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5 Eyecare Businesses That Prove That the Way to Clients’ Hearts is Through Their Stomachs

For these businesses, delicious tastes and smells are a selling point.

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IT SHOULD BE SELF-EVIDENT, but “experts” can dash off a list of reasons why offering delicious baked goods to your customers can be good for business. Sure, it sounds a little …well, sexist frankly … but the Journal of Consumer Research once reported that women were more likely to make impulsive decisions when exposed to “appetitive stimulants” such as the smell of chocolate chip cookies.

Less scientifically, perhaps, a California jewelry store owner once told our sister publication, INSTORE, that “nine out of 10” people who stopped by for the express purpose of sampling his wife’s legendary lemon pie ended up buying something. Then there’s the argument that free food and drink makes customers feel obligated to buy something because, after all, you’ve just improved their day. And if you’re hosting an event, freebies can at least give participants a reason to stick it out to the bitter (or bittersweet?) end.

But all this doesn’t even touch on the staff-bonding boost to be had from getting employees to whip up — and show off — goodies of their own. It’s clearly a way to add the personal touch and further differentiate yourself from your local big box. But truth be told, bringing in baked goods doesn’t have to be part of an elaborate strategy or cross-promotion; it can simply be an honest, generous, down-home way to connect with staff and customers as human beings, no strings attached … and regardless of gender.


Eye Candy
Delafield and Mequon, WI

The name is Eye Candy, and they don’t disappoint. Owner/optician Paula Hornbeck makes a priority of organizing baked goods and sweets for trunk shows and other special events. “It’s always a hit,” she says. “Who doesn’t like cake!” Melissa, one of Eye Candy’s opticians, loves to bake cupcakes and will often whip up a fun flavor for a trunk show. For the store’s birthday party each year, Hornbeck orders up a custom cake from a local baker. Staff are allowed to tuck in, “Just not when they’re busy with customers.” Eye Candy’s offerings tend to be event-driven; for that reason, flavors and styles are usually seasonal. And they’re always free. Health warnings and lawsuit fears are not really Hornbeck’s style: “Big eye roll,” she yawns. “No. I believe in personal responsibility. If you have a diet restriction then ask what’s in the treats or don’t have any.” Her advice to ECPs sitting on the gingerbread fence: Take the plunge… and “Have fun with it!”

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EyeShop Optical
Columbus, OH

Every Friday is Dessert Friday at EyeShop Optical. Patients like it so much many of them schedule their appointments on the day. Owner Dr. Cynthia Sayers started the tradition because at her daughter’s preschool every Friday was Cookie Friday. She found that parents — who on other days just picked up their kids and took off were hanging out around the cookies on Friday, and more willing to engage with other parents. “If it could work at a daycare, surely it could work at an optometry office.” Sayers does the baking herself. “It’s one of my hobbies, so it’s enjoyable for me. I typically bake cupcakes, but it can be cookies or other treats depending on the occasion or mood. I will take requests from patients and yes, the employees often partake.” The biggest request she gets are for her s’more cups (chocolate chip cookie cup with a ROLO inside, and toasted marshmallows and chocolate on top). No strings attached here; the cupcakes are put out for any and all to eat (though kids are told to ask permission from a parent). “Baking is relaxing for me and … a way to bring the homey feeling I try to create into my business,” says Sayers.


Discerning Eye
Iowa City, IA

Raising the bar on free, home-cooked treats is Joni Schrup, owner of Discerning Eye in Iowa City, IA, who personally bakes something for her patients every single day, ranging from cookies, bars and shortbread to ginger snaps and candied bacon. “Customers are always asking for my recipes and we keep copies handy at our front desk.” Located in the heart of a college town, Discerning Eye has 20,000 starving University of Iowa students and workers traipsing hungrily past her doors daily. So she got cooking. “We offer cookies or bars or homemade snacks every day.” When she spoke with us there was a plate of chocolate shortbread cookies and ginger snaps on the counter. “The all-time favorite is candied bacon, which I only make in December.”

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Edina Eye
Edina, MN

Once, Edina Eye in Edina, MN, had a greeter in the office, one of whose tasks was to pour coffee and hand out cookies. Times change, greeters move on. But when Edina’s treat-dispenser left, staff noticed that while the snacks hadn’t generated a lot of comment when plentiful, once they were no more, employees heard about it. “Patients missed it,” recalls retail operations manager Bob McBeath. “Now we do it once a month or so sometimes around an event,” McBeath says. “Usually one of the managers picks them up. We do not take requests.” The munchies are free: “No strings attached, although we ask that parents help the kids.” To ECPs worried about litigation or other forms of blowback in an era of fat shaming, gluten-free diets and anti-junk food ordinances, McBeath says simply: “Buy it, put up an ingredient poster.” Something weird he’s noticed about offering free goodies, though: “Patients act like they’re stealing them.”


Urban Optics
San Luis Obispo, CA

If you happen to find yourself in California’s Central Coast region, check the sea breeze for a whiff of cinnamon and follow your nose into San Luis Obispo’s Urban Optics for an eye exam and a treat; the practice buys them from a favorite bakery and hands them out to customers and patients. “We stock the office with baked goods most commonly on Saturdays, our most leisurely day,” as owner Dr. Dave Schultz puts it. “We use Black Horse Espresso and Bakery; our favorite caffeine stop. Our go-to items are Bear Claws; they fill the office with the smell of cinnamon.” Obligingly — and rather sensibly —these are cut into individual claws for ease of scoffing. Over the years, Schultz and his team have discerned various eating patterns among their grateful — if rather particular — patrons. Schultz breaks it down thus: “There’s the guy who mauls and devours every claw in sight; the mom who’s trying to control her child’s sugar intake; the vegetarian who won’t eat bear; the old lady who secretly wraps several in a napkin to take home for dinner…. oh yeah, and the PETA members who wants us to serve Pear Claws!”

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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