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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 “In our practice, ‘I don’t get a frame this year’ is no longer valid,” Whitney says.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 heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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America's Finest

A Second Optical Location Hitting the Next Level of Candy Crush in Cleveland

People said their business would be ‘too funky’ for the Midwest but they proved their critics wrong.

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3RD Place: EYE CANDY OPTICAL PINECREST | Cleveland, OH

Next Level Candy Crush

People told these optical biz owners that Cleveland wasn’t ready for ‘funky, futuristic and weird,’ but they proved them wrong a second time.

OWNERS: Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov | URL: eye-candy-optical.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2012 |YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018 | AREA: 2,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EyeCandyOpticalCle | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyecandycle | TWITTER: twitter.com/ECO_Cleveland | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eye-candy-optical-beachwood | TOP BRANDS: Sospiri, Matsuda, Face à Face, Dita, Theo | BUILD OUT COST: $1.1M with equipment | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helen Rogic, ONE Interior (one-interior.com), and Jeff Bogart, Bogart Architecture, Inc.


Like many business ideas, Eye Candy Optical was born of a need. Steve Nelson, who launched Eye Candy Optical with Anton Syzdykov in Cleveland, OH, in 2013, recalls: “We couldn’t find fashionable glasses in our hometown.” They set out to change the local optical landscape by bringing a world-class eyewear shop to the city “based equally on fashion and function.” As industry outsiders, they felt they could avoid tunnel vision and preconceived notions. Of course, it’s one thing to identify a need — it’s how you go about filling it that matters. Eye Candy Optical’s founders were determined to do it with flair. “We asked ourselves: ‘What if Victoria’s Secret and House of Blues opened a glasses shop?’” The result was their first store in Westlake, west of downtown. Five years later, Nelson and Syzdykov opened a second location in the Pinecrest mixed-use development in Orange Village, one of Cleveland’s upscale eastern suburbs.

The goal with the second location wasn’t to duplicate the success of the first, but to build on it. “We had built a store that could compete with the best New York, LA, London or Paris shops,” says Nelson. “Sadly, many industry people, neighbors, competitors said we would fail. The shop was ‘too funky, futuristic and weird’ for the Midwest. Fast forward to today; we are very successful and have opened a second location.” Incorporating their five years of experience, the new location takes the strengths of the first store to the next level with added creature comforts, a superior lab and the latest in exam-room gear.

According to Nelson, it took several years to find the right space. “It was more than finding the right location, it was finding the location within the location,” he says. “We insisted on a spot caddy corner to the Whole Foods for the best visibility and parking.”

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It took many tries before they hit on the right design. “Truthfully we almost blew it and created an awful space that was fun but tantamount to a medical office instead of a sexy shop. We had to go back to basics and really recreate a better version of our first location. Sometimes you have all the answers right in front of you.” He acknowledges Helen Rogic from ONE Interiors, who did their displays, as a key contributor. “Without her … I don’t know how we would have tackled this project. She’s an amazing talent.”

“Sexy, cool, and very rock n’ roll” was the look and feel Nelson and Syzdykov were going for —fitting for a store just miles from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The optical’s layout is based around a circle of custom European displays by ONE Interior surrounding a coffee bar offering real Italian espresso and artisan teas.

When opening their second location in Cleveland’s Orange Village, Nelson and Syzdykov focused on the ‘location within the location’.

A large open window allows customers to see directly into the lab. Behind the center wall is a hallway that leads customers “back stage” where they find a first-class lounge with designer couch, bar seating and fridge with drinks and snacks. This area houses the state-of-the-art exam and pretest rooms, plus the “sexiest bathroom in optical with techno music and lights.”

Disappointed with the quality and selection in the mid-market category, the pair decided to design and manufacture their own frame line, Sugar Specs. It was a lengthy learning process and has been both labor and capital intensive, but well worth it, they say. “We set out to improve our position in this important price category by taking the bull by the horns. This is not simply choosing a design from a box of samples; instead we do our own hand and 3D drawings and get inspiration from our staff and customers,” says Nelson. They offer about 15 models in four colors and are working on getting it up to 50 models in the next 24 months. Frames are made from premium acetates or titanium with European hardware.

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The way Nelson and Syzdykov see it, they have “a vested interest in making customers look awesome.” What they strive to deliver, they say, is not just an amazing pair of glasses, but compliments and social validation from each client’s friends, peers, and relatives — with some fun along the way.

Thinking back on Eye Candy’s arrival on a staid Cleveland optical scene six years ago, Nelson says, “Look, we were different. People are always afraid of what is different. We were unapologetic when we said, ‘We are going to be the sexy rock ’n’ roll optical in Cleveland.’ Be bold, be brave, and stick to your vision.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Nathan Troxell: The Eye Candy Optical brand and persona is embraced throughout the entire patient experience and across all consumer touch points. Terrific connection to their home city by embracing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the attitude that goes along with it.

Stirling Barrett: Eye Candy Optical is showing that eyewear can be creative, exciting and fun. They care not only about getting customers in a frame that looks great, but they also have a fun approach in getting their customers to try new styles and push their comfort zone.

Beverly Suliteanu:This is a serious business that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fun, cool spirit throughout, from interior design to frame collections, marketing material and online platforms. They are quite high tech and appear to put as much emphasis on the substance (eyecare) as they do on the style (eyewear).

PHOTO GALLERY (28 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT EYE CANDY
 OPTICAL

1 EDGE ON THE COMPETITION. Eye Candy’s lab has a commercial edger from MEI Italy that allows the practice to make glasses on demand in minutes.

2 GET WITH ‘THE PROGRAM.’ Eye Candy staff wrote their own POS and accounting software that integrates with their edgers, labs, and medical equipment, simply called “the program.” A major undertaking, the end result is a streamlined system that has cut the average transaction time by 50 percent.

3 2020 VISION. The new store has the latest Visionix and Reichert pre-test and exam equipment for faster and more accurate exams.

4 IN THE MOOD. Eye Candy uses the SONOS system to set up to four different music stations. “The mood needs to be different on the retail floor versus the exam room,” says Nelson. They have everything from oldies and lounge to metal and techno.

5 WOW FACTOR. A front display window includes an advanced LED light show. The idea, says Syzdykov, is to “dazzle customers with an ever-changing screen with inspirational photos, sayings and memes, and to make it fun.”

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“We are really proud of the ‘Eye Candy Process’ we utilize to get the customer to their perfect frame,” Nelson says. To do this, opticians and stylists are asked to pull five to seven frames for each client that “push their fashion comfort zone,” in a variety of colors, styles and price points. “Then we play a game called ‘Hate/Don’t Hate.’ If they ‘don’t hate it’ it stays in the tray.” (They used to say, “Like/Hate” but customers found the word “Like” too committal.) More frames get pulled, the cream rises to the top, and, eventually, the customer can be certain they found the best frame. It sounds simple but it takes a very skilled person to lead the process and consider the client’s style, facial features, skin tone, color palette, occupation, and the image they want to project. “Try doing that at a chain store! Here we are all psychologists, detectives, artists, and stylists!”

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America's Finest

America’s Finest Optical Retailers 2019 Winners Announced!

This year’s winners are eyecare business masterpieces designed to inspire.

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas

Despite a basis in medicine, running an exceptional independent eyecare business isn’t a science… It’s an art. A fine art. And nothing demonstrates that more than the top three winners of this year’s America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest. Nothing cookie-cutter here; our first, second and third place winners all demonstrate an individuality that cannot be replicated and a creativity that is quite literally hard to beat.

“I had so much fire in me and so many plans.”
Claude Monet

In speaking with this year’s honorees, many expressed a dissatisfaction with the more traditional routes eyecare has to offer. Sometimes burnt out, or otherwise just not interested, each determined that corporate optometry or a big box setting just wasn’t for them. Not fulfilling enough, not creative enough, not welcoming enough to big ideas and even bigger dreams.

“To create one’s own world takes courage.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

So they each took the leap. And they went BIG. Each pursued their idea of what an eyecare business should be. Whether they started from scratch or changed an established business, are a business in their infancy or have several generations behind them, each of this year’s honorees changed and tweaked their businesses to fit their most authentic expression of experience.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
Salvador Dali

But none of these businesses came about by happy accident. The businesses recognized this year have achieved their success through passion, creativity, hard work and an unrelenting drive to offer superior products and service to their customers. They are dreamers. They are doers. They are thinkers and they are artists. They are, in short, an inspiration.

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America's Finest

Stunning Interiors and Exteriors Draw Fine Eyewear Fans to This Unique Memphis Practice

They had faith that the neighborhood would support them; and they were right.

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1ST Place: Eclectic eye | Memphis, Tn

Down to a Fine Art

A Memphis couple built an optometric practice and eyewear boutique that reflects and enriches the vital, art-loving neighborhood they grew up in.

OWNERS: Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Michael Weinberg, OD | URL: eclectic-eye.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2002 | AREA: 3,000 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/EclecticEyeMemphis | TWITTER: twitter.com/EclecticEye | YELP: yelp.com/biz/eclectic-eye-memphis | TOP BRANDS: Anne et Valentin, Moscot, Krewe, Theo, Jacques Marie Mage | BUILD OUT COST: Original $400,000, Renovation $425,000 | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Archimania: Jeff Blackledge, Todd Walker and Stephanie Wexler


Eclectic Eye was born out of husband-and-wife team Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream to establish a viable, engaging and artistic business in Midtown Memphis — the community in which they grew up, went to high school and first got to know each other — and where they had long hoped “to live, work and play.”

Midtown is known for its ethnic, economic and architectural diversity, thriving art scene and established LGBTQ community. According to Johnson Weinberg, however, it is still recovering from the effects of “white flight” experienced in the 1970s and ’80s after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and generations of Jim Crow racial oppression. By the late 1990s, after decades of depopulation, the neighborhood was sorely underserved. “We wanted to be a part of the solution by being in the city, in the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. In a way, they were hoping for a personal rebirth to match the revitalization they wanted to see in the community. At the time, they were both hustling in jobs for other people and beginning to feel trapped.

“We considered moving out of town briefly but eventually decided that what we wanted, most of all, was to open our own eyecare and eyewear boutique in our beloved Midtown community … We honestly believed that if we put a business in Midtown, people would support us.” They were right. “With our youth, naivety and lots of enthusiasm we threw open the doors in October 2002 and blew past our first-year projections within the first three months.”

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Eclectic Eye fits in effortlessly with many of the mid-century businesses on Midtown’s Cooper Street, which has long been a primary artery connecting affluent, growing communities with all the city’s resources. “We wanted to be sensitive to the varied architecture and the activated, walkable community it once was and be a part of its return.” That process wasn’t a simple one, however. The location itself was found through sheer perseverance. The real estate broker they originally chose wasn’t comfortable with their vision; he simply didn’t believe Midtown was sustainable for the level of investment they wanted. “Back in the late 1990s,” recalls Johnson Weinberg, “Midtown was not pleasing from an economic or aesthetic standpoint.” In an era whose aspirations were characterized by big box, suburban living, “moving back into the urban core was an anomaly.” But after months of searching they found a new broker who was developing the space that eventually became Eclectic Eye.

Opening Eclectic Eye was the realization of Robbie Johnson Weinberg and Dr. Michael Weinberg’s dream ‘to live, work and play’ in Midtown Memphis.

Eclectic Eye’s design expertly brings the outside into the store with large windows taking up two whole walls of the dispensary. Inside the space feels vast but approachable, always focusing on the eyewear. A large acrylic tower in the center houses the pre-test center. From here, custom wooden work areas run for approximately 20 feet, mirroring the tower and its dropped ceiling shape. The store’s 1,200-piece collection of unique eyewear is showcased in custom glass and wood boxes that are variously fitted into the windows, lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Floating, suspended custom cabinetry provides storage for cases, books, cloths and other items.

Johnson Weinberg describes the store’s feel as “modern and industrial with homage to the mid-century style that’s all the rage today.” Flooded with natural light, the interior’s materials are primarily glass, stainless, aluminum and acrylic with warm wood tones for furnishings. A high, exposed-ductwork ceiling rises 14 feet above a richly textured, grey concrete floor. The frames themselves are displayed by brand. “To us, each brand tells its own unique story which must fit into the overall narrative of our story,” she says.

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Over the past three years Eclectic Eye has put particular effort into its online presence, and has been gratified to see its follower numbers grow consistently across all channels, generating strong reviews. Johnson Weinberg acknowledges this is a never-ending process and credits the PR and advertising team at Inferno for creating a consistent brand message across platforms. The need for content challenges her to keep coming up with fresh ways to market the business, she says.

As they don’t take any insurance, Eclectic Eye is able to make it a policy to give patients one hour each with their doctor. “The doctors have time to listen to them, talk with them about their vision and their lifestyle, and maybe even have time to hear about their latest travel excitement or a kid’s escapade. They truly get to know their patients,” says Johnson Weinberg. A core goal of the practice has always been to provide the most comprehensive exam possible. To this end, they are always adding new technology. Exams include everything from taking blood pressure and obtaining an extensive family history to having their own OCT and visual field machines, which are used on each patient.

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Eclectic Eye has its own lab and Dr. Weinberg is somewhat unique as an OD, as he grew up working in his dad’s lab. “That’s the other side of his passion,” says Johnson Weinberg. “He loves the process of understanding how that extremely challenging prescription might be designed to fit in an exceptionally unique frame.” She adds that her husband has worked hard to train their current lab team, as they view the lab itself as being equally important to their brand.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Stirling Barrett: Eclectic Eye’s brand brings together design, style, art and eyewear under one roof and with a purposeful, clear vision. Their community focus is refreshing and they lead with a commitment to customer hospitality.

Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian: Now this is a contender!

Beverly Suliteanu: From the onset, there was a clear vision of the type of business Michael and Robbie wanted to build and they have succeeded in building a thriving, caring business that has stayed true to their mission and core values. Their love and commitment to the Memphis art scene, and to Memphis itself, is apparent. All of their initiatives speak to their core value of strengthening their community and building their team.

PHOTO GALLERY (55 Images)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ECLECTIC EYE

1 IN-DISPENSABLE. Patients are always set up for dispensing appointments with the team member they worked with originally. They receive a reminder text similar to those for doctor’s appointments. “We value the time for all of our staff and their expertise is scheduled accordingly,” says Johnson Weinberg.

2 TESTING TIMES. To boost team performance, all staff participate in Enneagram personality testing, a process that Johnson Weinberg admits “requires some deep diving.” She adds: “It’s been an awakening and continues to unfold.”

3 EYE CATCHERS. The exterior walls are adorned with two huge murals from local muralists. These and a large local sculpture constantly draw new customers.

4 NOT A SCRAP. NOT A SCRAP. Eclectic Eye has been a paperless medical office since it opened in 2002.

5 OUT AND ABOUT. In early 2018, Johnson Weinberg gave staff a Saturday off to participate in the September Memphis Gay Pride parade. She donated the day, the materials, the costuming, and whatever else they needed, and they designed and built a float and costumes. “They worked with each other outside of work to make it happen. It was a magical experience to watch it all come together!”

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From its inception, Eclectic Eye was designed to host art shows. The store has hosted over 120 of them in the past 17 years. “This is one way we give back to the community,” says Johnson Weinberg. “In addition to providing our space, Eclectic Eye takes care of all of the event planning, advertising, PR, food, drinks and staffing of their event. In turn, a local artist gets to showcase their art to a whole new group of people for 7-8 weeks a year.” Eclectic Eye sees its independent eyewear designers as artists, and each frame as wearable art. So, showcasing local artists is a natural next step. The shows are fully dedicated to supporting artists (the Weinbergs don’t take a commission) and are separate from the store’s trunk shows. “We do, occasionally, sell a frame or book an eye exam, but that is the exception. The art is then on display until the next art show,” she says.

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