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Less is Much,
Much More

A Dallas store where Black is the new black.

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Black Optical, Dallas, TX

OWNER: Gary Black; WEBSITE: blackoptical.com; OPENED : 2016; AREA: 1,198 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time; TOP BRANDS: Ahlem Eyewear, Garrett Leight, Jacques Marie Mage, KREWE, Mykita, and Thom Browne; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/blackoptical; YELP: yelp.com/biz/black-optical-dallas; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/blackoptical


HUGE, DISPLAY-FREE WINDOWS invite passersby to peer deep into the spacious gallery that is Black Optical’s Dallas, TX, location. Those whose tastes lean toward striking simplicity, who think more in terms of style than fashion, function or brand, find themselves drawn to the exquisitely curated selection of eyewear they see inside, arrayed unadorned on white shelves that float above dark marble floors.

To owner Gary Black, fine eyewear is “an extension of our love for design,” the store itself a space to display “a small selection of culture we are inspired by.” He opened Black Optical in 2007 after a decade as regional manager for a national sunglass manufacturer. Initial success in Tulsa, OK, was repeated in the larger markets of Oklahoma City and Dallas. A fourth store just opened in Newport Beach, CA. He’s obviously doing something right.

“I’ve done a lot of things wrong too,” Black counters. “I got to make the rookie mistakes on someone else’s dime.”

In 2007, Black wasn’t thinking beyond Tulsa. “The goal was to use Black Optical Tulsa as a vehicle to explore other interests; open a men’s lifestyle boutique, or a record store focusing on jazz music, become an architect.” While building the first showroom, he “came to the realization that Black Optical is the best vehicle for pursuing that passion.”

A veteran of four store openings, Black seeks out “neighborhoods that lean more residential than commercial. We like being a cultural hub for our communities, and we as a team get great joy from our clients and friends visiting to talk about art, music, or films.” Dallas’ Knox neighborhood fits that bill. “It’s the perfect Dallas neighborhood. We are surrounded by an economically diverse income [group], steps away from the Katy Trail, and walkable to Highland Park, the wealthiest neighborhood in Dallas. Our co-tenants are very independently minded, including some of the best restaurants in the city.” This is retail as salon: It’s not only about connecting with a community, but also helping to create one based on shared tastes.

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“We merchandise our frames by aesthetic, not designer,” Black says. The store is devoid of P.O.P. displays; there are no brand- or lifestyle-based areas. “We barely have our own logo on display. We believe service is our best form of branding.” This is genuine “curated” retail: expert product selection combined with close attention to customer service. Without the latter, you’re simply showing off a collection.

The store’s dark Nero and Calcutta marbles offset white gallery shelving and walls, complemented by wood and leather. Black also has a fondness for acetate. When it comes to the eyewear itself, he’s no passive collector; partnerships with designers are a hallmark. “We have collaborated with Ahlem Eyewear, Garrett Leight, and Jacques Marie Mage.” According to Stirling Barrett, founder of New Orleans-based KREWE Sunglasses, “In the art world of eyewear, Gary is one of the pinnacle curators. To have him as a friend and learn from his industry insight has meant a lot to us.”

But is it really possible to merchandise purely by aesthetic? “Completely possible … Great brands do each have their own aesthetics, but there is also commonality. Various designers create aviators, oversized, petite, metals, sculptural, etc. Our expertise comes in discovering great collections and styles that will fit our clients best.” Black prizes his relationships with designers, but ultimately they are secondary. “Designers come and go; they have great collections and not-so-great collections. This is where a little ego comes into play. We make it about us. We have a deep respect for each designer we work with. But we want our clients to buy into Black Optical, not the designers.”

There are practical factors at work, too. “I didn’t start out merchandising by aesthetic. It really came out of figuring out a way to help clients more efficiently. Black Optical Tulsa is 96 feet long. It was taking too much time to walk back and forth. Consumers just want to look good, feel good, and see well. So, it made sense to keep similar ‘fits’ together.”

Black outsources to various labs depending on the frame. “Pricing is so competitive now, and turnaround times so quick. It’s best to focus on what we do best, which is fit frames.”

Given Black Optical’s approach, building a strong team would seem to be crucial. “Ultimately, we want to develop people, while they help develop our brand. We hire with the intent that the candidate will be with us for the long haul, but we also realize this is not a reality for this generation … Our interview process is very slow.”

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Black Optical’s online presence is well tended and responsive. On various platforms, you’ll find references to everything from early ’70s Stevie Wonder to the Kenyan spectacles sculptor Cyrus Kabiru. But it’s not as intimidating as all of this may sound. There are fun lines of kids’ eyewear, and the cultural references run the gamut from Ed Ruscha to the grilled cheese sandwich — American classics both.

In one posted photo, Grace Kelly, circa 1950s, pores over a book by Jacques Cousteau. “At heart, we are explorers and learners like Cousteau and Kelly,” says Black. “[She] is the perfect example of not only iconic beauty, but incredible intelligence as well.” You’ll search in vain for a logo in the interior of Black Optical Dallas, but if there had to be one, that image might serve.

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Black Optical

1. Video star. If Terrence Malick made online eyewear ads, they’d look like Black Optical’s video collaboration with Jacques Marie Mage, which seems to delight in walking a similarly fine line between art school pretense and visual profundity. Some clips plug events, some make aesthetic points, others educate. One shows you how Black Optical’s handmade leather cases are created.

2. Staff benefits. Under a “wellness reimbursement” plan, the company contributes $150 a quarter to any activity that contributes to an employee’s healthy lifestyle, be it a gym membership, massages, or registering for a 200-mile bike race. After seven years, staff get a paid 30-day sabbatical. And continuing education is encouraged, even at work; Black is building a leadership book library.

3. Designer collabs. At Black Optical, inspiration’s a two-way street. “Our collaborations have taken various forms. Sometimes it’s limited frame color/lens color runs, sometimes using precious materials like 18K gold mirrors or wrapping frames in Oklahoma-sourced bison leather.”

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4. POP free. “We avoid all P.O.P., logos, and branding; even our [own] branding is virtually nonexistent,” says Black.

5. It’s not. “There is nothing cool about us. We are just a group of passionate nerds,” says Black. If you’ve been within a block of one of Black Optical’s stores, it’s hard not to scent some Warholian irony here. But he’s not just being, umm, cool. “While I was building Black Optical, two books inspired the brand: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, and Chasing Cool.  The latter probably best explains why I don’t think Black Optical is ‘cool.’”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Their billboards are magnificent! With ‘We believe service is our best form of branding,’ it’s no wonder they offer a 30 day paid sabbatical to employees on their seventh anniversary.” Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • They have turned a small optical in Oklahoma into a brand recognized across state lines. Their advertising is targeted at those more likely to look for deals online, making their success in that demographic even more impressive!” James and Dr. Laura Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care and Cathedral Eye Care, Portland, OR
  • Great presence on Instagram. Brand looks playful and fun. Store looks clean and modern.” Jim Sepanek, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, DeRigo REM, Sun Valley, CA

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 heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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America's Finest

This North Carolina Practice Greets Patients with a Beer, a Song and a Wag of the Tail

Simple word of mouth has kept them growing since day one.

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Swell Vision Center, Leland, NC

OWNER: Craig Scibal, OD; URL:swellvisioncenter.com; FOUNDED: 2016; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: BMH Architects, Bryan Humphrey Designs, Ken Hardy, Jonathan Pratt; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Todd Rogers, Moscot, OGI, Seraphin, Maui Jim; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/swellvisioncenter; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/swellvisioncenter; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


Owner Dr. Craig Scibal’s favorite patient is one that ‘comes in with their dog, has a beer and gets to know the practice while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music.’

H AVE YOU EVER asked yourself who your favorite type of patient is? Or is that the sort of question small business owners are no longer allowed to permit themselves? Dr. Craig Scibal, owner of Swell Vision Center in Leland, NC, has no such qualms. “My favorite patient is one that comes in with their dog, has a beer, gets to know us while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music, and then leaves excited to tell their friends about their experience.”

Clearly, here’s a practice that knows who and what it is, something its clientele — described by Scibal as “mostly newly retired happy folks from the Northeast,” seem to appreciate. Scibal and his team have pulled off that rare feat of delivering top-level patient care and eyewear while remaining true to themselves.

Swell Vision Center opened its doors cold one April day in 2016 in Leland, a small town west of Wilmington. Their first patient walked in around 11 a.m. and asked if they were open. “Admittedly shocked that somebody came in, my staff member and I were slightly speechless and stumbled upon the word ‘yes.’ Since that day, Swell has continued to grow, with most of our advertising and marketing being word of mouth.”

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In high school, Scibal worked for the private practice his dad owned for about 25 years in Morehead City, NC. He later worked at Elite Vision Care, a private practice in League City, TX, while attending optometry school in Houston.

“I knew that I wanted to be in Leland, NC, based on the growth it had seen,” says Scibal. Thanks to the huge influx of retirees southeastern North Carolina has seen in recent years, Brunswick has been the fastest growing county in the state since 2015. “The area really only had one other place for eyecare, so I figured I’d try to get in early before it became too saturated.”

Swell has made a point of offering all the latest technology and frame lines, carrying mostly independent eyewear brands that are unique to the area. “We’ve tried to shy away from having eyewear that can be purchased everywhere around town and I think patients enjoy it. Not only do patients appreciate it, but staff really appreciate it when they can tell you’re invested in the practice, so it’s a win-win.”

Dr. Scibal knew he wanted to be located in Leland, NC, based on the growth the town has seen in recent years, largely thanks to retirees.

According to Scibal, the office was designed so that somebody would come in and feel at home — not at a doctor’s office. Using a lot of neutral colors, polished concrete, metal and brick, the office design relays a relaxed and professional atmosphere. The office is split into a front half consisting of a reception desk/area and optical boutique, and a back half consisting of the pretest/exam/and contact lens area. The two are separated by frosted glass barn doors that create a modern feel with a comfortable, homey twist. Candles and oil diffusers enhance the olfactory experience.

Visiting Swell is a bit like calling on that one friend who puts you to shame by being such a thoughtful host. The idea, Scibal says, is that from the moment a patient calls the practice, they start to wonder if they are even talking to a doctor’s office. “With questions like, ‘What would you like to drink upon your arrival — water/beer/wine/soda/tea/coffee?’ to ‘Are you cool with dogs?’ to ‘What kind of music do you like?’ the patient realizes this isn’t just another office.

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Little does the patient know, every answer they give is written down and studied by the staff prior to their arrival.” When they turn up, their favorite drinks and music are waiting for them. (See Five Cool Things on page 71).

The personable approach carries over to Swell’s online presence. Says Scibal, “I think your website should be quick, clean, and informative. For a lot of people, it is the first impression they’ll get of your establishment and brand.” Swell’s site incorporates professional images of the office, logos of the eyewear, and information on the staff and the doctor. “So in that sense, I see our website as all three.” Possibly due to the demographic, Scibal doesn’t see social media as much of a sales channel or foot traffic driver, posting once every few weeks or so, mostly highlighting a new frame line, staff introduction post, or a funny optometry meme.

“I am nothing without my staff,” admits Scibal. The first interaction with Swell Vision Center is typically with the thick British accent of the receptionist, Helen. “She truly defines customer service and makes every single person feel comfortable and feeling like they want a ‘cup o’ tea.’ Both of the opticians/technicians are cross-trained and can float amongst the office performing any task as needed. Both are genuinely excited about eyewear and typically rub off their excitement on patients.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Swell Vision Center

1. PARTY TIME. Every time Swell gets another 100 5-star Google reviews, they throw a staff party, ranging from axe throwing to Topgolf.

2. TUNE IN. Upon entering the exam room, patients hear the music they requested during their appointment call, streaming at 50 percent volume so they hear it immediately, then a bit lower once the exam gets underway.

3. LOCAL BREWS. Swell is constantly rotating its craft beer selection with local breweries. With the craft beer industry booming in the area, it adds local flavor to the experience.

4. SLICE OF LIFE. Every year, Swell sponsors the photo booth at the local Children’s Museum. The event, called ‘Pizza Putt,’ converts the entire museum into a putt-putt course and brings in local pizza vendors and breweries.

5. GOODIES. Swell has custom Freakers (drink covers seen on Shark Tank), custom socks, and T-shirts/hoodies/polos for giving away to loyal patients.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Swell’s personal touch and welcoming approach to eyecare and eyewear shine through in their hospitality and how they take care of their customers. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the story — something so genuine and simple about the honesty and less-is-more approach. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • This is a great example of independent optometry and the personalized service that is so critical for differentiation and success. Great cabinetry, and love the little personal service touchpoints. The attention to detail in regard to customers’ preferred beverages and music is a nice touch, as are the craft beer offerings supporting local business. The content on their digital platforms contains a nice balance and shows off the warm personality of the business. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

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One of the most important members of the team at Swell is Horatio (full name Horatio Fizkin Scibal), a “very well-behaved, found in a trash can, beautiful rescue dog who is the official greeter,” according to Scibal. He greets each patient at the entrance, follows them through pre-testing and the exam (he has a bed next to the exam chair), and helps them pick out eyewear. Since the day Scibal rescued Horatio in 2014, “he has been the most gentle and loyal dog I’ve ever known.” When a new patient calls to set up an appointment they are always asked if they mind having a “sweet pup named Horatio” roaming the office at their appointment. “In 3.5 years of being open, we’ve probably had less than 10 patients say they’d prefer him not to be there,” says Scibal. Horatio features prominently in marketing material, and behind the front desk there’s even a painted portrait of him at the phoropter getting his eyes checked.

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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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Eye Love Optometry, Pinole, CA

OWNER: Park L. Hsieh, OD; URL: eyeloveoptometrypinole.com; FOUNDED: 1997; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2012; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jack Verdon of Verdon Architects; EMPLOYEES: 5 full-time; AREA: 1,500 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS:Dita, Ahlem, Blake Kuwahara, Anne et Valentin, Mykita, Theo; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/EyeLovePinole; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/eyelovepinole; YELP: yelp.com/biz/eye-love-optometry-pinole; TWITTER: twitter.com/iloveoptometry ;BUILDOUT COST: $600,000


Dr. Park L. Hsieh of Eye Love Optometry

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! Bill 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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America's Finest

Want 15 Years of Growth While Keeping Your Team Close and Building the Optical of Your Dreams? This Tennessee Practice Can Show You How

They knew that if they treated patients right, the business would succeed.

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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


ROB SZELIGA MOVED to Spring Hill, TN, about 30 miles south of Nashville, with his family as a teenager in 1993. They were in the vanguard of an influx that has seen the population grow from 1,200 to over 40,000. He graduated from Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in 2005 and opened Spring Hill Eyecare “ice cold.” He and his wife Amy had a clear idea of what they wanted the business to be: a practice that offers the total package and only refers when surgery is needed. “I spent 100 percent of my time and energy growing my practice — not filling in elsewhere,” he recalls. “Luckily, I had strong support — a wife teaching elementary school and my mom and two sisters as my first employees. We knew that if we treated patients right, the practice would grow.” They started with 1,200 square feet, their newborn son Jackson literally growing up in the office. “My second lane didn’t have a phoropter, it had a crib,” says Szeliga. By their 10th anniversary they already had one major expansion under their belt and needed another.

Spring Hill Eyecare owner Rob Szeliga OD with his wife Amy and family.

The Szeliga’s found their dream location in a vacant 1870 farmhouse, but the structure would require demolition if it was going to work. “Without the proper approach, this would not be well received in a community growing as fast as Spring Hill, and quickly losing its small-town charm,” recalls Szeliga. They posted a letter on their blog explaining their plans, and this honest approach elicited overwhelmingly positive feedback online.
In the months before the house and barns were demolished, Szeliga would leave work, change clothes and get busy reclaiming their great features, including 11 fireplace mantles, original barnwood/beadboard, old doors (now frame boards), giant parlor doors, live edge maple breakroom tables milled from original trees, wavy glass muntin windows, and a cast-iron tub flower bed. The new building’s layout centered around preserving a giant, centuries-old oak tree.

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The juxtaposition of the salvaged fixtures and curios with the practice’s modern equipment lends a unique vibe to the exam rooms, each of which has a theme, including “garage” (the practice’s logo painted on a 1940s truck door) and “music” (with 100-year-old instruments) to name just two. Spring Hill Eyecare’s dry eye treatment center is called The Greenhouse after the one on the original property. “You go in the room with dry eyes facing old rusty tools,” says Szeliga. “When you get up from the massaging chair your view is of lush plants and flowers; you leave refreshed.”

Catering to the town’s expanding demographic, the team sees everyone from InfantSEE babies to geriatric patients. Among its numerous specialty facilities is a 900-sq-ft. sports vision/vision therapy center.
Szeliga used to spend about $400 a month on newspaper ads, but he says that all changed when, for a one-time fee of that same amount, he hired a patient to install a marquee sign under the practice’s street sign. “When the sign is not describing an upcoming event, we try to keep it full of puns or statements about pop culture, particularly eye-related ones.” He says simply keeping this sign funny and relevant generates enough community feedback and new patients that he doesn’t bother much with traditional marketing anymore.

Word of mouth is Spring Hill Eyecare’s other main form of advertising, much of it generated by creatively cultivating ties with the community through charitable and other events.  Examples include Kids’ Day and a Pre-Parade Hot Chocolate Party every year before the Christmas parade. “We even begged to get the parade path extended to go by our new location to keep this tradition,” Szeliga says. Spring Hill Eyecare sponsors many schools, teams and causes, but they also enjoy creating their own charitable events, like their “Give A Gobbler” Thanksgiving turkey campaign. The team “gobbles” loudly for donations. “For larger donations even our doctors gobble!”

One of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870s farmhouse that once stood on the site is displayed in the optical.

Szeliga says that while there are ECPs with flashier sites, he’s proud of the genuine feel he’s achieved with Spring Hill Eyecare’s online presence. “Too many websites have just generic stock photos … Our most popular posts are those involving personal photos or stories about myself, my family and my team.”

He credits the trust he has established with his prized team for much of Spring Hill Eyecare’s success. And it’s a quality he repays handsomely. A believer in continuing education, he has taken his team to the state optometry meeting for the last 10 years and to IDOC’s Orlando meeting the last five. But it’s not all work and study. “For our 2018 Christmas party I rented a Hummer limo for a Christmas lights tour and created a jigsaw puzzle to reveal clues about their Christmas gift: a four-night cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate an excellent 2018,” he says.

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Crucially, through all the rapid growth, the practice has never lost the close-knit feel of the early days. “While I no longer have family working at my office,” says Szeliga, “we’ve been able to keep the family atmosphere for 13 years.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Spring Hill Eyecare

1. TV STARS. Szeliga’s repurposing of the old farmhouse that once stood on the site of the practice was featured in DIY Network’s Nashville Flipped series.

2. GOOGLE TOUR. Its website features a Google virtual tour: the photographers liked the building so much they shot extra rooms in exchange for being able to feature them on their website.

3. NEVER LEAVING. The coffee bar has two TVs, charging stations, customized coloring books for grownups, mini-fridge and a Keurig coffeemaker.

4. ACCOLADES GALORE. Office manager Melanie Jenkins was named Tennessee Paraoptometric of the year in 2018, SECO Paraoptometric of the year in 2019 and AOA Paraoptometric of the year in 2019.

5. WALKING ADS. At a community event this year staff had low-cost suns made with their logo and a sticker: “Redeem for $25 off a pair of sunglasses.” Only a few people did, but “others [wore] them around town,” says Szeliga. Next year’s target: high school marching bands.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Outstanding community engagement throughout the planning and construction of their new location. Honoring the legacy of the former structure by incorporating materials and elements is a testament to their respect and concern for the community they serve. Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Spring Hill Eyecare has built an optical business that’s people- and purpose-focused, and they’ve fostered a growing business by organically growing their practice, while remaining true to providing quality eyecare in a welcoming environment. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • The space is bonkers! Overall one of our faves! Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The focus on local, independent optometry is evident across all aspects of the business. The website shines. It is easy to maneuver, has all the info one would be looking for and the imagery is great. I felt like I knew the practice and the doctor after visiting. The themed exam rooms are also a great idea as they create a relaxed, eclectic environment for their high-tech functions. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Beneath a window in Spring Hill Eyecare’s optical, customers will find a hefty, timeworn, earth-stained rock that, while adding natural charm, clearly bears the marks of human shaping. It was one of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870 farmhouse that once stood on the site. The stone was hand-cut in the 1860s. Says Szeliga, “Opening my practice cold was a lot like the process of forming this hand-cut stone. It took patience — and patients! Like the old house, we started with a strong foundation that was built on two pearls I learned early: ‘What’s good for the patient is good for the practice,’ and ‘See everything we do from the patient’s point of view.’ Trends and tech are constantly changing…but we continually grow based on our strong foundation.”

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