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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.

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

The Big Survey 2019 – The Basics

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THE BIG SURVEY 2019

Who is the American ECP? How does he or she do business? What are the main challenges they face? Our inaugural Big Survey set out to find the answers and 505 owners and managers of American vision businesses answered our call. Here are the results.

The Basics

We find it’s always best to start at the beginning … the basic stuff that makes up so much of your business’ identity. The Who, What, How and Where are all here; we’ll get into the fun stuff — like how much and what’s selling ­— later on.

1. Need to swing on chandeliers? Head to Missouri: 60 percent of stores have these fixtures.
2. They don’t take kindly to strangers asking questions in South Dakota. It, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, were the only states not to be represented in our survey.
3. Michigan ECPs are some of the hardest working in the industry: 25 percent work more than 50 hours a week.
4. Eyewear trend capital? That might just be New York where 21 percent of ECPs thought of themselves as being primarily in the fashion business (as opposed to health or retail), the highest level in the land.
5. Move over Austin. Connecticut was tops for self-declared weirdness with ECPs there giving themselves an average score of 8.2 out of 10 on our oddball scale.
6. Ohio ECPs have been listening to our sales experts – 44 percent use role-playing in training staff.
7. Florida had the most male owners and managers in our survey at 76 percent. Washington state had the most female owners at 86 percent.
8. Is there something in the water in the Midwest? ECPs in a band of states from Illinois to Ohio to Missouri were the happiest vision professionals (along with their cousins in NJ), with half or more (50-57%) ranking themselves 9 or higher out of 10 for professional satisfaction.
9. North Carolina vision businesses have among the highest turnover rates in the country, with 72 percent saying their staff stay less than 4 years.
10. Californian ECPs were the least likely to own their places of business with 82 percent renting. Must have been those pesky legal limitations…
11. Kansans were most likely to be open on Sunday with one in four stores and practices open on this traditional “rest” day.

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1. How many locations does your business have?

One
74%
Two
13%
Three to five
8%
Six or more
5%

2. Please indicate the type of location that houses your store:

Free-standing building
43%
A strip mall
22%
Business park or office building
16%
Downtown storefront
9%
Lifestyle center
3%
In a hospital/medical wing/health center
3%
The Internet
1%
Mobile practice
1%
A mall
1%
Other
2%

3. Do you own or rent your business property?

Own
39%
Rent
62%
NA (For online and mobile only businesses)
2%
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4. How well are things going in your business this year?

COMMENT: As our heat map shows, there’s very little to be blue about for an ECP right now. Note that white indicates states with statistically invalid responses. Figures in parentheses represent the number of survey responses.

5. How would you describe the market where your store is located?

Large city
15%
Medium-sized city (250,000-1 million people)
24%
Small city (25,000 to 250,000)
29%
Country town (up to 25,000)
13%
Resort area
1%
Other
1%

6. How long has your business been in operation?

COMMENT: Businesses that have been in operation for 11-20 years seem to be this survey’s sweet spot. Not only did they slightly edge out other lengths of time in business, as seen above, but those in business for that long also reported the highest proportion of revenue between $500K-$1.5M (50%).
Wondering what the rest of this group’s demos looked like? Well, 59 percent classified themselves as a private practice with a strong focus on retail, 49 percent were in the South and 39 percent operated out of a freestanding building in a small city or suburb. Forty-five percent of owners in business for that long reported salaries over $100,000 and, best of all, the majority reported their satisfaction with their professional life at an 8 or higher (66%).

7. Which description of your business do you most closely identify with?

Hospital or VA setting
1%
Medical model private practice, no retail
1%
Medical model private practice, small dispensarybuilding
22%
Private practice, strong focus on retail
53%
Corporate optometry location
3%
Eyewear boutique, employed or leased OD
10%
Eyewear boutique, no OD
9%
Mobile optician
1%

8. How big is your (main) location?

Less than 500 sq. ft.
4%
500-999 sq. ft.
10%
1,000-1,499 sq. ft.
24%
1,500-1,999 sq. ft.
17%
2,000-2,499 sq. ft.
15%
2,500-2,999 sq. ft.
11%
3,000-3,999 sq. ft.
8%
4,000-5,000 sq. ft.
6%
More than 5,000 sq. ft.
5%

9. Check the paid services you offer:

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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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Benchmarks

Harnessing the Power of the Selfie to Boost Social Media Engagement, Drive Foot Traffic … and Have Fun

These five practices added an extra dimension to the optical experience and became genuine destinations.

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ONE OF THE defining characteristics of our modern retail world is that no purchase or experience, whether it’s buying sneakers or sitting down to a gourmet burrito, is really complete until it’s been photographed and posted to social media. iPads are even showing up in clothing store changing rooms. Like it or not, people are going to bring cameras into your store; the question is how to take control of that experience. Selfie walls or stations are a great way of doing this; they grow your social media following, increase customer engagement, drive foot traffic and boost your store’s fun quotient. There are sophisticated options out there—fully integrated systems for retailers, like Halo by Simple Booth, or The Digital Booth’s rental services, which are great for events—but you can get results using a smartphone and a colorfully branded sliver of free wall space in your optical. These five practices show us how it’s done.

Falls City Eye Care
Louisville, KY

Falls City Eye Care boasts two features that get customers taking snapshots of themselves. One is their trusty Polaroid camera—patients and friends are urged to snap a couple of photos, post one on a cork board in the optical and take the other home. The other is a 12-foot sculpture of a pair of frames in the front yard made especially for owners Dr. Michael and Theresa Martorana by a local artist. Falls City Eyecare now sees a steady stream of small groups and individuals stopping by to take selfies with the giant specs. City ordinances prevent them from labeling the sculpture, but customers usually find ways of slipping in a store-related hashtag themselves, Theresa says. “We were easy to walk right by on a busy fun street. Once the sculpture was created and painted, we became a destination.”

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Eye Love Optometry
Pinole, CA

EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY’s iPad-based selfie photo station allows photos to be taken and sent to smartphones and e-mail or shared on social media. Branded galleries can be made public, while owner Park L. Hsieh, OD and his team are sent marketing reports to track performance. Patients are given a “Selfie Card” that says, “We love that you love EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY! This is a ‘SELFIE CARD,’ so share your photos of your new eyewear with friends on INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK.” The station uses Simple Booth’s Halo software, which makes the service fully customizable. “The appearance of the selfies taken are all consistent and in line with our desired brand,” says Hsieh. The sharing function leads to re-engagement long after the experience is over, he adds. “It’s a wonderful word-of-mouth marketing tool, which I think is invaluable.”

Eye Candy
Delafield and Mequon, WI

Eye Candy has smartly branded, professional-looking selfie stations at both of its locations in the Milwaukee area. The stations themselves are alcoves bound by three floor-to-ceiling walls, each covered in custom vinyl wallpaper with the Eye Candy logo. Owner Paula Hornbeck says her original inspiration for the design was the photo wall at the Oscars. When customers pick up their new eyewear, staff ask if they can take a picture for the store’s social media. “Some are shy and decline,” says Hornbeck, “but most are flattered and we encourage them to show us their personality. They take a seat on the stool provided and we take candid shots of them rocking their new look with our iPad. Some are silly, but they always look like they’re happy and having fun.” Family members are invited to join in the photo session. The images are used on Eye Candy’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Hornbeck says the selfie stations are a definite plus for the business. “Friends and family will go on our FB and IG to see their loved one’s new look and hopefully get excited about coming in to get their own.”

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The Eyeglass Lass
New London, CT

What became The Eyeglass Lass’s selfie wall wasn’t originally designed for that purpose. Owner Siobhan Burns wanted to do something with the wall, which is visible from the street. “Local artist Rob Guess covered the wall with funky, graffiti-style eyes. The next day I asked someone to pose in front of it for their ‘glamour shot’ and boom: the selfie/eyeball wall was born.” It’s a low-tech affair. Says Burns: “This one woman show uses portrait mode on her phone!” Simple as it is, the feature “has turned into something great; people recognize frames from posts on social media, and ask if they can have their picture taken before I get a chance to ask them,” Burns says. “If we only see airbrushed models with frames superimposed on their faces, we don’t stop and think, ‘Oh yeah—I could wear that!” Besides which, “It’s another special thing that will stick out to your clientele that wraps up the individual experience they’ve had working with you.”

Optical Connection
Studio City, CA

Armen and Rita Kanberian at Optical Connection had an empty wall they didn’t know what to do with. They decided they wanted an area dedicated to fun. “We imported this beautiful patterned wallpaper from the U.K. and custom ordered our neon light hashtag, #wellframed. This has been such a great hit with clients, especially during our fun trunk shows and events,” says Rita, adding that the feature is now a firm customer favorite. “Having a place to have fun and see yourself try on different frames is what we love… We had a client who bought a dress with glasses and came in just to take pictures.”

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