-room gear.

According to Nelson, it took several years to find the right space. “It was more than finding the right location, it was finding the location within the location,” he says. “We insisted on a spot caddy corner to the Whole Foods for the best visibility and parking.”

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It took many tries before they hit on the right design. “Truthfully we almost blew it and created an awful space that was fun but tantamount to a medical office instead of a sexy shop. We had to go back to basics and really recreate a better version of our first location. Sometimes you have all the answers right in front of you.” He acknowledges Helen Rogic from ONE Interiors, who did their displays, as a key contributor. “Without her … I don’t know how we would have tackled this project. She’s an amazing talent.”

“Sexy, cool, and very rock n’ roll” was the look and feel Nelson and Syzdykov were going for —fitting for a store just miles from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The optical’s layout is based around a circle of custom European displays by ONE Interior surrounding a coffee bar offering real Italian espresso and artisan teas.

When opening their second location in Cleveland’s Orange Village, Nelson and Syzdykov focused on the ‘location within the location’.

A large open window allows customers to see directly into the lab. Behind the center wall is a hallway that leads customers “back stage” where they find a first-class lounge with designer couch, bar seating and fridge with drinks and snacks. This area houses the state-of-the-art exam and pretest rooms, plus the “sexiest bathroom in optical with techno music and lights.”

Disappointed with the quality and selection in the mid-market category, the pair decided to design and manufacture their own frame line, Sugar Specs. It was a lengthy learning process and has been both labor and capital intensive, but well worth it, they say. “We set out to improve our position in this important price category by taking the bull by the horns. This is not simply choosing a design from a box of samples; instead we do our own hand and 3D drawings and get inspiration from our staff and customers,” says Nelson. They offer about 15 models in four colors and are working on getting it up to 50 models in the next 24 months. Frames are made from premium acetates or titanium with European hardware.

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The way Nelson and Syzdykov see it, they have “a vested interest in making customers look awesome.” What they strive to deliver, they say, is not just an amazing pair of glasses, but compliments and social validation from each client’s friends, peers, and relatives — with some fun along the way.

Thinking back on Eye Candy’s arrival on a staid Cleveland optical scene six years ago, Nelson says, “Look, we were different. People are always afraid of what is different. We were unapologetic when we said, ‘We are going to be the sexy rock ’n’ roll optical in Cleveland.’ Be bold, be brave, and stick to your vision.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Nathan Troxell: The Eye Candy Optical brand and persona is embraced throughout the entire patient experience and across all consumer touch points. Terrific connection to their home city by embracing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the attitude that goes along with it.

Stirling Barrett: Eye Candy Optical is showing that eyewear can be creative, exciting and fun. They care not only about getting customers in a frame that looks great, but they also have a fun approach in getting their customers to try new styles and push their comfort zone.

Beverly Suliteanu:This is a serious business that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fun, cool spirit throughout, from interior design to frame collections, marketing material and online platforms. They are quite high tech and appear to put as much emphasis on the substance (eyecare) as they do on the style (eyewear).

PHOTO GALLERY (28 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT EYE CANDY
 OPTICAL

1 EDGE ON THE COMPETITION. Eye Candy’s lab has a commercial edger from MEI Italy that allows the practice to make glasses on demand in minutes.

2 GET WITH ‘THE PROGRAM.’ Eye Candy staff wrote their own POS and accounting software that integrates with their edgers, labs, and medical equipment, simply called “the program.” A major undertaking, the end result is a streamlined system that has cut the average transaction time by 50 percent.

3 2020 VISION. The new store has the latest Visionix and Reichert pre-test and exam equipment for faster and more accurate exams.

4 IN THE MOOD. Eye Candy uses the SONOS system to set up to four different music stations. “The mood needs to be different on the retail floor versus the exam room,” says Nelson. They have everything from oldies and lounge to metal and techno.

5 WOW FACTOR. A front display window includes an advanced LED light show. The idea, says Syzdykov, is to “dazzle customers with an ever-changing screen with inspirational photos, sayings and memes, and to make it fun.”

Fine Story

“We are really proud of the ‘Eye Candy Process’ we utilize to get the customer to their perfect frame,” Nelson says. To do this, opticians and stylists are asked to pull five to seven frames for each client that “push their fashion comfort zone,” in a variety of colors, styles and price points. “Then we play a game called ‘Hate/Don’t Hate.’ If they ‘don’t hate it’ it stays in the tray.” (They used to say, “Like/Hate” but customers found the word “Like” too committal.) More frames get pulled, the cream rises to the top, and, eventually, the customer can be certain they found the best frame. It sounds simple but it takes a very skilled person to lead the process and consider the client’s style, facial features, skin tone, color palette, occupation, and the image they want to project. “Try doing that at a chain store! Here we are all psychologists, detectives, artists, and stylists!”

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America's Finest

America’s Finest Optical Retailers 2019 Winners Announced!

This year’s winners are eyecare business masterpieces designed to inspire.

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas

Despite a basis in medicine, running an exceptional independent eyecare business isn’t a science… It’s an art. A fine art. And nothing demonstrates that more than the top three winners of this year’s America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest. Nothing cookie-cutter here; our first, second and third place winners all demonstrate an individuality that cannot be replicated and a creativity that is quite literally hard to beat.

“I had so much fire in me and so many plans.”
Claude Monet

In speaking with this year’s honorees, many expressed a dissatisfaction with the more traditional routes eyecare has to offer. Sometimes burnt out, or otherwise just not interested, each determined that corporate optometry or a big box setting just wasn’t for them. Not fulfilling enough, not creative enough, not welcoming enough to big ideas and even bigger dreams.

“To create one’s own world takes courage.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

So they each took the leap. And they went BIG. Each pursued their idea of what an eyecare business should be. Whether they started from scratch or changed an established business, are a business in their infancy or have several generations behind them, each of this year’s honorees changed and tweaked their businesses to fit their most authentic expression of experience.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
Salvador Dali

But none of these businesses came about by happy accident. The businesses recognized this year have achieved their success through passion, creativity, hard work and an unrelenting drive to offer superior products and service to their customers. They are dreamers. They are doers. They are thinkers and they are artists. They are, in short, an inspiration.

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