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Still Growing Strong

Through five locations, four decades, one change of ownership and COVID-19, this Indiana practice has gone from strength to strength. 

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Zionsville Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

OWNER: Nicholas J. Garn, OD; URL:www.zeyecare.com; FOUNDED: 1980; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2019;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: David Rausch Studio, EyeDesigns and Retail One; EMPLOYEES: 28 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 7,000 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Face á Face, Mykita, l.a.Eyeworks, Lafont, Barton Perreira; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/ZionsvilleEyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/zeyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.25 million


Nicholas J. Garn, OD

Nicholas J. Garn, OD

WHEN DR. JAMES L. Haines was growing up, what is now the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville was a “Mayberry-like” small town. After optometry school and a stint in the navy, he returned to his home town, which he was sure had great potential for a small business, and founded Zionsville Eyecare in 1980. Haines spent the first 17 years working in a shared space with his own childhood OD, Dr. James Kramer. Since its opening in a small professional building on brick-lined Main Street, the practice has moved four times and now occupies a state-of-the-art 7,000-sq.-ft site. Dr. Nicholas J. Garn, who joined in 2006 and later became co-owner, took sole ownership in 2019. The team at ZE now comprises seven optometrists and staff, with Dr. Haines working as an associate OD seeing patients three or four days a week.

The practice primarily targets the young families that reside in the community, which Dr. Garn describes as “filled with entrepreneurs, sales executives and health professionals, along with dedicated parents looking to raise young people in a supportive town.”

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When the practice moved to its most recent location in late 2019, Garn decided that Zionsville, a bastion of Colonial Revival-style architecture, needed a fresh, modern approach to design. ZE’s optical is sleek but filled with eye-catching details, from its three-dimensional ceilings down to the three-sided fish tank inset into a wall. Digital art works displayed on the high-definition TVs that line the main clinic hallway provide pops of color. Customers quickly get a sense of the high-end service experience on offer when they encounter the concierge-style reception desk and custom latte machine.

Leaving nothing to chance, Garn worked closely with architects and specialist dispensary designers to create a feel that is “modern but not cold.” A waterfall effect from the ceiling creates a focal wall on the furthest point from the entrance. “I love texture in a space,” says Garn, “so creating that using hand-scraped wallpaper on some surfaces and dark stained wood bump-outs on others gives distinction to each highlighted frame line.”

ZE stocks the classics like Ray-Ban and Nike, but its gallery wall also offers patients the opportunity to see the value in independents like Mykita, l.a.Eyeworks, Barton Perreira, Lafont and Face á Face.

Garn believes the key to strong service is in the little things, like not charging patients for adjustments or basic nose pads, and standing to greet each person as they enter. The team includes a “patient experience specialist” who offers extra attentiveness by making a latte, directing parents to the children’s area, or sharing a friendly chat.

State-of-the-art tech is deployed, and the practice is a preview site for new-market CLs and related products. It works with local labs but also uses two Santinelli edgers in-house. “Anything we can do that allows us to put out a more accurate product faster aligns with our goals,” says Garn.

Zionsville Eyecare interior

ZE’s impressive growth has led to the introduction of department leads, who hold weekly meetings. Each department has its own quarterly outing to a restaurant or other activity to help team bonding. An optional challenge incentivizes staff to improve their health by 5 percent in five months. Those who meet one goal receive $100 in cash; those meeting a second take home an extra $50.

COVID-19 arrived at a particularly tricky time for ZE. “We had just built-out all this space and now couldn’t see any routine care. We made the decision to pay all non-doctor staff as long as possible their full wages.” During this early period, ZE became a regional hub for eye emergencies. The practice adapted quickly, launching online CL sales options and partnering with a telehealth platform. “We shifted to a philosophy of only buying goods with cash-on-hand,” says Garn. “We paid all credit card balances weekly… We really analyzed third-party vision plans and their impact on the practice. Starting in 2021, we will only be accepting two.”

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The epidemic has been a learning experience in other ways. “We chose to really listen to our patients and their stories. The mental health impact for so many is worse than the physical. They needed and still do need a human being in their presence talking to and listening to them.” When INVISION last checked in with Garn in early December, a number of staff members were in quarantine.

He chooses to see silver linings, however. “Our staff has bonded and come together more as a team than I would have imagined. By God’s grace we will surpass 2019 revenue and show growth in 2020.”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Zionsville Eyecare

1. GIVING BACK. ZE began its annual Day of Giving in 2016. The Friday before Christmas, doctors and staff wear ugly sweaters and give a percentage of all services and sales that day to a local charity.

2. GOOD SPORTS. ZE sponsors the Athlete of the Month in a local newspaper and buys ads in the local sports programs.
3. RARE CHANCE. During the August 2017 solar eclipse, ZE bought 500 certified and ISO approved eclipse glasses, slapped their URL on them and give them away.

4. COOL KIDS. In the local high school yearbook, ZE had students pose in some of its eyewear.

5. COMMUNITY TIES. Among many other activities, ZE donates suns to the HAWK Foundation’s VIP Carnival, gift certificates for silent auctions in the area and branded golf balls to local charity tournaments.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Another example of a successful large independent optometric practice. Heavy involvement in their community gives them an effective marketing approach. Beautiful building both inside and out. They have used readily available industry sources to design a very functional optical within their practice. — Lance Anderson, OD, Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA), Portland, OR
  • This space creates the blend of professional/commercial positioning needed for a successful practice regardless of location. — Jan Ennis, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA

Fine Story: Dr. Haines is a member of Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity and has joined several missions abroad to provide eyecare to the disadvantaged. His first mission took him to Honduras in 1990 as part of a team that provided thousands of free eye exams and prescribed donated eyeglasses. Haines recalls, “In many cases that might be an adult’s first and only pair of glasses they will ever own.” He has also been on missions to Cuba, Kenya and Vietnam. Volunteers pay for their own travel, food and lodging. “Most Americans take for granted the standard of living we enjoy, which so many elsewhere do not. It’s unfortunate that all of us do not get the opportunity to experience this reminder,” Haines says. Dr. Garn has also won plaudits for his community spirit; in 2011 he received the Meritorious Service Award from the Indiana Optometric Association for his dedication and service to students of the profession.

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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