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How They Got Here: ECPs Share Their Origin Stories

How would-be stockbrokers, philosophers and medical doctors found their way into the eyecare profession.

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How They Got Here: ECPs Share Their Origin Stories

THERE IS NOTHING quite like a good origin story.

From learning how Vito Corleone became New York’s most powerful crime boss in The Godfather Part II, to hearing the story behind the decisions grandma made when she was young, this is the good stuff.

In a recent Brain Squad survey, we asked ECPs a couple of origin-related questions.

The first was When did you first know you wanted to be an ECP? and the second asked for the juicy details: Can you share the first moment you knew “This is it”?

Some knew all along that the eyecare industry was their destiny. Others, not so much.

Would it surprise you to know that a whopping 86% “just sort of fell into it?” Does that match with the eyecare professional circles in which you associate?

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We knew there’d be more to everyone’s ECP story, though…

All in the Family

  • “I’m the third generation in the optical business and I never thought I’d end up here. About 10 years ago, I began running marketing for my mom at her optical shop. A few days turned into almost every day and that turned into heading to school to become a licensed optician. Now, with three stores, it’s safe to say I’ve finally realized, “this is it.” – Harris Decker, Eye Designs of Westchester, Scarsdale, NY
  • “Mom was a nurse (who always had) disgusting blood and guts stories at the dinner table. I loved medicine/anatomy but wasn’t sure about the blood and guts. First time I needed glasses in 7th grade I knew that (optometry) was the perfect mix.” – Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH
  • “My dad is an ECP. He used to bring me into his practice at age 7. I just remember falling in love with all of the frames and being in awe of what he would do for people. He was so well respected in the community. I wanted that to be me. So, here we are, I’m an optician, but seems like I’m a therapist first!” – David Greening, Astorino Eye Center, Newport Beach, CA
  • “My plan was to work for the family business (to help pay for) medical school. I decided to take some time off and got an interesting job offer from a small online optical. I learned more than I ever thought I would. [Then] I had the opportunity to buy into my family’s business. That was the moment I knew I should be doing this.” – Travis LeFevre, Krystal Vision, Logan, UT
  • “My father was an optometrist. There is a picture of me in his 1976 Pennsylvania College of Optometry yearbook at his graduation.” – Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision, Pine Beach, NJ
  • “Growing up in a family business, I thought it was boring. Then circumstances set me on this path. I soon discovered I loved solving the puzzle that is vision. To this day, I love the look on a child’s face when they see clearly for the first time.” – Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

Speaking of the Little Ones

  • “About a year into it, and my first time fitting a baby with glasses, I saw her tiny face light up with a grin. That’s a good reason to keep doing this.” – Nikki Griffin, EyeStyles Optical and Boutique, Oakdale, MN
  • “The smile on a kid’s face when they get glasses for the first time saying I can see the leaves on trees.” – Sonja Franklin, OD, Modern Eyes, Austin, TX

Finding the Right Fit

  • “As a college freshman, I was attending school with the intent of becoming an OD and started working in the field to help pay for college. Over the years I discovered that while being an OD wasn’t the right fit for me, being an optician was.” – Christine Howard, Eyes on Plainville, Attleboro, MA
  • “My eye doctor thought I’d be a good fit to help others [I’m] mechanically inclined.” – Ken Weiner, OD, Livingston, NJ
  • “In my thirties, starting to look at life and my career more seriously, I quickly realized this is the vehicle to get me what I want in life.” – Miguel Rodriguez, Fava & Maria Eye Associates, Lebanon, PA
  • “I’ve had bad vision since I was 4. I probably broke my glasses once a year or more. I vowed to have many back-up pairs someday. I, actually, wanted to be an optometrist, but my guidance counselor told me I didn’t have the math skills to do it. Right or wrong, I’m happy with where I am in my career!” – Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

Right Place, Right Time

  • “I thought I was going to school to be a P.A. I was working at JC Penney and thought that [eyecare] sounded fun! Here I am 31 years later.” – Kim Hilgers, Akre & Clark Eyecare, New Ulm, MN
  • “The eye chain shop [at a local mall] was looking for people to work at their in-store lab. I wondered what it took to make a pair of eyeglasses. I went in just to ask – with no intention of ever applying – and they gave me the grand tour. I could not help but to apply right then and there.” – Pablo E Mercado, Highland Eye Boutique, Alpharetta, GA
  • “I was ready for a change. Having no experience in an optometry office, the OD took a chance on me. After training for about a week, I thought this is something I really enjoying doing and learning about. [After attending the annual state conference,] I was hooked! I KNEW ‘this is it!'” – Melanie Jenkins, Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

While Getting an Eye Exam

  • “My optometrist evaluated me for contact lenses for sports at age 13, and that had a profound impact on my life. At age 17, with the help of some wise advice from my father, I realized I wanted to pursue this profession. Ultimately, this led me to my wife [also an OD] and our three boys. This story has come full circle as we now have a son in optometry school.” – Scott Mann, OD, INVISION, Christiansburg, VA
  • “As I waited [during an eyecare exam], I saw a diploma on the wall [with] my ex-girlfriends’ best friends’ name on it. I figured, if she can become an ECP, I can. A few months later, I stepped into my first role and enrolled in school. Twenty years later here I am still in the industry.” – Chris Clark, LDO, Oskalooa Vision Center, Oskaloosa, IA
  • “I visited an optometrist in 7th grade and was fascinated. Plus, I loved science.” – Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH
  • “When I received my first Rx in kindergarten, the optometrist was a high school classmate of my parents. I was examined yearly, and in high school I decided to look into optometry.” – Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

Optometry for the Win

  • “My optometrist was informative. He loved what he did for people, and we had similar hobbies. He loved to hunt, fish, camp, exercise and eat! I spoke to dentists, physicians and podiatrists and they were not enthusiastic about what they were doing. Bingo! Optometry won!” – Robert M Easton Jr. OD, FAAO, Oakland Park, FL
  • “I applied at an optometrist office for a tech position. I had had one eye exam in my life, knew nothing about glasses and didn’t even wear sunglasses! The interview went great. Then the doctor said, “I don’t think this job is for you.” My heart dropped. He went on to offer me a position as an optician.” – Amie Robinson, Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN
  • “I wanted to be in medicine, but I hate needles. [My high school guidance counselor] looked through her paperwork and said, ‘There’s physical therapy, occupational therapy…. or there is also optometry.’ I had perfect vision, but always wanted colored contact lenses. [I decided] to pursue optometry so that I could get all the free colored contacts I wanted!” – Laura Miller, OD, Northwest Hills Eye Car, Austin, TX
  • “One off my dad’s best friends from high school is our family OD, and he was recommending it to me when I was in 12th grade. I said, ‘No thanks. I want to be a stockbroker.’ But by freshman year of undergrad, I was taking biology, chemistry and physics.” – Bart Parker, OD, Vision Source-Fox Optical, Lake Worth, FL

That “Ah, Ha” Moment

  • “Probably about three months into my optician ‘job’ I realized the combo of patient care and fashion was exactly what I had been searching for. Then I started to dream big!” – Jenna Gilbertson, McCulley Optix Gallery, Fargo, ND
  • “When someone called me an expert, I actually denied it for a while. Then I realized I became an expert without even knowing it. That was my moment.” – Heather Aites, Family Vision Center, Westminster, CO

 It Makes Perfect Sense

  • “I decided I wanted to be an optometrist when I overheard mine discuss playing a round of golf in the middle of the day on a slow day. I knew I wanted a career with flexibility. Ten years into it, I have never been able to play golf.” – Adam Ramsey, OD, Socialite Vision, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
  • “Actually, I never wanted, nor do I think of myself as an ECP. I’m a craftsman or tradesman in that I provide a product and service. I know, it’s an apocryphal position.” – Kevin Count, Corner Optical, Glenview, IL
  • “I’m not sure it was one moment but [rather] a series of moments throughout my life that led me here.” – Joanne Larson, Palmer Family Eye Care, Easton, PA
  • “What else would I do with a philosophy and religion degree?” – Paul Pascarella, OD, Pascarella Eye Care & Contact Lenses, Newtown, PA

If you’ve made it through to the end … congratulations! Clearly this stuff interests you. And you are in good company. We love this stuff too. So if you are eligible to join our Brain Squad, please do so now. (Remember this is a gated community for eyecare business owners and managers only. If you’re a business decision maker, you’re in!)

We also encourage all current Brain Squad community members to keep up with those survey responses. We are so very thankful to our dedicated core. We couldn’t provide this information without you. But we greedily – and unapologetically – want to hear from more voices.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free T-shirt, be featured prominently in our magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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