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Tales so bizarre we couldn’t make them up ... Not that we’d want to.

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WE DARED ECPs to share their most astonishing, their weirdest — and their downright yuckiest — customer encounters. Boy did they come through! In the following pages you’ll read stories that will make you chuckle, cringe, and squirm in discomfort. Mostly, you’ll just count your lucky stars it didn’t happen to you.


1. Out of Africa… and Straight to The Optical

Duke Dye, OD | Riverside Eye Center | Columbus, OH

Once we had a patient scramble in to buy another pair of Maui Jims.

The transaction was so fast we had to ask why, since it had been less than a month since he’d purchased his last pair.

Turns out that the guy lost the original pair because he had to jump into a river to save himself from a swarm of killer bees while traveling in Africa! Yikes!

2. But Why Did He Have So Much Free Time?

Jeff Grosekemper | Casa de Oro Eyecare | Spring Valley, CA

I used to work for a doctor who always spied on us. He used the glass in picture frames hanging in the hallway to watch us from around the corner. He thought he was sly but we could see his reflection as well. Also we could see the tips of his shoes sticking out of the doorway when we walked to the other side of the dispensary. He listened in on our phone calls not knowing a little red light would come on when somebody else picked up a phone. Always be one step ahead.

3. Cradle to Grave

Christine Howard | Attleboro Vision Care | Attleboro, MA

I had to make glasses for a deceased patient. Their glasses broke, and although they could have been repaired enough to function well during the viewing, the patient’s daughter insisted on making a whole new pair, Rx and all.

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4. That Isn’t A Real Thing

Angel Miller | Cynthiana Vision Center | Cynthiana, KY

We had someone who wasn’t a patient come in and ask if we had those colored contacts made of paper that dissolve in the eye. We told them there was no such thing. He then asked whether, since we didn’t have them (because they don’t exist), we would let him have them shipped to our address if he ordered them elsewhere. Weirdo.

5. What They Don’t Teach You At School

Frances Ann Layton | Eye Associates of South GA | Valdosta, GA

I don’t recall my teachers telling me about the disgusting side of opticianry. My favorite story to tell newbies is about a man who brought his semi-rimless glasses in with one of the lenses out. He puts them in my hands and then tells me “they fell off my head into the manure mound and the lens popped out. Could you fix that and clean them up for me?”

6. Tastes Like Chicken

Kim Riggs, OD | Kimberly Riggs OD | Ligonier, PA

I had a patient who admitted that he was too lazy to get up off the couch one evening to throw away his daily disposable contacts, so he ate them after he took them out.

7. Maybe She Just Likes Standing in the Rain

Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare Zionsville, In

We hired an optician who was really nice and said her best quality was attention to detail. One day, after she had been there about a month, she was the first to arrive at work. She opened the door and instead of putting in her unique alarm code, she entered the address of the business. (Why would we ever make the most visible number on the building the code to the alarm system?) When that triggered the alarm, she thought if she left the building and closed the door, it would stop. When I arrived, the alarm was blaring, a police officer was knocking on the front door, and she had been standing outside the back door in the rain for 10 minutes despite her car being inches away. Just a one-off incident, you may be thinking. But the next day, she was standing in the rain again, saying her key (the one she used the day before) didn’t work. I immediately used it to open the door. The following weekend, she forgot to lock the front door when she closed and a patient walked in over the weekend setting off the alarm and alerting the police again. Needless to say, she didn’t last very long.

8. We’ve Always Wondered What’s under Those Lab Coats

Mark Perry, OD | Vision Health Institute | Orlando, FL

Years ago, I had to stop by the office for something on my day off. When I walked in, one of the technicians standing at the front desk spoke up and said, “It’s nice to see you with your clothes on.” (She’d meant to say with my casual clothes on. We all had a good laugh.)

9. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say …

Kevin Proctor Springer | KP, Brooklyn Center, MN

Customer comes in and says: “Where’s that other guy? He was so nice and could really help me pick out new looks for myself. Darn, I don’t see him … I really don’t want you to help me. Where is he?” I finally said, “Margaret it’s me! I just got a haircut and gained some weight.” She smiled and said, “Well, you looked better before.”

10. There Are No Stupid Questions … Wait

Martha Downing | Advanced Ophthalmology Associates | Clawson, MI

I once had a patient call to say she had a stupid question. Our office response was always that there are no stupid questions … her response was, “Well, I think I put superglue in my eye. Is that a bad thing? It kind of hurts.” I told her to come in, the doctor would see her right away. She showed up an hour later, after getting her manicure fixed (the glue got on her fingers as well). Apparently, she kept both a bottle of eye drops and a bottle of superglue in her car for emergency use. While stopped at an intersection in LA, she picked up the wrong bottle and dropped it in her eyes. What saved her was her contacts, as most of the glue landed on them. She did end up suffering a corneal ulcer from the episode and couldn’t wear contacts anymore. She removed the superglue from her car.

 
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11. That’s Awkward

Cynthia Sayers, OD | EyeShop Optical Center Lewis Center, OH

One of my employees was pretesting a teenage girl. We always come out and discuss the retinal photo screening option with the parents. The employee came out and asked the man who was with the girl if he wanted her to get the retinal photo. He said, “Sure.” I was witnessing this and couldn’t stop laughing. My employee had just asked the teenager’s boyfriend if she should get the retinal photo! In the employee’s defense, he did look very mature for his age, but not old enough to be the girl’s father!

12. That’s Not How It Works

Sarah Jerome, OD | Look+See Eye Care | Minneapolis, MN

I had a patient who, like many of our patients at the conclusion of the exam, asked about how her prescription had changed. She followed that by asking if her right eye needed a different prescription from her left eye. I explained that it is very common for the two eyes to be unequal, and that, yes, she had a slight difference in the strength of her prescription. I was a bit taken aback by the patient’s follow-up question: “Could this be why my left breast is slightly smaller than my right breast?”

13. Grossest. Thing. Ever.

Annie Corvo Poston | Gig Harbor, WA

A woman with open wounds/sores all over her forearms came in and left my counters covered in blood and ooze. She tried on a bunch of glasses and left. I sanitized 378 frames. I’m pretty sure she grabbed a piece of her own skin off the counter and put it in her mouth.

14. Be Careful What You Say

Kristy Smith, Eyeglass Wearhouse Reynoldsburg, OH

Patient came in to get an adjustment on his new pair and inquired as to why his glasses kept smearing on the top of the lens. He was told it was from the lenses touching his eyebrows (bushy). He asked if there was a way to make it stop? Jokingly, my optician said, “Shave them off!” A week later, he came back in for another adjustment — minus the eyebrows!

15. Fashion Over Function

Jocelyn Mylott | D’Ambrosio Eye Care | Lancaster, MA

We had a patient ask us to frost his other lens. One was already frosted for medical reasons as he isn’t using that eye and he wanted them to look even cosmetically … but if we’d frosted the other one he wouldn’t have been able to see with his good eye!

16. Maybe He Wanted To Sell You A Policy?

Heather Kaikuana | Eye Care Hawaii | Hilo, HI

On a Saturday back in January we had a green visitor … a lizard … in our office. He was crawling everywhere and the staff was all screaming, so one of our patients who had just finished her appointment whacked the lizard out with her slipper. It was just so funny the way the staff reacted and how calm our patient was. She is our Lizard Hero for sure!

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17. And on the Seventh Day …

Paula Hornbeck | Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids | Delafield, WI

We had a couple come in six Saturdays in a row and stay for two-plus hours looking at frames. We started referring to them as the “Saturday people.” All of my opticians, as well as myself, took their turn at helping them find what they were looking for. I finally got them to pull the trigger on the sixth Saturday. They bought frames only — one for her, two for him. The seventh Saturday they came back to return hers and one of his. Good Lord! We don’t do refunds, so then the credit sat there just waiting for it to start all over again. Sheesh!

18. Talk About Visual Learning

CHRIS CLARK | MULLIS EYE INSTITUTE | PANAMA CITY, FL

One day a mom came in and said her son was the most destructive person she knew. I showed them the Flexon frames and how they seem pretty indestructible. When we turned around there were eight to 10 frames lying broken on the frame counters. I don’t do that anymore.

19. Time Can Be Tricky like That

Fred Sirotkin, OD | Eagle Eye Care | Columbia, MD

Chief complaint recently from a patient was that her two-week contact lenses only lasted two weeks …

20. Think about the Children

Pablo E Mercado | The Eye Gallery | Woodstock, GA

A woman asked our doctor if having crossed eyes was genetic, because her son was dating a girl who had crossed eyes in the past, and she “did not want any cross-eyed grandchildren.”

21. Find What Motivates

Paul Londraville | In Focus Eyewear | Greensboro, NC

Once upon a time my old boss decided we would do a community eyewear drive to gather used glasses to send overseas. The response was tremendous and it took a lot of work to clean, sort and neutralize them all. A co-worker, famously penurious, considered the task beneath him and was not contributing to the project. Our lab guy said, “I’ll fix it.” He took a fiver out of his wallet and hid it in a case in the huge pile of old glasses to be gone through. When he knew the other optician was watching, he took that pair out of the pile and pretended to discover the fiver in the old case, snapping it briskly and saying he was getting a cheeseburger for lunch. The other optician’s eyes were bugging out as he watched the lab guy put the bill in his wallet with a flourish. You have never seen a quicker change of attitude in your life. Instead of shirking the onerous task, this guy became a paragon of industry and selfless dedication to charity. He plowed through the rest of the pile nearly single-handedly in the vain hope of another stray fiver.

22. And This Is Why We Have Yelp

Kevin Count | Prentice Lab | Glenview, IL

I once worked for an ophthalmologist in the early days of my career. He was known to be a bit of a hot head and the staff always treated him with kid gloves. A patient came in one day, complaining about his glasses for the umpteenth time. The doctor happened to be at the front desk as the patient railed at the receptionist. The doctor then calmly walked over, addressed the patient and asked to see the glasses. When the patient handed them over, the doctor carefully turned them over and over in his hands, then chuckled and said, “I see the problem.” Then he promptly threw them on the floor and stomped on them. We were all silent in disbelief as the doctor calmly walked to the manager’s desk and grumbled, “Write ’em a check and get them out of here,” as he went to his next patient.

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23. Sounds Like She Needs a Referral

Ted McElroy, OD | Vision Source Tifton | Tifton, GA

When I was an optometry student at SCO (way before HIPAA issues, of course) we would all try to get a little bit ahead on the history of the patient by starting it on the way from reception to the exam room. So I would always ask, “So, what brings you in to see us today?” The response I got from one patient was, “I hear voices in my head.” All I could respond with was, “Is that with your glasses on or off?” My exam partner immediately stops, turns in the other direction and holds his laughter as long as possible. As I turned the corner I could still see him losing it in the hallway.

24. It’s a Trifecta!

Candy Crone | Wayne Optical, York, PA

It might be the woman who insisted Transitions gave her diarrhea — and made me call Transitions to discuss it with her. Or the woman who insisted the Rx fell out of her semi-rimless frame and she could no longer see out of her glasses, so she wanted a frame that went all the way around so it didn’t happen again. Then again it may be the woman whose glasses I scrubbed tons of hairspray and dirt off of while fixing them and she insisted I changed her frame. She swore she had never worn the frame I brought back to her.

25. ‘Oh, Magoo…!’

Jerry Ellis | BJ’s Optical | Framingham, MA

An elderly lady came in to buy glasses. She purchased a pair then left. She called me half an hour later and said I’d switched her old glasses with someone else’s. She came right down with her driver. I looked at her glasses and sure enough they were not hers. I explained to them that I had no idea what happened because I never left the table with them. The driver then said, “Wait” — and switches her glasses with the patient’s. “That’s better.” I was miffed she drove the patient home and back wearing the elderly lady’s glasses!

26. The Stuff of Nightmares

Cindy Henderson | Eyear Optical | Hixson, TN

Once when I first started working, I had a sweet old man come into our small dispensary and ask me to repair his glasses. The optician had stepped out to get coffee so I was by myself. He took off his glasses and his plastic artificial eye came with the frame. There was a large space where everything had been removed … with only gauze in the socket. The plastic “eye” which included the “skin” that covered the socket was coming loose from the frame and needed to be reattached. I got it done … I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything else like it.

27. What’s That Sound?

Susan Frick | Premier Eye Care of Eastern Idaho | Idaho Falls, ID

Once, I was trying to provide an explanation of benefits to a post-cataract eyeglass patient. He was very upset about what Medicare didn’t pay and I suddenly started hearing a clicking sound. It got even louder as he was explaining his disgust over the reimbursement, when suddenly his top teeth flew out and rolled across the floor. He didn’t miss a beat though … he retrieved his false teeth from the floor, put them back in his mouth and continued on with his rant about reimbursement.

28. Splitting the Cost

Steve Whitaker | Whitaker Eye Works | Wayne, PA

Patient: “My contacts are larger than my pupils. I’m the same in both eyes; can I tear them in half and have twice as many for the same price?”

29. She Worked Hard For Her Money

Tanya Rogers | Mountain Eye Clinic | Dahlonega, GA

I once worked at a clinic where a patient came in with an abrasion that just would not heal. By the fourth visit the doctor asked what had caused it (the young man would not say before). He finally admitted what had happened — he got a little too close to a high heel at a gentleman’s club!

30. Hair-Raising

Sherry Berry | Pascarella Eye Care and Contact Lenses | Newtown, PA

As I was dispensing eyewear, I accidentally knocked my client’s wig off. I was mortified but she just couldn’t stop laughing about it.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Here’s How Eyecare Pros Are Spending Their Advertising Budgets

The pie is getting sliced ever more finely.

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IN INVISION’S FIRST annual Big Survey, we asked more than 500 ECPs which medium accounts for the biggest chunk of their ad and marketing spending. Print is still on top, but the marketing budget pie is getting sliced ever more finely — and nearly 1 in 5 ECPs claim to be passing on the plate all together.

Which gets the largest portion of your marketing budget?

Print
13%
Community events (including sponsorships)
12%
Direct mail
10%
Other social media marketing
8%
Paid search (PPC, Google Ads, etc.)
7%
Facebook
7%
Email marketing
7%
Radio
5%
SEO
5%
Television
2%
Billboards
2%
Other
3%
Don’t advertise
19%

 

Looking at the above results, it’s seems likely the 19 percent of ECPs who said they don’t advertise are relying on word of mouth to sustain their business. Still, it appears to pay to be more active: 25 percent of the ECPs who told the Big Survey the last two years had been their worst ever also don’t advertise. That compares to just 14 percent of those who said those years had been their best ever. Also worth considering: In a separate question, we asked ECPs to name the most significant thing they were doing to drive sales five years ago that they’ve stopped doing. The top answer? You guessed it—advertising in traditional media. Check out the survey to see how your spending fits in to this complex picture.

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted from August to October and attracted responses from more than 500 American ECPs. Look out for the full results in the November/December issue of INVISION.

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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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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.

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OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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