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Here's What You Say (or Rather, Write)

Don't try to write. Instead, imagine talking about your store to a friend.

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THIS IS THE “WRITE STUFF,” baby.

The text portion of the America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest entry form might stymie a lot of eyecare professionals. We hear many business owners and employees who tell us they “can’t write,” and we suspect that lack of confidence is at the root of the problem.

So, one word of advice in general before we move on to specifics (and this will serve you well as you fill out your entry and beyond): The vast majority of people we meet in the eyecare industry are articulate, thoughtful speakers of English, and that most likely includes you. So don’t try to write. Instead, try to type what you would say in conversation with a friend. What comes out is guaranteed to be far more clear and less stilted.

For the text portions of the entry, we advise you to first write your entries in a separate application, such as Microsoft Word, and to save frequently while writing. Computers tend to crash or freeze at the worst times, and if that happens while you’re typing into the online entry form, odds are you’ve just lost all your work. So complete your entry in Word, then copy and paste it into the online form. Check word counts as you write, so that you don’t write far less — or worse, far more — than you’re supposed to.

Here are some “musts” to include in the first section of the text portion:

BUSINESS HISTORY
  • Who founded the business? Were any other notable family members, like siblings, involved?
  • What led the founder(s) to open the business? For instance, my great-grandfather was an optician in Hungary before he immigrated — that sort of thing is worth noting.
  • What’s the genealogy of the ownership? You don’t have to go into detail, but it’s nice for us to know which hands it came down through.
  • Are you in the same location as when your business was founded? Have you moved (and if so, why)? What other locations have you opened (and when, and why)?
  • Any cool events in your store’s history? Celebrity customers, industry honors, local awards.
  • Does anyone else in the family work there now? Any successors or potential successors to the current owners yet?

More on this and the remaining text portions of the entry next time. Meanwhile, please leave questions or concerns in the comments below, or email them to americasfinest@invisionmag.com.

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America's Finest 2019 Entries

America’s Finest: Before You Start

The very first step is to make sure that you’re eligible.

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HERE’S SOMETHING IMPORTANT: Before you start your America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest entry, let’s make sure you’re eligible. This is especially important because the rules have changed slightly this year.

Eligibility Criteria

Here are the eligibility criteria (posted on the contest rules page):

  • Your business must be based in the United States or Canada. (Once again, we extend our apologies to Steve’s Eyewear Emporium of Outer Mongolia.)
  • Your business must not have previously placed in the top 12 in INVISION’s America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest.
  • Your business must have been open at least one year before the date you enter the contest. As long as your business has been open a year, it’s OK if the location you enter is newer.

Now: Are all three of the above things true of your business? If so, you’re good to go!

Logging In

Between now and March 15, you will always log in to edit your contest entry at the following URL: invisionmag.com/afor

Bookmark it. You’ll also want to make a note of the email address you use to sign up for the contest. Or else we’ll be receiving more than a few calls from eye who can’t remember which email address they’d used. For sake of convenience, you might make a note of your password, too. As long as it’s unique (i.e., it isn’t the same password you use for other sites, like your email), there’s not a real serious security risk if someone happens to find the Post-It note on which you scribbled it.

One thing you might want to do is establish a specific person to be your point person for the contest. This could be an owner or an employee, but it should be someone who is relatively computer-literate and who has a little extra time each week to devote to compiling information and photos, and preparing the entry.

And the final note for this week: Historically, a lot of AFOR entrants tend to leave their entry to be completed at the last minute. Some of them still do fine, but many discover too late that they don’t have exactly what our judges are looking for easily at hand — that is to say, they could get it, but not in time for the deadline.

Certainly, preparing your AFOR entry isn’t the most time-consuming thing you’ll do all year. But it does take time — so if you’re going to do it, it makes sense to do it right. You’ll be well served if you or your point person set aside a specific chunk of time each week, perhaps during a time when business is normally slow, to work on it — hopefully using this blog series as a guide.

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America's Finest 2019 Entries

America’s Finest: Basic Info and Stats

Simple guidance for entering the basics.

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YOU’VE DETERMINED that you’re eligible, made note of your login email address and password (and put them in a place they won’t get lost), appointed someone to take the lead on your contest entry, and scheduled a few minutes each week to work on it. At this point, it’s time to start your entry.

Those New Checkboxes Up Top

This year, we have two new checkbox options at the top of the entry page that we need you to check before continuing with your entry.

The first checkbox is to confirm that you understand that all winners of the contest — from first place through honorable mention — are required to give an interview to INVISION editors for a feature story in the magazine.

Quick background: In the past, in our three publications, we’ve had several instances where, after judging was completed, business owners decided that they weren’t happy with where their store finished (“We only want to be featured if we come in first place!”) and refused to be interviewed.

This is unfair to all the other participants, as well as to the judges who spent their time judging the contest. If you can’t handle not finishing first, then please don’t enter the contest. America’s Coolest Stores is an extremely competitive contest, the toughest and most comprehensive in the industry, and to be voted anywhere in our top 12 businesses should be a point of pride and a testament to the extremely cool business you have built.

But if you can’t handle second place, then please don’t waste your time … or ours.

The second checkbox asks if you’d like to have editors review your entry before judging begins and provide hints on ways in which you can improve it.

This is a new service we’ve started offering this year, in an effort to increase the overall quality of entries and to help stores differentiate themselves from competitors. To benefit from this service, you must submit your entry before our early bird March 1 deadline.

Finish your entry, click “Submit”, and our editors will get back in touch with you with a review of your entry and some basic ideas on where you might improve it. For some businesses, this might be better or different photography, or more examples of marketing, or a different approach to your text entry. For some businesses, we might not have any advice at all.

For entries where we recommend additional changes, we will then provide you with a link that lets you revise your submitted entry.

Please remember that, if you submit your entry after March 1, you won’t be able to benefit from this service.

General Info and Business Stats

The general information required is pretty straightforward. One potentially tricky bit: It’s possible that your contact email (see below) will be different from your login email.

For example, maybe you, the owner, signed in initially using your email address as the login. But now you’ve handed the job off to an employee who has their own email.

The contact email is exactly what it sounds like: the email address we’ll use to get in touch with you about your entry. So the contact email should be that of whoever is handling the contest entry. If it’s the same as the login email, that’s fine. If it’s different, just remember that, so that you’re not confused later about which address to use to log in. (That would be the login email.)

You can skip the “Online Presence” section for the moment; we’ll cover it later. For now, go to “Store Stats.”

Again, pretty straightforward. If your location hasn’t been renovated since it opened, enter the same year for “Year Opened Featured Location” and “Year Last Renovated.” (It seems redundant, but that way we know you didn’t just accidentally miss filling that line out.)

Other questions include your number of full and part-time employees, your showroom and total square footage, your top brands and your buildout cost (if you don’t have the exact number, just give us the closest estimate you can provide.)

Finally, we ask for to the people who helped you build your store — the architect and design firms, as well as showcase manufacturers.

If you have any questions about preparing your entry for the America’s Coolest Stores contest, email them to us at coolstores@instoremag.com.

Again, pretty straightforward. If your location hasn’t been renovated since it opened, enter the same year for “Year Opened Featured Location” and “Year Last Renovated.” (It seems redundant, but that way we know you didn’t just accidentally miss filling that line out.)

Other questions include your number of full and part-time employees, your showroom and total square footage, your top brands (including lenses and contact lenses) and your buildout cost (if you don’t have the exact number, just give us the closest estimate you can provide.)

Finally, we ask for to the people who helped you build your store — the architect and design firms that helped make you so cool.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the “Online Presence” section. It would be a good idea, too, to start thinking now about the photos for your entry. Great photos can make a huge difference in how your store does in the contest, so you’ll want to start mulling over who might be able to take those pictures.

If you have any questions about preparing your entry for the America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest, you can ask them in the comments or email them to us at americasfinest@invisionmag.com.

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America's Finest 2019 Entries

America’s Finest: You Gotta Stand Out from the Crowd

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REMEMBER: FINE = DIFFERENT.

“Our fancies are always tickled by the unexpected or serendipitous — in-store photo booths, really unique ad campaigns, $200 interior build-outs (that look amazing) — things that make a business stand out from all the others.”

One of my editors wrote that during an email conversation about the America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest. It got me thinking about the many conversations I’ve had with business owners about what exactly our judges are looking for.

Which in turn got me thinking about some of the standout features of our past winners. Here’s a list of 5 Cool Things about some of the stores that won or placed in our America’s Finest contest:

A novel aesthetic. Oakland Vision Center’s entire business is a good example: whimsical frame backdrops, selfie cards to inspire clients to post pictures of themselves wearing their new eyewear to social media, fun eyewear motifs placed strategically throughout the business.

One striking element. Eye Candy Optical of Westlake, OH, has a color and decor scheme that evokes a hip nightclub far more than an eyecare business.

New twists on how to sell eyewear and eyecare services. Like LaFollette Eye Clinic and the Eyewear Gallery of LaFollette, TN, where the entire business is structured to serve as a “Celebration of Vision”.

Consistently stepped-up customer service. Not to minimize them, but we’ve heard a lot of stories about driving through a blizzard to deliver a pair of glasses on time at this point. Those stories are great, but what’s really cool is when a business builds a better approach to service right into their system, every day. Ulla Eyewear doesn’t charge visitors for eyewear adjustments. Instead, they are encouraged to make a donation to Combat Blindness International.

Interesting event ideas. We love both slightly out-of-the ordinary in-store events and other marketing efforts that draw attention. Take Urban Optiks Optometry for example. Instead of a small trunk show inside the business to celebrate their seventh anniversary, Urban Optiks held a mega-trunk show with 13 top vendors at a nearby nightclub. Epic.

Now, by no means were these the sole defining factors in the success of these businesses in the contest. Nor does this mean your business needs to have features like these to win — indeed, by definition, we’d like to see something different. But these unusual and engaging ideas should give you an idea of what really turns our cranks.

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