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Third Time’s The Charm

AMERICA'S FINEST (2ND PLACE): Unique interiors, homespun marketing, community engagement and a diverse team: A third-time practice owner puts it all together in her stunning Seattle practice.

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America’s Finest 2020 Sponsors

2nd Place: Eyes On You, Seattle, WA

OWNER: Evie Lawson, OD | URL: eyesonyouseattle.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2014 |AREA: 2,700 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 7 full-time, 2 part-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EyesonYouSeattle | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyesonyouseattle | TOP BRANDS: Blake Kuwahara, Bevel, Barton Perreira, l.a. Eyeworks, 141 | BUILD OUT COST: $300,000 | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Atelier Drome (architect)


THE OPENING OF Eyes On You in downtown Seattle, WA, in 2014 represented something of a second act in the professional life of Dr. Evie Lawson, who had previously spent five years as an owner/operator of two optometry practices/optical shops an hour from the city. Wanting to be closer to her family, she cut ties with the old businesses and began anew.

Lawson built the practice — located in the Grand Colonial building on 1st Ave, one of Seattle’s original hotels — from the ground up, helping to tile, upholster, do carpentry for the bar construction, plan the interior design and install a tin ceiling over the entrance, not to mention putting together all the business aspects of the medical side and optical. She admits to loving this stage of a business: “I love starting new practices. The evolution of the concept and theme of the practice is so much fun for me. My third wasn’t any different. I just keep getting better at it, however it’s like having a new baby each time. It’s so much work… I don’t think I’ll do it again.” She also creates the elaborate seasonal displays that grace Eyes on You’s front windows—no small task given that the entire storefront is made up of these picture windows.

Eyes On You marketing

‘Eye Love Fall’ is one of two major yearly campaigns organized by Eyes on You every year.

Knowing that Seattle is a city full of creative people pushed her to find a fun creative theme that worked with the unique history of the building, says Lawson. Eyes on You’s social media and marketing manager, Karen Barnes, memorably describes the office’s aesthetic as “vintage speakeasy-esque style.” Instead of a dispensing table customers are ushered to a custom made bar, complete with stools and seating for eight.

Everything about Eyes On You is designed from the patient perspective, says Barnes, to ensure they are there for an experience, not an appointment. Patients arrive in the grand entrance and after checking in, wait in the boutique amid vintage-styled furniture. A tech is assigned to them and walks them through the exam process to the optical, where they get one-one-one service with an assigned optician. Patients sit at the bar and are served eyewear options. This provides continuity of care and a sense of being totally cared for through the entire process.

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Marketing at Eyes on You is a proudly in-house affair. They tried outsourcing, but felt it wasn’t reflective of who they are as a business and didn’t connect with patients. Seasonal campaign events and holiday collaborations facilitate community and help to establish Eyes on You as a local, woman-owned business in the downtown community; the primary goal is to develop brand recognition by cross pollinating with stores of similar target markets. The practice doesn’t have the budget for fancy statistics trackers, and believes data collected on KPI is often observational. A friend of Lawson’s took charge of marketing and achieved great results. Everything done so far has produced results, both in customer engagement rates and profit outcomes — far higher than they experienced with professional businesses doing the same job. Eyes on You’s digital presence is used to push out relevant and educational content, says Barnes. A highlight is a monthly blog catering to patient requests for information.

Eyes On You exam room

At Eyes on You, a tech is assigned to each patient and walks them through the exam process all the way to the optical, where they get one-on-one service with an assigned optician.

The team at Eyes on You is an eclectic mix. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the staff of nine consisted of a mix of long-term eyecare professionals, an antiques dealer, and former teachers. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced Lawson to make some heartbreaking decisions. “I could never have imagined a scenario like this,” she says. “One of the hardest days in my career was laying off my employees when our doors were closed to routine exams. I still have not been able to bring all of my employees back and probably won’t be able to for a long time. Downtown Seattle is a ghost town and my practice is reflecting that. I do not believe that the downtown core will ever feel the same as it did before COVID.”

In more stable times, Lawson is a champion of continuing education and tries to give people time off and pay for their educational efforts. She also covers the cost of ORCA cards (public transport) for all staff. “There is no way I would be able to achieve what I have without them,” Lawson says.

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The team also plays a key role in selecting eyewear. “We work with private eyewear companies who have a good story owned by good people,” says Lawson. “My amazing opticians do the buying, although I love to help with the selection when I have the time.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Paul Storace: The grass roots, community-centric marketing is appreciated.

Jan Ennis: Great use of casework not typical to optical, and then blended with tin ceiling tiles and schoolhouse lights.

Lance Anderson, OD: I love how this practice has ingrained itself into the Seattle community and neighborhood that it serves. The optical bar is a very cool feature of their unique interior design concept. Hats off to their marketing efforts and biannual frame show events.

PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Eyes On You

1. OUT AND ABOUT. Until COVID hit, Lawson would send staff out to volunteer to give free optical exams through Seattle King County Clinic every year. She also partners yearly with Childhaven at Christmas to provide needed items to struggling families.

2. ALL ARE WELCOME. Eyes On You contributes to local school auctions and the Seattle Men’s Chorus, and are members of Greater Seattle Business Association, an inclusive membership which helps LGTBQ know which shops are friendly.

3. PAS DE DEUX. Two large yearly campaign events, “Eye Love Fall” and “Sunnies and Sangria,” serve to facilitate community and develop brand recognition. Both events are timed to coincide with a downtown art walk, which has increased pedestrian traffic into the shop in previous years.

4. BIG WOWS. Lawson has big screen TVs in each exam room on which she pulls up Optos and OCT photos for patient education. “The wow factor is impressive.”

5. HANDS ON. All the woodwork in the office was made by Lawson’s cousin and/or sourced by an antique dealer, Mandi, who is also a part-time optician.

Fine Story

Lawson has learned it takes a lot of different personalities to round out a team. Her great “selling” opticians don’t always have the best organizational skills, while her opticians with the great organizational skills don’t always have the best people skills and honestly don’t always like working with customers. One brainwave that has helped her iron out some of the kinks arising from this dilemma has been to create a special position: a lab administrator, with duties from point of sale on. The position is currently held by optician Sarah. The lab admin orders all of the jobs, checks them in, keeps track of inventory, keeps things organized in the lab and is the patient eyewear liaison. “It has eliminated so many missed things,” she says, ensuring the team knows what is going on with each set of frames and eyewear. It has cut down on missing jobs, upset patients, and misordered jobs, and adds to the customer experience as there is one point of contact, providing continuity of care through the exam to pick-up, where the admin hands them their new eyewear and adjusts/assesses it before they walk out our door.

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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