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Charming-in-Chief

16 ways to win your employees' love without losing their respect.

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IT’S FUNNY HOW, when you ask people what makes a good boss, they’ll probably tell you about their worst one. It’s human nature to remember every insult and injury from  the insufferable jerk who made going to work a miserable experience and forget the kind, mentoring soul who quietly boosted your confidence.

Another way to look at it: Enduring a horrible boss is the workplace equivalent of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince or princess. When we asked the INVISION Brain Squad to tell us about your best bosses, some of you shared tales of your worst. One person wrote:

“My current boss is the best boss I’ve worked for. I think the difference between him and some others is that he is down to earth and does not have that ‘God’ complex that he is better than others. I have worked for a couple of doctors who walk around with their nose in the air and an air of superiority and treat you like trash. Being treated not only as a human but as an equal goes a long way.”

It’s true that toxic bosses from the past can offer useful lessons to small-business owners. As Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, says, “It is a lot easier to learn from that guy than to be that guy.” (He also quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”) But many ineffective bosses are good people who haven’t had positive examples of how to lead and manage people. This is especially true in small retail businesses, where the owner becomes a boss by default.

The first step to being a great boss is realizing there’s always room to improve. One great way to do it? Learn from other retailers’ experiences — check out our accompanying profiles of some especially memorable bosses — and learn from writers and thinkers who’ve studied how smart bosses inspire their teams to produce great results. Here are some of their top tips.

 

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1. MAKE TIME FOR EVERY EMPLOYEE

As the boss, you’re kind of a big deal, even if you only have a few employees. “That’s why an employee who wants to talk about something inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you,” says author Jeff Haden. “You have a choice. Blow them off, or see the moment for its true importance: A chance to inspire, reassure, and give someone hope for greater things in life.”

2. Let people be themselves

Bosses often get their rudest awakening when they realize employees have their own ways of doing things, says Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. If you force people to follow your playbook, then two things happen: “They become resentful — they don’t want to do it. And they become dependent — they can’t do it. Neither of these is terribly productive for the long haul.”

3. Rescue mission

Your greatest success may come from mentoring your least promising employee, Haden adds. “Your remarkable employees don’t need a lot of your time; they’re remarkable because they already have these  qualities,” he notes. “If you’re lucky, you can get a few percentage points of extra performance from them. But a struggling employee has tons of upside; rescue him and you make a tremendous difference.”

4. Steady on

Google studied more than 10,000 observations employees made in quarterly reviews, and found that human interaction, not tech skills, was the best indicator of success. As Adam Bryant wrote in The New York Times, the highest-rated managers “were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

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5. BUILD TRUST

Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke has co-written a book called The Code Of Trust with five rules for leadership: suspend your ego, be nonjudgmental, honor reason, validate others and be generous. Dreeke adds that it’s important for bosses to identify goals and priorities, but then let go of them and work to understand what other people value, because doing so builds trust. As Dreeke says on a Knowledge@Wharton podcast, “This is my manual on how not to be the person I was born to be. This is my manual on how to overcome that Type-A hard charger that just barrels forward and ruins relationships because they think it’s all about them.”

6. Be memorable

In her book Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, Jill Geisler shares three things employees never forget: a boss who apologizes when he or she is wrong (preferably in public, if that’s where the earlier criticism took place); a boss who reacts to a worker’s boneheaded errors with wisdom, knowing just how long to let people stew over their own mistakes; and bosses who respond to personal achievements and losses (big and small) with encouragement or empathy. On the flip side, she lists three things employees never forgive: a lying boss, a boss who takes credit for the staff’s work or ideas, or a boss who behaves differently around superiors than around the troops.

7. See yourself through their eyes

Stanford University professor Robert Sutton has made a career out of writing about how to survive difficult people in the workplace and in life. After he published his book The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t, he received all kinds of stories about difficult bosses, enough to fill a sequel (which eventually came out last year in The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt). But he heard about effective bosses, too, people who took “diverse and intertwined steps to create effective and humane workplaces.” He suggests that the best bosses pay close attention to how their employees see and hear them, from facial expressions to tone of voice.

8. Encourage feedback

You need to know what your employees are thinking, but they may not be willing to tell you in their employee review or even in the more casual one-to-one meetings that you’re hopefully having with them at regular intervals. Whether it’s a suggestion box in the break room or a confidential survey or focus group facilitated by a third party, give your people opportunities to suggest ways you can improve as their boss. Then let down your defenses, and take their feedback seriously.

9. Chill out

It’s true that passion can inspire performance, but if you’re always yelling at your employees, it’s worth asking whether your emotions are helping or hurting business. “Personally, I’m going to assume that successful screamers make it in spite of the screaming, not because of it,” writes Jay Goltz on The New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” blog.

10. Put people before goals

It’s good to have sales targets, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus. Without great employees, no amount of focus on goals and targets will ever pay off, says Jeff Haden, who writes frequently on how great bosses got that way. “It’s your job to provide the training, mentoring and opportunities your employees need and deserve,” he adds. “When you do, you transform the relatively boring process of reviewing results and tracking performance into something a lot more meaningful for your employees: progress, improvement and personal achievement.”

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11. Demythologize crisis

We’re living at a time when “our institutions seem to be in serial meltdown,” says Elizabeth Samet, a professor of English at the United States Military Academy, in her introduction to Leadership: Essential Writings By Our Greatest Thinkers. “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for addiction to the 24-hour news cycle, multiple information streams and constant stimulation.” Sound familiar?

But humans cannot thrive in a state of constant turmoil, so do what you can to cultivate a low-drama life and workplace. Listen to music instead of the news or talk radio on your way to work. Eat well, get adequate sleep and exercise, and take time to play—and help your employees do the same things. Researchers at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic found that a workplace-based stress management program boosted employee morale and vitality, with positive changes still evident a year later.

12. Unpack your power trip

12 In a conversation with psychologist Ron Friedman at the Peak Work Performance Summit, author Dan Pink cited research showing that when we feel powerful, we’re less likely to see other people’s perspectives. That’s why it’s helpful to “dial down your feelings of power just a little bit” to see the world the way your employees do.

13. Admit you don’t know it all

You had the vision and talent to launch your small business, but that doesn’t mean you naturally have the skills to be a great boss. It’s smart to look for mentors and seek opportunities for leadership growth. Writing on Bloomberg.com, Rebecca Greenfield profiles executive coach Ben Olds, who helps bosses learn to have difficult conversations, harness their emotions and just plain listen. Few people are beyond help. For Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, “Olds would want to understand what provokes him. To find that out, he would talk through some regrettable incidents, in the hope of improving his emotional intelligence and avoiding bad behavior.”

14. Deal with the small stuff

“Nothing kills team morale more quickly than problems that don’t get addressed,” says Jeff Haden. Even petty issues — squabbling employees, tardiness and negativity — are distractions that merit your action. “Small problems always fester and grow into bigger problems. Plus, when you ignore a problem, your employees immediately lose respect for you, and without respect, you can’t lead,” he says. “Never hope a problem will magically go away, or that someone else will deal with it. Deal with every issue head-on, no matter how small.”

15. No harassment. Period.

The #MeToo movement of the past year has made it clear there are no longer any gray areas when it comes to recognizing and dealing with workplace sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website has information on how to deal with this new reality. Go to eeoc.gov and look for “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.” Hire and promote all kinds of people who can give your company a wider lens on the world (and attract a broader range of customers, too).

16. INSPIRE THEIR BRILLIANCE

Buckingham suggests that managers identify and encourage their employees’ best traits and talents. In fact, he says that’s the one defining characteristic of the best managers. “Great managers know they don’t have 10 salespeople working for them,” he says. “They know they have 10 individuals working for them.” Rather than be obsessed with your employees’ weaknesses, encourage them to do things they love to do, whether that’s window displays, social media or greeting customers.

 


 

BEST BOSS I EVER HAD

Few people are as influential in our lives as our bosses. We asked the INVISION Brain Squad to tell us about their most memorable and effective mentors at work. Here are a few of your stories.

 

Angie Patteson, OD
Sunset Eye Care, Johnson City, TN

BEST BOSS: Torrey Carlson, OD
LESSON: Be a leader

A few years before purchasing my practice, I had an excellent boss at LensCrafters. He gave all of his doctors total autonomy to manage patients as we deemed appropriate. There was no push to fit certain brands of contacts or cut corners on our exams. I respect him greatly for that.

Dr. Torrey Carlson owns five LensCrafters leases, and I worked most often with him in his Kingsport, TN, location for five years. Even though he has several leases, employees, and associate doctors, when he is seeing patients his focus remains solely on them. I can’t imagine how many thoughts run through his head on a daily basis, but he is able to put patient care at the top of his priority list.

At this point in his career, he could probably delegate all patient care and just have an administrative role, but instead he works on the weekends and travels to all five locations to see patients during the week. This is a valuable lesson for any doctor. I hope that my employees also note that I work diligently. A boss will tell their employees: “Go to work.” But a true leader says, “Let’s go to work.”

 

Jessika E. Arena
The Eye Center, Asheville, NC

BEST BOSS: P.J. Endry, OD
LESSON: Mistakes are ok

Dr. P.J. Endry, my current boss, is the best I’ve ever had. He’s in practice for all the right reasons, to take care of his patients, and that trickles down to staff and creates a very positive environment to work in. He also understands we all work to live, not live to work, and family always comes first.

I’ve been working with him for nearly 11 years and believe he creates a positive work environment by caring about his employees. He’s interested in our lives outside of work in a genuine way, our families, hobbies, interests, and even our struggles. His approach to employee relationships is similar to his holistic patient care.

The greatest lesson I have learned from Dr. Endry is that it is OK to make mistakes, that just because you don’t know or understand something, that doesn’t mean it can’t be learned, and that sometimes when we are in the process of learning we are going to make mistakes, and that is OK. You are not your failures.

 

Danielle Jackson, OD
Jackson Eye, Fairburn, GA

BEST BOSS: Evan Barnett
LESSON: To lead is to serve

My first job as a teenager was working at a small water park in Garland, TX. I returned every summer for seven years because of my amazing boss, Evan Barnett, the general manager.

I learned so much from Evan by observing his interactions with people. He was always level-headed and upbeat, always smiling and genuine. He never assigned a task that he wasn’t willing to do himself and effortlessly made every employee feel special by treating us all as equals. Our respect for Evan was rooted in our admiration for him.

He told me something once that has always stuck with me. I asked him why nothing ever seemed to bother him. He said, “Why would I complain about anything to you? I’m your boss. I work for you. My job is to solve your problems, not add to them.” That idea of servant leadership and working for your employees in the same way you want them to work for you has molded how I interact with my staff and is the core of our upbeat and positive office culture.

 

Julie Uram
Optical Oasis, Jupiter, FL

BEST BOSS: Wally Willrick
LESSON: Confidence

My first boss was my best boss. My first job was at The Donut Shop. I was 14 years old and opening up alone at 5:30 in the morning. My boss, Wally, was wonderful; he gave me structure and made me the employee I am now.

Wally taught me how to count change, wait on customers, answer the phone, clean; he taught me to treat people like you want to be treated and laugh a lot, but most important he taught me responsibility and confidence. I was very shy when I started working for Wally. It got me out of my shell and made me more outgoing and pretty much who I am today. He is still a great friend and mentor.

 

Shimul Y. Shah, OD
Marysville Family Vision, Marysville, OH

BEST BOSS: Danny Gottlieb, OD
LESSON: Attention to detail

I worked for Dr. Danny Gottlieb for three months during my fourth year of optometry school. It wasn’t that long but he made quite an impact in a very short period of time. His wife (at the time) Rhonda also worked at the office and it felt like such a family owned company where each person who worked there was independently invested in the company.  

Dr. Gottlieb was attentive to his patients and to my learning process. He taught me how to listen, how to document and how to have the most efficient communication process between patient, doctor and staff.

His protocol was to write a report at the end of each appointment for the patients and their family to summarize the concerns, what testing was done, the conclusion and the recommended treatment. The attention to detail was incredible. Sometimes he even allotted two hours to do a comprehensive assessment and document the results so they would make sense to the patient.

He shaped the way I speak to patients and make sure to address their concerns, even if I don’t have an answer.

 

Travis LeFevre
Krystal Vision & Sunwear, Logan, UT

BEST BOSS: Michele Johnson
LESSON: Learning is a gift

5 Some people say working with family is a nightmare, but speaking from experience, that’s not always the case. At Krystal Vision we have five employees, four of whom are family, spanning three generations (grandmother Michele, mother/daughter Ami, and myself, son/grandson Travis). Michele has been an optician for almost 45 years and started Krystal Vision nearly 20 years ago. Since I began as an optician six years ago, she’s been my boss and mentor and has slowly let Ami and I take on parts of Krystal Vision and work alongside her.

She’s been my favorite boss, not only because she’s my grandmother, but because she pushes me to learn and grow. She’s an expert at adjustments, troubleshooting, and finding the perfect frame for the pickiest customers. She’s my go-to person to bounce new ideas off, and has taught me how to buy smart and look for frames that give us an option for anybody in our community.

It takes a lot to be a good boss and mentor, but Michele has surpassed that and become a better boss than I could have ever wished for.

 

Nytarsha Thomas, OD
Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

BEST BOSS: Penelope Suter, OD
LESSON: Success is never an accident

I met Dr. Penelope Suter as one of my five required clinical rotations at PCO. I had a strong interest in peds/VT and (bonus!) my fiancé lived in Bakersfield, CA, near Dr. Suter’s practice. She ran a busy peds practice while writing a traumatic brain injury textbook for one of the California schools under a stressful deadline. She didn’t want to take on students until her book was complete, but after we spoke (read: “after I begged”) she agreed to take me on as an intern.

In the short time I spent at her office, I learned many valuable lessons about working with tiny humans. However, my main takeaway was more valuable. Since I started practicing, other women ODs have told me women can’t open a business on their own (Who will cook for your husband? What about maternity leave? Who will raise your children? For god’s sake, what about the laundry?!?) She showed me that, although it is difficult, if you work hard enough, nothing can stop you from having it all.

She is the reason I opened my practice and is still my mentor today.

 

Heather Nagucki
Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

BEST BOSS: Robin Bennett
LESSON: Work should be fun!

I was lucky enough to work for Robin Bennett at The Sunglass Shoppe in Petoskey, MI, when my husband’s radio job moved us to Northern Michigan. She took me on in the middle of winter when she probably didn’t need another employee and fully immersed me into a small community. She showed me the ins and outs of owning a small business. I learned a lot of creative ideas from her. We also had a ton of fun!

We went to chamber/Women in Business meetings, community fundraisers and trunk shows. She even took me to my very first VEE and taught me how to buy for multiple locations. I learned more about marketing a business, being part of a community and dealing with special product than I ever had before at any other job.
She also made sure I found friends and fun when I moved there. I never sat at home—for that I will always be thankful. I still call her whenever I need advice. She is an amazing person!

 

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

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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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America's Finest

Stunning Interiors and Exteriors Draw Fine Eyewear Fans to This Unique Memphis Practice

They had faith that the neighborhood would support them; and they were right.

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1ST Place: Eclectic eye | Memphis, Tn

Down to a Fine Art

A Memphis couple built an optometric practice and eyewear boutique that reflects and enriches the vital, art-loving neighborhood they grew up in.

OWNERS: Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Michael Weinberg, OD | URL: eclectic-eye.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2002 | AREA: 3,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | TWITTER: twitter.com/EclecticEye | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eclectic-eye-memphis | TOP BRANDS: Anne et Valentin, Moscot, Krewe, Theo, Jacques Marie Mage | BUILD OUT COST: Original $400,000, Renovation $425,000 | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Archimania: Jeff Blackledge, Todd Walker and Stephanie Wexler


Eclectic Eye was born out of husband-and-wife team Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream to establish a viable, engaging and artistic business in Midtown Memphis — the community in which they grew up, went to high school and first got to know each other — and where they had long hoped “to live, work and play.”

Midtown is known for its ethnic, economic and architectural diversity, thriving art scene and established LGBTQ community. According to Johnson Weinberg, however, it is still recovering from the effects of “white flight” experienced in the 1970s and ’80s after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and generations of Jim Crow racial oppression. By the late 1990s, after decades of depopulation, the neighborhood was sorely underserved. “We wanted to be a part of the solution by being in the city, in the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. In a way, they were hoping for a personal rebirth to match the revitalization they wanted to see in the community. At the time, they were both hustling in jobs for other people and beginning to feel trapped.

“We considered moving out of town briefly but eventually decided that what we wanted, most of all, was to open our own eyecare and eyewear boutique in our beloved Midtown community … We honestly believed that if we put a business in Midtown, people would support us.” They were right. “With our youth, naivety and lots of enthusiasm we threw open the doors in October 2002 and blew past our first-year projections within the first three months.”

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Eclectic Eye fits in effortlessly with many of the mid-century businesses on Midtown’s Cooper Street, which has long been a primary artery connecting affluent, growing communities with all the city’s resources. “We wanted to be sensitive to the varied architecture and the activated, walkable community it once was and be a part of its return.” That process wasn’t a simple one, however. The location itself was found through sheer perseverance. The real estate broker they originally chose wasn’t comfortable with their vision; he simply didn’t believe Midtown was sustainable for the level of investment they wanted. “Back in the late 1990s,” recalls Johnson Weinberg, “Midtown was not pleasing from an economic or aesthetic standpoint.” In an era whose aspirations were characterized by big box, suburban living, “moving back into the urban core was an anomaly.” But after months of searching they found a new broker who was developing the space that eventually became Eclectic Eye.

Opening Eclectic Eye was the realization of Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream ‘to live, work and play’ in Midtown Memphis.

Eclectic Eye’s design expertly brings the outside into the store with large windows taking up two whole walls of the dispensary. Inside the space feels vast but approachable, always focusing on the eyewear. A large acrylic tower in the center houses the pre-test center. From here, custom wooden work areas run for approximately 20 feet, mirroring the tower and its dropped ceiling shape. The store’s 1,200-piece collection of unique eyewear is showcased in custom glass and wood boxes that are variously fitted into the windows, lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Floating, suspended custom cabinetry provides storage for cases, books, cloths and other items.

Johnson Weinberg describes the store’s feel as “modern and industrial with homage to the mid-century style that’s all the rage today.” Flooded with natural light, the interior’s materials are primarily glass, stainless, aluminum and acrylic with warm wood tones for furnishings. A high, exposed-ductwork ceiling rises 14 feet above a richly textured, grey concrete floor. The frames themselves are displayed by brand. “To us, each brand tells its own unique story which must fit into the overall narrative of our story,” she says.

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Over the past three years Eclectic Eye has put particular effort into its online presence, and has been gratified to see its follower numbers grow consistently across all channels, generating strong reviews. Johnson Weinberg acknowledges this is a never-ending process and credits the PR and advertising team at Inferno for creating a consistent brand message across platforms. The need for content challenges her to keep coming up with fresh ways to market the business, she says.

As they don’t take any insurance, Eclectic Eye is able to make it a policy to give patients one hour each with their doctor. “The doctors have time to listen to them, talk with them about their vision and their lifestyle, and maybe even have time to hear about their latest travel excitement or a kid’s escapade. They truly get to know their patients,” says Johnson Weinberg. A core goal of the practice has always been to provide the most comprehensive exam possible. To this end, they are always adding new technology. Exams include everything from taking blood pressure and obtaining an extensive family history to having their own OCT and visual field machines, which are used on each patient.

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Eclectic Eye has its own lab and Dr. Weinberg is somewhat unique as an OD, as he grew up working in his dad’s lab. “That’s the other side of his passion,” says Johnson Weinberg. “He loves the process of understanding how that extremely challenging prescription might be designed to fit in an exceptionally unique frame.” She adds that her husband has worked hard to train their current lab team, as they view the lab itself as being equally important to their brand.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Stirling Barrett: Eclectic Eye’s brand brings together design, style, art and eyewear under one roof and with a purposeful, clear vision. Their community focus is refreshing and they lead with a commitment to customer hospitality.

Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian: Now this is a contender!

Beverly Suliteanu: From the onset, there was a clear vision of the type of business Michael and Robbie wanted to build and they have succeeded in building a thriving, caring business that has stayed true to their mission and core values. Their love and commitment to the Memphis art scene, and to Memphis itself, is apparent. All of their initiatives speak to their core value of strengthening their community and building their team.

PHOTO GALLERY (55 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ECLECTIC EYE

1 IN-DISPENSABLE. Patients are always set up for dispensing appointments with the team member they worked with originally. They receive a reminder text similar to those for doctor’s appointments. “We value the time for all of our staff and their expertise is scheduled accordingly,” says Johnson Weinberg.

2 TESTING TIMES. To boost team performance, all staff participate in Enneagram personality testing, a process that Johnson Weinberg admits “requires some deep diving.” She adds: “It’s been an awakening and continues to unfold.”

3 EYE CATCHERS. The exterior walls are adorned with two huge murals from local muralists. These and a large local sculpture constantly draw new customers.

4 NOT A SCRAP. NOT A SCRAP. Eclectic Eye has been a paperless medical office since it opened in 2002.

5 OUT AND ABOUT. In early 2018, Johnson Weinberg gave staff a Saturday off to participate in the September Memphis Gay Pride parade. She donated the day, the materials, the costuming, and whatever else they needed, and they designed and built a float and costumes. “They worked with each other outside of work to make it happen. It was a magical experience to watch it all come together!”

Fine Story

From its inception, Eclectic Eye was designed to host art shows. The store has hosted over 120 of them in the past 17 years. “This is one way we give back to the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. “In addition to providing our space, Eclectic Eye takes care of all of the event planning, advertising, PR, food, drinks and staffing of their event. In turn, a local artist gets to showcase their art to a whole new group of people for 7-8 weeks a year.” Eclectic Eye sees its independent eyewear designers as artists, and each frame as wearable art. So, showcasing local artists is a natural next step. The shows are fully dedicated to supporting artists (the Weinbergs don’t take a commission) and are separate from the store’s trunk shows. “We do, occasionally, sell a frame or book an eye exam, but that is the exception. The art is then on display until the next art show,” she says.

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