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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 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Brand Portfolio

A Tiny Maine Optical That Knows How to Make a Big Impact

With the help of local artists, they injected a little rebelliousness into their branding look.

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MINIMALIST AND MODERN with an attitude,” is how owner Chris Wheaton describes the branding at North Optical in Portland, ME. Doing a lot with a little is a concept that befits an optical tucked into 320 square feet within the “Black Box,” a retail space created out of shipping containers in the city’s East End.

Wheaton is a student of the history of logo design and typography, and cites them as key influences, along with architecture, furniture and interior design. “While a lot of my inspiration comes from famous schools of design like Bauhaus, I also love old-school hardcore band logos and posters. So I try to instill a little bit of rebelliousness into the branding as well.”

Branded materials include business cards, totes, stickers, postcards, posters, coasters, coozies, custom candles and cleaning spray. “I am always looking for new and fun things to put my logo on or a new design from a local artist.”

Wheaton keeps things simple “so that I can mess with it and do really fun things on a whim… like a sticker of cyclops driving a monster truck carrying a flag with my logo on it. Because why not? But it also allows me to be more serious too.”

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North Optical’s branding was also intended to be a platform for local artists and designers. The basic design work is handled by Portland’s Andrew Scripter/Wing Club Press, which also prints most of the materials.

“I work with only local artists, photographers and whenever possible use local printing services,” says Wheaton.

If you’re looking for a branding boost, Wheaton says a good way to begin is to seek out a local business with a strong brand image and a similar clientele, and partner with them. “Something as simple as a photo shoot can be invaluable for upping your brand image,” he says.

Second, Wheaton advises approaching a local designer or artist whose work you love; sometimes artists will be willing to accept payment in trade.

“Also, people love swag. Reusable screen-printed totes are great guerrilla marketing. I think that it’s all about the little things — a customer’s experience can easily be brought to the next level with something as simple as a postcard.”

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

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America's Finest

Let This California Practice Show You What the Perfect Balance of Brick-and-Mortar Experience and Social Media Engagement Looks Like

They’ve branded themselves the ‘Eyewear Gurus’ for the millennial generation.

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Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

OWNER: Rob Szeliga, OD; URL:springhilleyecare.com; FOUNDED: 2005; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Rob Stensland, Optometric Architects (architect); Amy LeAnn Szeliga (interior designer); EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 8,300 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Dailies Total 1/Multifocals, Kate Spade, Costa, Shamir, neurolens; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/springhilleyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/springhilleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.6 million


Owner/OD
Dr. Park L. Hsieh of Eye Love
Optometry in Pinole, CA.

PRIOR TO OPENING Eye Love Optometry, Dr. Park L. Hsieh experienced the full breadth of optometry, practicing simultaneously in three modalities: a surgery owned by MDs, a multi-doctor optometric practice, and on-call coverage for a corporate chain. “It gave me a chance to evaluate in which setting I felt the most comfortable,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the continuity of care in the private practice setting, seeing the same families on a yearly basis.” Similarly, long-time collaborator Aidan Vo had his own vision of the ideal optical experience. “We decided to dive, headfirst, into taking over an established optometric practice — with me tending to the clinical care of patients, while Aidan managed matters relating to the optical.”

In 2008, Hsieh purchased an 11-year-old practice in El Sobrante, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and with Vo set about transforming it. They gave themselves a crash course in all areas of the business: customer service, patient education and flow, diagnostic tech and high-quality ophthalmic products. The optical was stocked with independent eyewear brands, including a handful of handcrafted overseas lines that helped them stand out. The next level beckoned, and they shifted to neighboring Pinole, CA, in 2012. The move allowed them to completely rebrand, and Eye Love Optometry was born. Buoyed by a 2018 remodel, Hsieh now feels the practice appeals to a wider patient base, though when pressed to name a target demographic he cites “professional women aged 25-55 and their family and friends.”

Hsieh says Eye Love’s clientele also includes many patients with an eye for art and fashion, and a substantial contingent of “more progressive, hip and edgy Millennials.” Accordingly, he and Vo opted for an aesthetic that is clean, sleek, minimalist and modern to serve as a backdrop for the eyewear, which is consciously presented as art.

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A key feature of the optical is the “eYebar,” a long custom-designed eyewear display case that also serves as a communal frame selection and dispensing table, catering to the Millennial emphasis on the unique experience. “Why else would they line up for two hours to experience a unique craft cocktail concocted by an expert mixologist? Well, since eyewear are works of art in their own right nowadays, the concept of the eYebar makes a lot of sense.”

Opticians at Eye Love Optometry are branded as “Eyewear Gurus” on their business cards, on the website, and in a monthly ad campaign in a local magazine. They essentially serve as personal stylists to patients. Says Hsieh, “They ask probing and open-ended questions about our patients’ lifestyle…as well as their preferred attire, colors, etc. They get a sense of the individual needs of each patient and, therefore, are better able to uniquely guide them, based on their own preferences.”

The team at EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY, including owner/OD Dr. Park L. Hsieh, third from left, and optical manager Aidan Vo, third from right.

Complementing the brick-and-mortar experience is Eye Love’s relentlessly creative use of social media (see Five Cool Things on p. 67). Hsieh hired a professional to photograph selected eyewear frames, “strategically using rays of sunlight, which hit the frames at certain angles, to cast interesting shadows behind and around them. Playing around with the position and number of frames, unexpectedly beautiful shapes were created. We were then able to integrate this photography into our website and social media.”

Eye Love’s dedication to staff development is serious, involving bi-weekly check-ins, quarterly reviews, continuing education and visits from ophthalmic reps. Opticians are encouraged to become ABO certified, with all costs covered. Community engagement is also stressed. Eye Love donates eyewear, supports a local Multicultural Children’s Bookstore, and has even helped pay for a patient’s journey to compete in the Junior Olympics.

Dr. Hsieh recommends an Optomap retinal scan to all patients. “Every patient who opts to have it is given the option of having the results e-mailed to them, reinforcing the high-tech nature of our practice, by allowing our patients to see the inside of their own eyes,” he says. The practice has invested in high-tech diagnostic equipment, and another standout feature on the medical side is its Myopia Control Specialty, reflecting Hsieh’s belief that many eye doctors don’t do enough to address this epidemic.

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According to Hsieh, Eye Love Optometry’s mission is twofold: “to exceed expectations and instill confidence,” in terms of both eyecare and eyewear. “Building a personal rapport with our patients has always been our secret to gaining their loyalty.”

PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Eye Love Optometry

1. PLEASE YOUR SELF. Eye Love Optometry’s iPad-based selfie photo station allows photos to be taken and sent to be shared on social media. Patients are given a “Selfie Card” encouraging them to share the photos. The station uses Simple Booth’s Halo software, which makes the service fully customizable.

2. WINNING STRATEGY. To boost social media engagement, Eye Love holds contests that encourage patients to follow it on Instagram and Facebook. The patient, after showing that they have followed the business, is automatically entered in a raffle to win a predetermined prize.

3. MONTHLY THANKS. For its “Patient of the Month” program, the practice chooses (with their permission) an ideal patient who is rewarded with a gift basket or small prize. “This reinforces to our followers that we truly do care,” says Hsieh.

4. A LITTLE YELP. Selected patients are issued a “Yelper Card” that says, “YELP us to spread the LOVE!” A QR code with instructions to “SCAN ME” automatically directs patients with smartphones to the specific web page that lets them write a Yelp review.

5. SHARING THE LOVE. The store donates eyewear to a child in need whenever a patient purchases an annual supply of contacts through LensFerry, a program allowing incremental monthly payments.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • I really like what they’re doing! NBill Gerber, Contentlinq & OMG! Marketing Group, San Diego, CA
  • Under Dr. Park Hsieh’s leadership, Eye Love Optometry have thoughtfully designed their store, logo and brand to create a space that lets the eyewear as art speak for itself. Eye Love Optometry’s use of technology, combined with a personal touch, brings forward an optical retailer that gets what customers want today. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the logo, and the minimalist design — combined with the colorful marketing — works for these guys. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The term ‘Eyewear Guru’ is an interesting way to project an aura of expertise for their opticians. The practice appears very advanced on the clinical side, which works well with the streamlined, modern optical environment. The Myopic Control Clinic is a great focus. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

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Best of the Best

These Machines Let Boutiques Create Bespoke Frames Right Inside the Optical

Luca Mariotti’s EYEFRAME system lets the optical owner exist totally independently from big frame makers.

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OTTICA MORI, AN optical and optometric practice in Pisa, Italy, recently ventured into producing its own frames on-site. That’s a serious step for any owner, but Luca Mariotti went one step further, building his own “desktop factory” — a small-scale frame manufacturing system designed to fit in an optical shop. Ottica Mori now uses Mariotti’s EyeFrame System to produce its own line of frames, Mocchialeria.

THE IDEA

One day, as Mariotti was working on his hobby-grade CNC router, his daughter Chiara asked him if he could use it to make a frame from a blank of cellulose acetate. The results were disappointing. But the experiment sparked a chain of events that would transform Ottica Mori’s business. “We started to evaluate the true potential of self-produced frames. It only took a short time to realize that the earnings could be very interesting .” Mariotti invested in a professional grade router. But what he really wanted — a machine small enough to fit inside an optical but with the capacity to produce quality frames from an array of materials — didn’t appear to exist.

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Mariotti hooked up with a manufacturer who agreed to custom build a machine, but the partnership was a disappointment; he didn’t get along with the company and the result was “a steel monster” too large to be used in the shop.

THE EXECUTION

Mariotti, who has a background in machine design, took matters into his own hands and now produces his own “EyeFrame System” CNC routers for opticians. Small enough to fit in an optical, they can machine acetate, plastic, wood, buffalo horn, aluminum, alpaca, brass copper, silver, gold and other non-ferrous metals.

Using the system, Ottica Mori gets about seven to 10 custom frame orders a day. Mariotti starts with an analysis of the customer’s corrective needs, then takes measurements of their face and head. “Then we suggest possible solutions, often making drawings and involving the people in the process. With a set of cellulose acetate samples we choose the color and then we start to make the CAD drawings,” he says, referring to the software system that produces the final frame design.

Tracers are used to order lenses from a manufacturer, which are placed in the frames before final adjustments are made. “The tracer is also used to calculate the thickness of the lens prior to drawing the frame using a special tool we developed. Due to the fact that it is a custom frame, all the limitations we usually find are eliminated,” says Mariotti.

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THE REWARDS

Mariotti invested about $110,000 to develop the EyeFrame System and has produced four so far. It is aimed “mainly at opticians but we have raised the interest of industry too.” He is selling the system directly in Italy and looking for foreign distributors.

The practice’s custom eyewear business and small-series frame lines are also growing rapidly, and Ottica Mori now sells several M occhialeria frames a day, in addition to the custom orders.

“Our goal is to became a single line shop in two years,” says Mariotti. “People want a well-made frame, [and] the assurance that they can find spare parts in the future … Obviously the capability to have custom-design frames has led to some strange requests, but usually people want quality.”

On a personal level, he says, “It is the most important project in my life and it is very rewarding. I am proud of it. It is a family project and I am very happy to work with my sons. At the age of 56 this project is changing my life.”

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