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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 [email protected].

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Lisa Genovese, O.D., strives to give her patients the very best. At Insight Eye Care’s multiple locations, Dr. Genovese provides optimal care for her patients using the Reichert® Phoroptor® VRx Digital Refraction System. In this second Practice Profile Video from Reichert’s “Passionate About Eye Care” series, take a closer look and see how this eye care professional achieved a better work-life balance with equipment that’s designed and engineered in the U.S.A.

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Best of the Best

This Colorado Practice Chose the Power of Collaboration Over Consolidation

Check out the ways they benefited from joining a doctors’ alliance.

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IT’S A DILEMMA independent ECPs face: Independence gives you the freedom to offer great service, but makes competing on cost hard. As a remedy, a growing number of them are joining one of the numerous alliances of doctors and ECPs that have sprung up in recent years. INVISION spoke with a Colorado practice whose positive experience with one such group has helped it thrive and serves as a testament to the benefits of collaboration, rather than consolidation.

THE IDEA

Drs. Cameran Drake (right) and Jenni Drake (left), sisters, ODs and co-owners of 3D Vision Eye Care in Broomfield, CO, are an example of the power of pooled resources. Says Dr. Cameran, “We have two different brains — she’s much more business oriented, whereas I’m much more patient oriented. It works out great.” But they know their limits. “Very few of us [ODs] went to school for business, so having resources for that side of your practice is something you can’t afford not to use.” When colleagues suggested the Drakes attend one of Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA)’s networking dinners, they figured it would be a way to get some CE in while rewarding staff without much cost to themselves. They were pleasantly surprised at what they found. “We ended up getting so much out of the meeting we were hooked.”

THE EXECUTION

After attending a number of PECAA’s networking dinners and annual meetings, the Drakes signed up for its MBA (Member Business Advisor) program. Among other things, membership gives them access to advice on inventory and frame board management — areas the Drakes felt had been holding them back.

Whereas they would previously let opticians order what they thought was needed, says Dr. Jenni, “Having the inventory analysis gave us an idea of how to …make sure we were seeing what frames turned, what frames were profitable… and which ones we should get rid of.”

A turning point in their business came when they found an additional location that seemed promising. “We thought it was a slam dunk,” recalls Dr. Jenni, but the MBA showed them “it could have been the worst thing to get ourselves into.”

Members also qualify for unlimited telephone consultations. “When we have questions on how to bill for something, or the right codes to use, we utilize the billing/coding department. There’s no fee for that, just a quick phone call. We are also currently looking into health insurance through their alliance,” said Dr. Jenni.

THE REWARDS

The Drakes gets peace of mind knowing there is someone who specializes in any area they need help in, but who has no agenda. “You know that you can trust them as their only goal is to help you,” Dr. Jenni says. Not having to do a lot of research saves the doctors time, “which as business owners and mothers is invaluable.”

Some ODs are wary of alliances’ fees, but the Drakes cite the MBA’s input on the additional location as an example of money saved.
She cites the networking events as personal favorites. “It’s … reassuring to talk to people that are going through what you are. Once you realize that other private practices are not your competition you learn so much from collaborating with other members.”

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America's Finest

A Suburban Chicago Practice That Delivers Quality Eyecare in Style — and With Heart

This close-knit team knows how to have fun, too!

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Midwest Eye, Downers Grove, IL

OWNER: Todd A. Robert, OD; URL: visionsource-midwesteye.com; FOUNDED: 2014; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Patrick Fortelka, formerly of CVG Architects, current owner of Moment Design; EMPLOYEES: 9 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 5,600 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Silhouette, Morel, Europa, Varilux X, Eyezen, Fresh Day, Proclear, Biotrue; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/MidwestEye; INSTAGRAM:instagram.com/midwesteye2600; TWITTER:twitter.com/MidwestEye2600; YELP:yelp.com/biz/midwest-eye-downers-grove


‘Hire good help’ is the most important lesson Midwest Eye owner Dr. Todd Robert has learned.

WHEN MIDWEST EYE opened in June 2014, recalls owner Dr. Todd Robert, staff spent the first month in a rented office, ordering contacts, answering calls and scheduling appointments from practice manager Pam Peters’ kitchen table, and training on new equipment at the doctor’s house for a couple of weeks. When the buildout was complete, the team moved into their current location in Downers Grove, a well-heeled suburb of Chicago. For a new business, Midwest Eye was somewhat unique in that the staff and doctor had previously worked together as part of another practice.

Downers Grove was specifically chosen as a location because Dr. Robert knew going in that it was home to the biggest share of the new practice’s patient base. “The office space was wide open, no walls, when we selected the space, allowing us to custom design what we needed,” recalls Robert, who made a point of getting his team’s input into the design of the work space, patient testing areas, reception and optical. “The entire group collaborated with our architect and builder to create kiosks for optical desks, offering a bit of privacy for our patients’ optical purchases. We created a ‘data bar’ in the center of the office complete with charging stations for our patients or reps as they show frames,” he says. The bar, situated between the reception desk and the optical, also offers additional seating.

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The open floor plan, dominated by reclaimed brick and lumber, and brightened with green, orange and yellow accents, features artwork from a local artist as well as photos from the doctor’s mission trips.

The business has developed a quirky, fun, highly personalized approach to online marketing that uses staff as models, inserted into recreations of iconic pop culture imagery, covering everything from Springsteen’s Born in the USA cover to a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off poster (a customer lent them the red convertible) to Men in Black. “This is our cup of tea! From recreating album covers to putting up a snowy backdrop and making a ‘sleigh’ for staff and patient Christmas pictures, we love to participate in our advertising projects,” says Peters. The practice’s online presence is viewed as both sales channel and branding tool, she adds. “We are still learning how to best utilize online, social media promotions, PSAs and events.”

Midwest tries to cater to all ages and styles with its eyewear, with a preference for high-quality frames manufactured in Europe, Japan and the US that are not readily available online. Says, Robert, “In setting up our optical we have worked to find a unique balance of frames for our patients — budget conscious to high-end frame lines.”

The practice is five years old, but the majority of staff have been working together for a decade or more. The team is close-knit, says Robert, adding that patients “feel the warmth.” He returns to this point when asked to cite the most important lesson he’s learned as an optical business owner: “Hire good help,” he says. “Enthusiastic employees with a passion for patient care, learning and all things optometric/optical will create an atmosphere that your patients and staff love.”

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Joining Robert three days a week is Dr. Dean Bauer, who also works with ophthalmic surgeons from Kirk Eye Center, to whom Midwest Eye refers patients for cataract and Lasik surgery. His experience interning at Hines VA Hospital for a year and mentoring optometry and ophthalmology residents has given him a strong medical background.

In addition to routine exams, the doctors see patients for co-management of cataract and Lasik surgeries and for glaucoma management. Midwest Eye is a part of its patients’ diabetic care teams and has a doctor on call for urgent or emergency visits 24/7. Says Dr. Robert, “Our constant feedback is that our patients appreciate the knowledge of the doctors and staff, the education that they get, the caring, family-like environment, the options and assistance they receive in our optical, and the attention to detail with their insurance questions and options. We enjoy seeing our patients, often sharing a hug and/or family photos as they come or go.”

Fine Story

Midwest Eye has a hallway devoted to photos of mission trips the doctors have gone on. They chronicle the annual trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that Dr. Robert and members of his family have been making since 1999 along with members of his church and World Gospel Outreach, which takes teams to Tegucigalpa 30-40 weeks each year. According to Dr. Robert, “The teams set up medical clinics in little barrio churches that address both the spiritual and physical needs of the people there.” He works with a team including physicians, dentists and ODs, and brings thousands of pairs of glasses each year, many donated by his patients and the local Lion’s Club. Dr. Bauer joins a group of ophthalmologists from KEC on mission trips to Piura, Peru, sponsored by St. John the Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. During these trips, he assists with pre- and post-operative care of cataract patients, pterygium surgeries and treats diseased eyes. Taking their expertise to Honduras and Peru has been a wonderful opportunity for both doctors, says Dr. Robert, who adds he’s overwhelmed by the support of patients who collect glasses for trips; the reward for him and Dr. Bauer is the smiles of the many patients they see each trip.

PHOTO GALLERY (34 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Midwest Eye

1. GO GET ’EM. Every so often, staff form two groups and spread out into the two communities on either side of the office, introducing themselves, giving and gathering business cards, and selecting a winner from each town to receive a free eye exam and pair of glasses.

2. KID FRIENDLY. Midwest Eye has a live I Spy game in the office, and often gives kids books with items to find, fun facts and word searches. Kids can also do homework at the data bar.

3. POP STARS. The store is working on launching pop-up trunk shows that will spotlight one frame vendor periodically.

4. BACK TO SCHOOL. Staff are constantly learning new things while attending CE courses, and, according to Dr. Robert, “sharing what we have learned with our patients.”

5. OFF THE WALL. “We have a local artist display her artwork in the office,” says Dr. Robert, “and it’s for sale.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Beautiful, modern in-store design with a strong mix of color, materials, textures and style. Nathan Troxell, Think About Your Eyes, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The interior of this practice really upped their score. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • A playful, collaborative effort seems to shine throughout all elements of the business, which creates a nice environment for patients. The brick and wood as well as color scheme of the office create a warm yet modern appeal, and the privacy kiosks make the space feel more intimate. The eyeglass mirror and eyewear displays by the waiting area are nice little touches. The Superhero theme is fun and makes their SM posts unique. I especially liked the Superhero intro story. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

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Benchmarks

These Exam Rooms Pack a Lot of Wow

Forget a sterile white box, here’s a handful of eyecare businesses whose exam rooms make the patient experience more memorable.

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EXAM ROOMS — IT’S where the cold, hard science happens. But does that mean the spaces themselves have to be cold and hard? Not according to the following half-dozen practices, who swapped whitewashed walls, modular carpet tiles and a sterile vibe for wit, humor, style and antique conversation pieces.

The Optical. Co
Columbus, OH

e Here’s a practice that understands that the coherent aesthetic you’ve developed for you showpiece optical doesn’t have to end at the door to the exam lane. Explains owner Dr. Craig Miller, “The custom designed Baltic birch paneled wall in the exam room was designed with two purposes in mind. One, we needed the wall to, in essence, ‘glow’ to provide subtle lighting during an exam, while at the same time create a piece of art that captures your attention as soon as you walk into the room.” The jigsaw wall is the piece de resistance here.

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Todd Rogers Eyewear
Andover, MA

“If you poke a small emotion inside someone … they are going to remember you.” Owner Todd Rogers Berberian was talking about his marketing strategy, but he could’ve been talking about the exam lane at Todd Rogers; a room that carries on the feeling that you first get when you walk in the practice’s front door: that you’re being told a story. This is a place that conveys charm and authenticity through details; in fact many of the cool little touches around the place come with their own museum-like place cards telling you where they came from. In short, the exam room at Todd Rogers, combining fancy tech with cheeky touches — whether it’s the giant blue hand-shaped seat or the retro, wall-sized chart of the functions of the eye — demonstrates that the medical side of your practice can have personality.

Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, CO

After nearly 20 years in its first location, Eye Care Center Of Colorado Springs decided it was time to move, mainly because it wanted to add more exam lanes, but owner/optometrists Sara Whitney and Reed Bro didn’t like the medical buildings they were being shown. The practice now occupies a historic building dating to 1902. It was first used as a commercial carriage house and a number of original fixtures were preserved, including the original 12-foot sliding barn doors, which now serve to separate the business’s retail and clinical spaces — a brilliant touch that manages to preserve the heritage of the site while conveying, along with the exposed brick, salvaged wood and other chic finishes, a sense of style that’s industrial but never clinical.

Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare
New Berlin, WI

For their exam rooms, Ziegler Leffingwell selected six iconic sites from Milwaukee and had full sized wall murals made for each. The murals are duplicated on plaques outside the exam rooms, and each room is named for that specific Milwaukee landmark. “The images were custom colored to match our interior colors,” explains co-owner Dr. Dave Ziegler. It’s the kind of touch you’d expect from a practice that dispenses eyewear in branded cloth shopping bags with a case that is personalized with the patient’s name embossed on it and a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate. But it’s the unique chair time that folks really seem to remember. “The themed exam rooms are the most talked about feature by our patients,” Ziegler says.

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Spring Hill Eyecare
Spring Hill, TN

Spring Hill Eyecare is adorned throughout with artifacts reclaimed from an 1870 farmhouse originally on the property, or found elsewhere. Many of these have found their way into the exam rooms, each of which is themed: travel, garage (the practice’s logo painted on a 1940s truck door), trains (working light and crossing signs); music (with 100-year-old instruments), science lab (microscopes and periodic tables). The dry eye treatment center is named ‘The Greenhouse’ after an actual one on the original property. “We decorated it with all the rusty tools we found in the old greenhouse,” says owner Rob Szeliga, OD.

Writings on the Wall

When you’re not refracting them, give patients’ eyes something to settle on and scrawl or paint something educational or entertaining on the wall. Clear Eye Associates + Optical in Fort Worth, TX, went for a Dr. Seuss gem on the wall of their testing area (top left). At SEEK Eye Care in Victoria, MN, patients get a dose of optometric humor (above), while The Optical. Co in Columbus, OH, went for something more educational (top right).

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