Connect with us

On Point 
in Orlando

This destination boutique forges lasting connections between its discerning clientele and the world’s most distinctive eyewear.

mm

Published

on

Oxford Eyes, Orlando, FL

OWNER: Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson; URL:oxfordeyes.com; FOUNDED: 2017; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; AREA: 670 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Tom Ford, Lindberg, Lara D’, Lafont and Varilux; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/OxfordEyesORL; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/oxford_eyes; TWITTER: twitter.com/OxfordEyes; BUILDOUT COST: $133,442


Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson

Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson

THE BEST THINGS in life are often unexpected,” says Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson, recalling the path that led her to open Oxford Eyes in Orlando, FL in 2018. Previously, her chief connection with optical retail had been as “a passionate wearer and purchaser of interesting eyewear” (she rocked her first pair of blue cat-eye glasses in the fifth grade and still sports a pair today) and as the daughter-in-law of a long-retired optometric practice owner. It was during a visit to that practice that she learned the last partner had sold and the optical team was leaving. “I believed we needed to keep the incredible optical team, with over 70 years of experience, together to serve the community, and I had also noticed on travels that Orlando was missing an optical boutique that specialized in beautiful, handcrafted, quality eyewear.”

Developing what was “essentially a start-up business in four months,” she utilized the optical team’s industry knowledge and her own experience from her previous career as a health care executive to create a unique niche boutique that prides itself on an exceptional eyewear selection and client experience.

With its selection of independent frames from around the world and a no-insurance policy, Oxford Eyes’ target customer, according to Nielsen-Swanson, is the “discriminating individual who understands their eyewear is an essential accessory and statement.”

Nielsen-Swanson designed the interior of Oxford Eyes herself and brought it to life with the help of family and friends. She and her team even designed and custom built the shelves, alternating glass and warm wood with embedded lighting to illuminate the frames. Branding is consistent throughout, and heavy use was made of upcycled construction supplies and furnishings. The quaint interior is warm and eclectic, filled with reclaimed wood and historic antiques. “My family and I have spent a lifetime collecting architectural elements, antiques and books and it was exciting to incorporate them into the design,” she says. The use of oriental rugs, leather chairs, warm woods, classic books, and bronze bank teller gates in the wall and as a light above the bar add visual appeal and reflect the commitment to quality.

Advertisement

Flooded with natural light, the space was designed to be welcoming and fun, allowing the team a very one-on-one connection with anyone who walks in. Those who do — many of them lured by the oft-changed display window, which draws inspiration from Macy’s in New York — are treated to champagne, wine, coffee and other refreshments.

In August of last year, Oxford Eyes moved into a new space, while staying within Ivanhoe Village, a vibrant cluster of eclectic independent shops and restaurants located just north of downtown Orlando on Lake Ivanhoe. Just six doors down from the old space, the larger and more visible corner location was too good to pass up, and incorporates most of the features of its predecessor.

Nielsen-Swanson is a big believer in connecting customers with rare, hard-to-find styles, and the industry experts behind them, through its frequent trunk shows. The boutique also participates in pop-ups at local businesses and is committed to supporting other small businesses and community organizations. Once a month it will spotlight a small business on its social media, and participate in community events as the official eyewear provider, as well as fashion shows.

Oxford Eyes Exterior

Oxford Eyes is located in Ivanhoe Village, a vibrant cluster of eclectic independent shops and restaurants just north of downtown Orlando on Lake Ivanhoe.

Nielsen-Swanson’s priority in frame selection is brands that are “on point, fashionable and iconic,” and she considers her team’s ability to complement customers’ unique looks, personalities and lifestyles with the right frame as a key strength of her business.

Pre-COVID, staff would take frequent trips (sometimes international) to major eyewear conferences and vendor manufacturing sites to keep their expertise sharp.

Advertisement

The business has good referral relationships with local ODs and an in-house finishing lab boosts convenience for the team and customers.

Among the novelties introduced as a result of the store’s COVID shutdown earlier this year are large plexiglass stands designed by a customer that allow clients to take their masks off when trying on glasses. Other changes are here to stay as well: Nielsen-Swanson says the store may continue scheduling appointments beyond the pandemic. After a challenging 2020 that included a move and seven long weeks of closure due to COVID, Oxford Eyes has regrouped and is looking to the future. “When opportunity presents itself, you need to seize the moment,” she says.

PHOTO GALLERY (23 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Oxford Eyes

1. HELPING HAND. Oxford Eyes has raised funds for and supported Central Florida nonprofit organizations like Compassionate Hands and Hearts Breast Cancer Outreach and many others.

2. NETWORKING. Nielsen-Swanson is an advocate for local businesses and plays an integral role developing strategies to promote Ivanhoe Village, the Orlando Main Street District that Oxford Eyes calls home.

3. ECO-FRIENDLY. Customers are encouraged to donate used lenses/frames to the shop, and Oxford Eyes sends the donations to local and overseas charities.

4. FASHION-FORWARD. Pandemics permitting, Oxford Eyes participates in fashion shows in the neighborhood.

5. LOYAL TEAM. Not a single employee of Oxford Eyes has left since the business launched in 2017.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • I would shop here. Her message is very clear. — Paul Storace, Alternative Eyewear/Plan B Eyewear, Ajax, ON
  • Nice to see an independent boutique amongst the finalists. Very well designed interior. Unique and high-end frames appear to be the focus here. This business is doing a good job of endearing themselves to the local community, which should mean continued growth and success in the future. — Lance Anderson, OD, Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA), Portland, OR
  • The market positioning of this space is a very good match for the architecture and other businesses in the area. — Jan Ennis, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA

Fine Story: The tailored digital presence at Oxford Eyes is extensive. To enhance relationships between its clients and industry reps, the business created its own Oxford Eyes Insiders page on Facebook, which Nielsen-Swanson describes as an “exclusive community of eyewear enthusiasts.” Reps from Blackfin, Lindberg, Lafont and elsewhere have joined. The store is also active on Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo and its blog, and has forged relationships with major social accounts that have since turned into clients and advocates, including local influencers, bloggers, stylists and businesses. Maui Jim asked to use Oxford Eyes’ social media photo on its website and high-profile brands regularly share Oxford Eyes’ posts. Local PR firm SIX The Agency helped develop the store’s social media and brand identity.

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 [email protected]

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

SPONSORED BY ESSILOR

Ray-Ban® Authentic

Introducing the perfect match of Ray-Ban's legendary style and Essilor's Expertise in sight. Click here for more information.

Promoted Headlines

Advertisement

Advertisement

Subscribe


BULLETINS

Get the most important news and business ideas for eyecare professionals every weekday from INVISION.

Advertisement

Most Popular