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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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The brand’s common font extends to the neon sign in the front window.

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.”

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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Best of Eyecare

New Orleans’ Based Eyewear Brand Captures the Spirit of a Mardi Gras KREWE

New Orleans-based KREWE channels the city’s warmth and spirit of aspiration.

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America,” Tennessee Williams once said, “has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.” KREWE, an independent eyewear brand based in the latter’s French Quarter, purveys its New Orleans-inspired frames from two distinctive opticals in the city and one in New York, so we’re guessing the playwright would be a fan.

Under the direction of founder Stirling Barrett, KREWE’s eyewear designs embrace the “individuality and self-expression” of his hometown. Like the eyewear, its branding relies on subtle design nuances and distinctive use of colors and mixed materials, something Barrett feels is “a direct reflection of our city” and aims “to reshape the way people view New Orleans’ creative identity and what can be done from a city that isn’t a fashion hub.”

Barrett describes KREWE’s esthetic as “aspirational.” The brand is named for the community organizations that take part in Mardi Gras parades, and seeks to evoke their “spirit of creative collaboration.” Frames are named for New Orleans’ streets.

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The brand draws on colors and patterns “inspired by the warm climate of New Orleans, the city’s growth and decay, and its lush plant life: white, black, gold and an accent color of cactus green. The most specific visual elements are our frames themselves and our product photography,” says Barrett, who trained as a photographer. KREWE uses Akzidenz-Grotesk and Baskerville as its primary and secondary fonts in all communication.

The brand is undergoing a collateral overhaul, with plans for stationery, totes, business cards, pins, and branded multi-frame jewel cases. First-generation packaging included a matte black embossed case inside a box depicting New Orleans imagery such as a vintage Mardi Gras photo.

KREWE’s new store in Uptown New Orleans has large windows that allow for an abundance of light and a space for tropical plants to thrive. The center of the store serves as a focal point with a long, green terrazzo bar. The idea is that the space is as “thoughtful and intentional as every KREWE frame,” Barrett says.

Barrett stresses, however, that KREWE’s branding is “evolving to be less about the direct history of our city, and more about the lifestyle that keeps us here.”

Spirit of New Orleans

KREWE’s interiors and eyewear aim to capture the ‘individuality and self-expression’ of New Orleans, says founder Stirling Barrett.

In the Studio

Founder Stirling Barrett leads KREWE’s team of designers.

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On the Road

KREWE’s Tiny House mobile optical, pictured in Austin, TX.

Another Tiny House, this one pictured in Houston, TX.

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Best of Eyecare

A Minnesota Optometry Business Shows ECPs How to Build a Cool Brand with a Warm Touch

This Minnesota optometry business combines a cool look with a warm touch.

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IN 2017 DR. KELSEY KELTGEN and her husband Mitch Peterson opened SEEK Eye Care, an independent optometry practice in Victoria, MN, a small town west of the Twin Cities. From the start, these high school sweethearts had twin goals: a comprehensive, high-tech optometric practice accompanied by a unique but approachable optical. The goal, Peterson says, was to create a “low stress, fun experience.” Paradoxically, the effort to create a distinctive brand leaves many retail businesses feeling cookie-cutter cool, or just too slick. SEEK avoids falling into this trap, projecting a vibe that’s sharp, but human and, yes, approachable.

SEEK’s decor is rich in wood accents with a twist of industrial chic. Keltgen and Peterson, who funded the new business on their own, designed and hand-built the store’s frame boards and eyewear displays. “We had some help from a few family friends but other than that we did all of our own design work and concepts between my wife, our manager Rachel and myself,” Peterson says.

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The branding effort started with SEEK’s logo, which incorporates a pair of glasses with frosted lenses framed in the company colors: purple and teal (Keltgen’s favorites). “I wanted something catchy, clean looking and easy to remember,” Peterson says.

The look was designed to be memorable but not elitist. “Too many times opticals get stuck in the cutting-edge fashion world. I think those stores have a place; it’s just not what we wanted to do. We are a bit more down-to-earth than our immediate competitors and that’s why our patients become SEEK fans,” he adds.  

SEEK’s twin colors are a familiar sight at the local car show every other Wednesday right outside the location’s door. Peterson made up a couple thousand koozies to hand out with SEEK’s name plastered on them. “Guess what … they were purple and teal. It was an instant hit. This year we have glow in the dark bracelets to hand out. Our SEEK fans are asking for giveaways to show off to everyone.”  

In the reception area and on signage the business’ strong, short, visually themed name is rendered in all caps; it also forms the basis for the logo, always rendered in a font chosen for clarity. The logo festoons a range of material from lens cloths to lens wipes and solution.

Aside from keeping it clear and consistent, from the colors to the logo, Peterson’s advice is to always keep in mind the whole picture that you’re trying to present: “Too many ECPs just focus on their name, and not their full image.”

A Capital Idea

In the reception area and on signage SEEK’s strong, short, visually themed name is rendered in capital letters.

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Brewing Up a Brand

For the local car show, Peterson made up a couple thousand koozies to hand out with SEEK’s name plastered on them. 


Seamless

SEEK’s logo adorns everything from contact solution to lens cloths and wipes.

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Best of Eyecare

Consistent but Subtle Branding Lets the Eyewear Shine for this Columbus, OH, Start-Up

Understated but consistent marketing allows the eyewear to shine at this Ohio start-up.

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A BRAND IS NOTHING without a solid business,” cautions Dr. Craig Miller, an optometrist and CEO of Twenty Brands, which consults on branding with optometry businesses in the Columbus, OH, area. Completing the thought, he adds “and a business is nothing without a solid brand.”

Twenty Brands’ latest client, The Optical. Co in Columbus, is off to a flying start when it comes to satisfying the latter half of this equation. The optical start-up, launched just last year, is mindful that consistency is a core fundamental in branding. The overall look, according to Miller, was “strategically crafted for simplicity’s sake,” and there is an undeniable adherence to clean design throughout the physical store, its marketing materials and online presence. Branding elements are applied on buttons, wall signage, image-heavy advertising and marketing materials, business cards and elsewhere.

“Red is our color of choice. It’s our logo color and key elements color, but is found very sparsely throughout the store. This allows anything with ‘The Optical. Co’ to stand out, and not just blend in. The use of choice fonts and color provides consistency with our branding and marketing, but it doesn’t overshadow the core product that we’re selling, our eyewear,” Miller says. 

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The simplicity and light touch allows the focus to remain on The Optical. Co’s high quality brands and, according to Miller, serves to enhance the “stories behind the brands that make it all possible. We tell that story through our marketing. Regardless of how we get the message out, we focus on very visual copy. We prefer marketing images that are creative and catch your eye. Keep it simple, to the point, and showcase our brand. We’re very lucky to have eyewear partners that share this same creative eye, so we are able to utilize a lot of their product images in our marketing as well.”

Miller advises independent ECPs looking for a brand revamp to keep things simple and subtle, tap into their core message and deliver it creatively and consistently. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. “When in doubt, reach out to the experts and find a partner that is as dedicated as you are in helping build your brand,” he says.

Easy on the Eye

The Optical. Co strives for a ‘creative and eyecatching’ look.


 
Telling Tales

Consultant Dr. Craig Miller says effective branding lets the eyewear’s story emerge.

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Seeing Red

The color is used to allow anything bearing the store’s name to stand out.


Keep it Simple

Subtlety goes a long way, advises Miller.

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