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Quirky, hands-on and dedicated to the transforming power of cool eyewear, this unique Connecticut optical draws customers from all over New England and beyond.

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The Eyeglass Lass, New London, CT

OWNER: Siobhán Burns; URL: theeyeglasslass.com; FOUNDED: 2014; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: me, me, and me! “Eyeball Wall” by Rob Vaughn Guess, 2015 cleaning cloth and decor images by Sara M. Lyons; EMPLOYEES: 0; AREA: 450 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: l.a. Eyeworks, Lowercase NYC, Andy Wolf, theo, STATE Optical Co.; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/theeyeglasslass; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/theeyeglasslass; BUILDOUT COST: “Maybe $400”


Siobhán Burns

ABOUT SEVEN YEARS ago, feeling tapped out after 10 years in corporate optical, Siobhán Burns moved to Chicago “for a guy” and started working at an independent optical. On her first day, she had one of those “I could totally do this” moments, though she soon realized that neither the guy nor his hometown were her cup of tea.

In early 2014 she had another moment — this one was of the “If I don’t do it now…” variety. By March, Burns was back home in New London, CT, and by May she was opening the doors to The Eyeglass Lass. “Talk about a whirlwind! I was completely winging it — I had no savings or startup money! I had a lensometer, my lucky PD ruler, two display cases that I traded for a future pair of glasses, and some frames trickling in. From the moment I started preparing paperwork and researching locations, products, etc., I just told myself that I was going to try, and no matter what came of it, I could cross ‘business owner’ off of my bucket list. Six years later, I still can’t believe I did it.”

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New London is just south of Mystic, CT, a New England tourist hub whose maritime history brings in visitors from surrounding states by rail and ferry. “When I decided to take the leap, the only place I thought of was here — I love New London. People spend more time seeking out eyewear than they did before, and I’m happy to say that The Eyeglass Lass has become a destination for many,” she says.

The vibe at The Eyeglass Lass is funky/retro; Burns finds customers are more at ease in an environment that’s not overly “sterile and organized.” When she opened, she didn’t have a target clientele in mind, but most of her clients are women in their late 20s to late 60s. “I typically order eyewear based on if I would wear it,” Burns says with a laugh. “I have to remind myself that not everyone has my taste, but if it is unique or makes a statement, I’ll test it out. As more people come in, my reach has expanded. A great frame can give someone confidence. We use glasses to project what we want people to see us as, to hide scars, to boost our self-esteem.”

Every frame in the shop can be picked up and tried on. “I like people to ‘get their feet wet’ when they come in for the first time,” says Burns. “Over my 15-plus years in optical, I’ve seen how hesitant people are to ask to try something on that’s under lock and key. I let people know that they can make themselves comfortable and try anything and everything on; they might not find ‘the frame’ that way, but it may open up their mind to different colors and shapes, and that’s when I start to chime in,” says Burns, who’s worked in the optical field since 2003, and has been a licensed optician since 2008.

Burns doesn’t do any paid advertising outside of the odd Facebook “boost”. She credits word of mouth for almost all of her business to date. “I’ve had people come by car and train to have me help them because they saw so-and-so posted about their new glasses,” she says. Skillful use of social media plays a role here; customers enjoy striking poses with their new eyewear for the shop’s Instagram and FB, something she finds particularly pleasing because it means others get to see real people in the frames she carries. “I’m not posting a photo of an airbrushed model. It makes the idea of wearing funkier eyewear much more relatable, and takes someone from ‘Oh, I could never wear something like that’ to ‘Hey, maybe I could try something like that this time!’”

At some point during her transformation into The Eyeglass Lass, Burns realized that “selecting eyewear is not just about seeing anymore. Whether this is going to be their only pair for the next however many years, or one of a dozen, someone is putting their trust in me to help them put their best face forward. It’s a big deal!”

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PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Eyeglass Lass

1. OFF THE WALL. One whole wall of the optical is painted with bold eyes: the perfect spot for selfies and ‘new look’ glamour shots.

2. MINOR CELEBRITY. Her tattoos don’t just make her instantly recognizable; they have also made her slightly famous. She once appeared on the competition TV show INK MASTER.

3. SOLO ACT. Burns is a genuine one-ECP show. “No one else has ever worked in my shop in the five years it has been open. As much as I cringe saying this, I think people really do come here for me!” she says.

4. COLLECTIBLE. Born to antique-dealer parents, Burns has collecting in her blood; her “tchotchkes” now adorn every corner of the store. Customers even bring in cool trinkets for her.

5. LOCAL TALENT. “Awesome independent artist” Sara M Lyons (@saramlyons) designed the shop’s cleaning cloths and Rob Vaughn Guess painted the selfie wall.

 

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Siobhan’s story is incredibly moving. It embodies the “American Dream”—striking out on her own with very little to fall back on except her undeniable passion and love for eyewear. Out of all of the submissions, her store most directly reflects her unique personality. Nathan Troxell, Think About Your Eyes, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The Eyeglass Lass is an enthusiastic optical leader. Her sense of pride and passion is apparent, and she takes eyecare seriously. Siobhan takes a very people-first approach to both her business and marketing, and it’s refreshing to see her feature real customers in her social media feeds. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • I love the authentic, sassy feeling of this business. Even the wording on her website feels like she is “talking directly to you.” She seems to really home in on customer service and does everything she can to make the experience as fun and personable as possible. Kudos to her for creating and running this business on her own. Her tag line #makeeyecontactworthwhile is fantastic! Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story


“Elephant in the room,” cautions Burns. “I am covered in tattoos.” While they are not as instantly stigmatizing as they used to be, the truth is that extensive tattoos would probably still be a hiring obstacle for many small business owners. Says Burns, “It might come as a shock to many that I am pretty smart, don’t do illegal things in my spare time, and own a business that isn’t a tattoo shop.” When she’s out in the world, people stop her and offer comments ranging from how beautiful her body art is to how disgusting it is “and how could anyone ever love me.” She used to cover them up in professional situations, but now takes pride in changing the perception of tattooed individuals, especially in her shop. “My tattoos compliment the vibe of my store and the frame lines I carry, and they have definitely never kept me from making a sale once someone realizes that I, one, own the place, and, two, know what I’m doing.”

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]

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