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Sky’s Not the Limit

This Colorado practice learned to ‘stop being afraid to offer the best’.

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Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO

OWNERS: Dr. Sara C. Whitney and Dr. Reed F. Bro; URL: eyecarecs.com; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/eyecarecs; TWITTER: twitter.com/eyecarecs; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyecarecs; YELP: yelp.com/biz/eye-care-center-of-colorado-springs-colorado-springs; YEAR FOUNDED: 2001; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 2 part-time; TOP BRANDS: Moncler, Ørgreen, Morel, Lafont, MODO/ECO; AREA: 5,000 square feet; BUILDOUT COST: $210,000; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: YOW Architect, Thomas General Contractors


EARLY ONE MORNING ABOUT four years ago, Dr. Sara Whitney, co-owner of Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, rubbed her eyes and glanced at her Instagram feed. “Get out of your own way!” the screen implored her. “It was a fitness post, but I immediately knew it was intended to help me improve as a doctor and a business owner. Many of us never come to realize that our only limits are self-imposed.”

Whitney and co-owner Dr. Reed Bro have gone to great lengths to ensure their customers experience a similar epiphany when, walking into the expansive optical, they take in the natural stone walls lined with reclaimed wood shelves, and the sunlit frames they display. “In our practice, ‘I don’t get a frame this year’ is no longer valid,” Whitney says.

Dr. Bro founded the Colorado Springs, CO, business in 2001 after years in a group practice. He realized the only way he was going to provide the level of service he felt comfortable putting his name on was to become an independent owner. The business launched less than two weeks before 9/11. As much as the commercial impact, Dr. Bro recalls bonding over a national tragedy with patients. “Yes, 9/11 was a factor during the start-up … I remember the weeks after 9/11, the appointment schedule was slower and I spent a good deal of time just listening and sharing thoughts and feelings with patients about what we were experiencing.” Once the business was on its feet, Bro knew that to get to the next level, he needed an associate. He made the offer to Whitney in 2010; by 2014 she was a co-owner.

Whitney has learned a lot since then, most of it coming back to the idea of throwing off self-created boundaries. “I stopped being afraid to offer the best. I used to worry that patients would balk at price, but I realize now it’s not within my scope of practice to read minds. I can’t assume someone will think a treatment or designer frame is too expensive for them … My fear as an optometrist is that a patient will come back and ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about overnight corneal reshaping lenses? Why didn’t you tell me I could have lenses that block blue light?’”

This year, the business moved into a historic building downtown, adding to its clientele office workers, military personnel and elite athletes in residence at the city’s U.S. Olympic Training Center. With nine employees and two doctors tripping over each other in their previous, 2,500-sq.-ft space, they needed more exam rooms. One day they got wind of an old building that was available, but the agent tried to talk them out of it. “You probably wouldn’t like it,” Whitney remembers being told. “It has concrete floors and exposed brick walls.” She insisted on seeing it. “We knew our search was over.” That space is the 1902 structure that Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs now calls home.
“We are definitely industrial chic!” says Whitney, pointing to the added elements that soften the hard vibe of the industrial space. The result is a welcoming ambience that weds early 20th-century commercial architecture and modern elements like acrylic seating, quartz work surfaces and iPad check-in. “We took a hospitality approach to eliminate the dread many patients feel [in] doctors’ offices,” Whitney says. The retail area is furnished with over-sized leather chairs and plush rugs, and basks in streamed music and sunlight that pours in from skylights in the bowstring truss roof. With natural stone walls and a reclaimed wood wall behind reception, the large space encourages browsing.

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Full-length mirrors give customers a complete picture of themselves in their new frames.
Whitney and Bro make it their mission “to connect the exam dialog to the optical dialog, so we are all speaking the same language to the patient.” Eye Care Center is especially proud of its large specialty contact lens practice, with referrals from as far afield as California.

Their dedication to reaching beyond limits extends to the staff. “We have to re-educate ourselves and any new team members we hire,” Whitney says. The results speak for themselves — business is good, she says. “In July 2018, we hired a full time associate optometrist, a new grad from UMSL, Dr. Taylor Little. We are keeping her and ourselves busy!”

 

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs

1. BIG SHOTS. Eye Care Center’s patients include Olympic shooters. The best marksmen in the world trust their eyes to their care.
2. BLAST FROM THE PAST. The historic building housing the practice dates to 1902, and was once used as a commercial carriage house. It was acquired in the 1930s by the Van Dyke Motor Company, whose historic sign remains.
3. FOCAL POINT. Eye Care Center has a large specialty contact lens practice. “We believe strongly in the importance of myopia control with corneal reshaping lenses or soft multifocals. We also fit therapeutic contact lenses such as scleral lenses, hybrid lenses, and scleral cover shells,” says Dr. Whitney.
4. SPREAD THE WORD. Dr. Bro will soon begin giving educational talks at contact lens-related industry events nationwide.
5. STREAM ON. Eye Care Center streams a wide variety of music including pop, “throw-back”, coffee house and classical guitar.

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Judges’ Comments

  • The website has strong, thorough content for patients. Their social media platforms are very active, and the Yelp reviews were expertly managed! Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • This is really a beautiful practice. I really like all of the natural elements and the open, expansive feel to it. It has a bit of a rustic yet modern look to it. They carry some great frame lines, and seem to do a really good job with their social media. Michael Kling, OD, Invision Optometry, San Diego, CA
  • The interior of this store is by far one of my favorites. It is quite chic with its exposed brick, salvaged wood and industrial finishes. As a customer, I would feel very confident that the opticians know what is hip today and be able to help me select a frame appropriate for me. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story

Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs hired Mark Hinton, a respected optician and industry speaker, to teach their team how to create the best patient journey. “He taught us the power of words, to use phrases that say ‘yes’ to customers, and how to ask questions to uncover opportunities,” says Dr. Whitney. “He taught us that ‘sell’ is a dirty word, and that we have the exciting privilege of helping our patients buy. We are giving them permission to get what they need or want by systematically eliminating phrases that allow insurance to dictate what is attainable.” She adds that Hinton visited to see the new space in June, to reinforce what staff had already learned and “to teach them how to guide patients through the patient journey in our new — as Mark would call it — ‘Eyecandyland.’”

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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