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NO TWO independent optical shops are the same. While many of you live and die by the eye and nothing but the eye, some have interests far broader than just selling eyeglasses. Not to mention that businesses, by necessity, are becoming more inventive about how to get customers to come into their shops.  A more immersive and expansive in-store experience via a hybrid retail model helps make visiting the store itself more important; while combining the sale of eyewear with other products can make for a very interesting business model. Following are three optical retail outfits putting their own stamp on hybrid selling and adapting it to suit their brand.

 

 

THE CURATORS

In a venue that feels as much like an art gallery as a retail space, Atelier Mira in Williamsburg, Brooklyn opened by Rama and Assia Valentin in March 2016, carries a curated selection of five luxury brands in addition to their independent eyewear offerings. According to general manager Erin Rae, the store carries three leather goods brands, a fragrance line, and a collectable home decor design brand. “We are primarily an optical shop, so the approximate ratio is 75 percent optical and 25 percent other goods,” says Rae. “Also, Rama and Assia’s dear friend Guillaume Paturel made a painting that hangs in the entrance of our space. It is for sale, so we always mention that his art work is for sale.” The products they carry are all thanks to personal connections to the manufacturers or designers, and craftsmen. “Rama and Assia have an affinity for objects with quality craftsmanship and originality that only few designs can qualify as. All the products we sell are things that they have discovered and fell in love with… limited in availability and honorable in quality. They have strong opinions about style and keen eyes for design like true tastemakers do, so these criteria extend to almost everything in the store,” adds Rae. It was a conscious decision to offer a broader range of products from day one. “Having something else to talk about with our customer in the one-on-one experience makes it a bit more lighthearted and varied… It lightens the mood and makes it a more personal relationship instead of us just trying to sell you something,” explains Rae.

Their concept is so strong, in fact, someone even wanted to buy it. “We had an entrepreneur come in from China who wanted to buy our concept and replicate it (he wanted to buy Assia as well!),” shares Rae. “He had just never seen anything like it before and wanted to replicate our story exactly in his department store in China.”

 

THE OG

 Selima Salaun opened her first boutique on Wooster and Broome in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood in 1993 and Bond 07, her NoHo boutique, in 1998, making her a true OG of concept stores. Though all of her six stores sell non-optical products, it’s her Bond 07 store that takes it to the next level. Besides eyewear, at Bond 07 they sell vintage clothes, handbags, jewelry, scarves, accessories, and home goods from Hermes, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Chanel and other designers. According to Salaun, about 70 percent is eyewear and 30 percent is vintage clothes and accessories. “I have always been a passionate collector of vintage clothes, accessories and furniture,” says Salaun. “Most pieces we carry at Bond 07 are more or less a selection of items I find while traveling or browsing through vintage stores or fairs. Everyplace I go I try to find something new and if they do well we carry them over from season to season. We have jewelry staples customers can always count on us for.”

For Salaun the goal is to offer her customers an experience. “It’s exciting and different to not only find a great pair of glasses, but also an accessory or outfit, which goes well with your new pair of glasses. It can be a challenge to continuously change the product assortment and being able to surprise your clients with great new pieces.” But not every product has been a hit. “I have sold so many different categories in my stores including perfume, dishes, luxury olive oil and nail polish. One day, a lady drove me crazy asking for help choosing a color of nail polish. I swear I spent as much time selecting a color for her as choosing the perfect pair of glasses. I tried to convince her to buy a few but she refused. That day, I took all the nail polish out of the store and decided to never sell anything below $20 again.”

 

THE ONE STOP SHOP

Vivencio Austero had a dream. Spektkle is the manifestation of that dream. “My dream has always been to provide the highest quality product, gently priced while supporting small independent frame designers,” says Austero. “Adding small independent labs … brings it all together; customized service, technology and uniqueness in eyewear.” The trick was finding the place to make that dream a reality; eight months ago he did. “I wanted to be different, so I was considering everything out of the norm,” he explains. “The idea of shared space popped up and seemed to fit; it was flexible, people were seeking out the shop, they are open to new ideas. It didn’t take us long to find GingyGems.” He shares a space inside a country marketplace and thrift store, which enables him to provide a friendly retail setting. “My business definitely benefits from the traffic GingyGems brings. Patti Cohen, the owner, will always let her customers know there is a new optical shop sharing space in her store. Likewise, I tell people I meet when I’m networking that I share space inside GingyGems.” Being located in a thrift store presents a very special challenge. “Since I am in a location where ‘everything’ is for sale, I get a lot of offers for some of my displays. Before I even opened, I had more than one offer for a beautiful oak cabinet I use as a desk. One of my funniest challenges is keeping my wife from pricing all my displays to stimulate cash flow.”

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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America's Finest

A Florida Optical That Offers A Slice of European Style

Along with an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity.

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OPTIK! European Eyewear, St. Petersburg, FL

OWNERS: Anja and Edin Jakupovic; URL: optikstpete.com; FOUNDED: 2016; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 1 part-time; AREA: 1,500 square feet; FACEBOOK:facebook.com/optikstpete; YELP: yelp.com/biz/optik-european-eyewear-saint-petersburg-2; INSTAGRAM:@optikstpete; BLOG:optikstpete.com/blogs/blog; TOP BRANDS: Wissing – OPTIK! bespoke line; Etnia Barcelona; Lafont; FHone; Dutz


QUALITY,” BELIEVES ANJA JAKUPOVIC, co-owner with husband Edin of OPTIK! European Eyewear in St. Petersburg, FL, “does not know a competitor.” In its confidence and sense of commitment, the statement says a lot about how the couple overcame adversity to establish a proudly high-end optical catering to the Tampa Bay area’s mix of the youthful and the seasoned, from tourists and artists to retirees.

Anja and Edin’s families fled war in Bosnia in the 1990s and lived in Germany as refugees before migrating to the U.S. After working in the optical field for 12 years, from big box stores to luxury boutiques (including a stint in which Anja returned to Germany to learn the ropes as an optician), she and Edin established OPTIK! in 2016, achieving a goal she had set years earlier — to open her own optical before she turned 30.

“As refugees we truly understand what staying strong means and bouncing back from hardship. We had to start life again not once but twice, and that experience … gave us the determination to do bigger and better things in life in order to have a better future,” she says.

OPTIK! is located in a high-rise condominium on centrally located Beach Drive. Anja describes the clientele as “Upper-class Baby Boomers that are in that stage of their life where they do not want to look the same as everyone else … We also cater to a lot of local artists that truly enjoy being ‘different.’” Almost as soon as the store opened, it began to attract VIP customers including members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies professional soccer team and IndyCar drivers.

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She designed and furnished the store herself; renovations were done with the help of Edin’s friends and family. Inspiration for the modern rustic floors, mid-century modern chairs and chandeliers came from fashion and home design magazines, and intensive online research. The frames are displayed on white floating shelves, “and we will soon feature a custom pegboard accessory section that we are in the process of building,” Anja says.

The store’s focus is independent European eyewear and accessories, and its best-selling line is its own bespoke OPTIK! frames from Germany. Customers can have these customized in any of thousands of color combinations via the online store. “No frame will ever appear twice on our shelves because we believe everyone should have their own individual look,” she says. The store works with independent labs to source advanced lenses.

OPTIK! didn’t waste any time establishing a presence in the neighborhood; among other community-based activities, it collaborated in a women’s book club, then held a trunk show exclusively for its members. At the end of its first year, the business held an exclusive party for residents of the Parkshore Condominium Plaza, which houses the store. “The event was a wonderful way to establish a ‘meet and greet’ with the residents that live above the store and introduce the brand to the community,” says Anja. In a move that typifies its marketing, OPTIK! even fitted out the local mailman (see Fine Story, page 63). The Jakupovics also give all their customers several business cards to hand out to friends or anyone who approaches them about their glasses.

Anja believes consistency in branding and service equates to quality in customers’ minds. “We keep our ads consistent … The same goes for our branding in store.” Every visit to OPTIK! starts with a ‘Welcome!’ and ends with “Please refer us to your friends and family,” she says, adding that consultations are never rushed and always come with a complimentary latte, macchiato or espresso from the mini coffee bar. “We walk our clients to the door, as if they were guests visiting our home.”

OPTIK!’s e-commerce shop is a logical fit for an optical with a private label, though Anja says it functions primarily as a “brand-recognition tool,” allowing for “heavier content on our website and therefore driving more traffic to the shop. It has helped people get an idea of who we are.” Additionally, it also features OPTIK!’s smart, nicely illustrated blog, which is strong on eyewear-related fashion posts and updates on the latest accessories.

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The resourcefulness and determination that were once necessities for survival have translated into business success for the Jakupovics. Says Anja, “As businesspeople, we have embedded this strength into our blood, and that is the only way we know how to operate now. If you want to do great things in life, you must take risks.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About OPTIK!

1. GOT POLYGLOT? Anja and Edin Jakupovic both speak English, Bosnian and German; the latter in particular comes in handy in St. Petersburg’s tourist market.
2. GIRL BOSS! A self-taught entrepreneur, Anja draws inspiration from people like Sophia Amoruso, who also established her first business in her late 20s with no professional help and very little money.
3. SHOW TIME. OPTIK! always schedules a pickup time for eyewear, says Anja, “to ensure we prepare the final product on a presentation tray.”
4. GIFT WITH PURCHASE. All clients get a small thank you gift (it could be a box of European chocolates or a complimentary OYOBox for their eyewear collection) and a personal handwritten thank you card.
5. WEATHER REPORT. As far as sunglasses go, it’s hard to beat St. Petersburg, FL, as a location for an optical. The town holds the Guinness World Record for logging the most consecutive days of sunshine (768 days).

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Location, location, location! Very smart to be part of the retail community at one of the most desirable buildings in the area. There is a deep passion here. They’ve certainly put in the years learning the biz from the ground up to realize their dream. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • The business cards, logo and sandwich board are lovely. The blog is very interesting, definitely original content. The accessory board display is charming. Online presence channels pure love of eyewear. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • I love the spaciousness. It feels organized which makes it easy to shop. A unique experience that any customer will enjoy. Smart to use locals as brand ambassadors. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story: A Word of Mouth Brainstorm

Taking word-of-mouth marketing to new heights, OPTIK! decided to look around for local individuals they felt could benefit from a new pair of quality glasses. They found the perfect candidate in the local mailman, who wore over-the-counter readers for years. “We invited him in and educated him on our eyewear and lenses,” says Anja. “As a thank you for his daily service and to help him look and see his best, we offered him our state-of-the-art digital progressive lenses with all the necessary treatments and coatings completely complimentary.” The mailman later purchased a beautiful Lafont frame from OPTIK!; he gets daily compliments and has spread the word around town. “Not only does his new look change the way he sees and feels, but it has also drastically increased our client-referral base,” says Anja.

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Benchmarks

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.

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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!”

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Brand Portfolio

Living in the Future Thanks to the Indie Branding Effort at Lab Rabbit Optics in Chicago

At a one-man Chicago optical, Coyote DeGroot has crafted a brand that’s clear, austere and just a little luxurious: Lab Rabbit Optics.

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COYOTE DEGROOT, OWNER OF Lab Rabbit Optics, is enthusiastic when asked to discuss the home-grown branding effort at his Chicago optical. So his initial description of it — “simple, maybe even boring” — is a little unexpected. His clarification is just as enigmatic: “I want you to feel like you’re living 8-10 months in the future: ahead of the curve, but not about to alienate your friends at the corner pub. I constantly strive for increased understanding and visual clarity.”

Lab Rabbit Optics owner Coyote DeGroot wants you to feel ‘like you’re living 8-10 months in the future: ahead of the curve, but not about to alienate your friends at the corner pub.’

The name of the business (an allusion to its owner: “almost half my life has been spent in a lab,” he says, “cutting lenses and jamming tunes on the stereo”) and its visual analog — the brand’s central motif is a rabbit in silhouette superimposed with two pairs of frames — are both simple and loaded with the many associations that animal carries, from vitality and creativity to a certain madcap quality. It’s a great lesson in the totemic power of a well-chosen logo.

DeGroot is not particularly interested in catering to some particular “set” or demographic. His “fairly austere” look appeals to his customers, he says, because they “abhor flashy, eccentric looks in lieu of more versatile, understated designs with clever details.”

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Lab Rabbit’s look is defined as much by what it eschews as what it contains: DeGroot doesn’t believe in point-of-purchase materials, brochures or catalogs. Photos of models are “disingenuous,” he says. “I prefer photos that focus strictly on the eyewear or activities within the shop. I personally photograph my frames, design my signage, and create all web and social media content. People who know me also follow my private social media accounts, where they can enjoy a more ‘raw’ view into my weird world.” Non-eyewear-related influences include “techno music, magazines of all sorts, overpriced restaurants.”

The branded material itself includes lens-cleaning solution, business cards, matchboxes, buttons and tote bags, most of them rendered in two-tone color schemes with a common font that extends to the neon sign in the optical’s display window.

DeGroot is a walking embodiment of indie optical retail — no staff, no outside investors, and entirely self-funded. He’s the only person the customer deals with from start to finish (this includes cutting all lenses). In keeping with this, he does the general layout and design of his branding himself, “but I leave the manufacturing of all products to the professionals.”

To his fellow ECPs pondering a branding boost, DeGroot offers some typically cryptic advice, seemingly part admonishment to keep things simple, part encouragement to stir things up: “Just remember that whatever you’re doing is a lot less sexy than you think it is.”

Branded material includes lens solution, business cards, matchboxes, buttons, tote bags and more.

Among the promotional freebies at Lab Rabbit Optics, the matchboxes have been a surprise hit, owner Coyote DeGroot reports: “I don’t quite understand the matchbox thing, but it’s been a huge success… My non-customers — my friends, the mailman, etc. — snatch up those matches like they were stockpiling for the apocalypse. For some older folks, they reminisce about collecting matchbooks from their favorite taverns, back in the day. I always do my best to give my products an understated, luxurious feel…but I suspect that nostalgia is the main driver for the matchboxes’ popularity.”

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