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DIFFERENTIATE… OR DIE. In this era of insane competition for vision care, it’s as simple as that. But standing apart isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. It all starts with you. Whether you work in a Main Street storefront or a strip mall, whether you’re affiliated with a chain or you’re fiercely independent, you can make your business one of a kind. We asked the INVISION Brain Squad what they’re doing to set their businesses apart. We looked at dozens of eyecare pros’ social media feeds, as well as past issues of INVISION. We found a whole lot of inspiration to share with you here. Always remember: These ideas are just starting points. By putting your own unique personality (and that of your team members) into play — and we do mean play! — you’ll instantly make your eyecare business more memorable.

1 YOUR JOIE DE VIVRE

Every day is a good day at European Optical in Laguna Beach, CA, where Astrid Chitamun (above, left) started working alongside her father, master optician Udo Stoeckmann, as a teen. Today, she continues the family business with the help of Elizabeth Mendizibal and Colleen Hannegan, and they all clearly know how to have a good time.

2 YOUR BLOG

Dr. Andy Howard of La Follette Eye Clinic in LaFollette, TN, has a robust blog with posts on everything from vision to overall health to the rare planetary alignment that happened this winter. This is no boilerplate blog: Howard wrote one post while sitting in a hospital waiting for a friend who was having triplebypass heart surgery, using the opportunity to talk about how personal health habits can make or break our future. Each post gets extra mileage on the practice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

3 YOUR PARTIES

At least once a year, think about doing something grand like Urban Optiks in San Diego, where the 2015 America’s Finest finalist throws a Raise Your Glasses gala at a swanky lounge.

4 YOUR BRANDING

The name Medford Optical doesn’t immediately help people know the specialty of Dana Cohen’s Massachusetts shop, but its URL — kidsoptical.com — makes it clear, as does the “We Love Kids” sign in his front window. (Cohen also snagged the Massachusetts toll-free number, 1-800-OPTICIAN). In Florida, Daniel Amyx owns both Hillmoor Optical and Treasure Coast Optical. “We wanted to tie them together with a single website, which would also save us time and money as well,” he says. Amyx and his wife, Lara, occasionally drive to Key West to recharge their batteries, both personally and professionally. It was during one of those trips, margaritas in hand, that they came up with the perfect URL: myfavoriteoptical.com. Let that be a lesson to you. Get away for a weekend more often.

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5 YOUR POP-UPS

Gosgosha Optique in Los Angeles, CA, had a pop-up shop with a neighboring plant shop just before Christmas last year. Says owner Julia Gogosha, it was part of ongoing crosspromotions “to feature people who are knowledgable in their own fields that complement our own.”

6 YOUR ABOUT US PAGE

This too-often-neglected website page is actually the perfect online showcase for sharing your staff’s personality. For example, we love how at optixgallery. com, each staff member of McCulley Optix Gallery shares a favorite frozen yogurt flavor and toppings — yes, even in Fargo, even in winter! — as well as how they like to spend a rainy day. At eyeshopoptical. com, Dr. Cynthia Sayers confesses her love for 1980s rocker Bryan Adams.

7 YOUR NAME

It’s one of the first decisions you make when you go into business, or when you re-brand, and it’s one of the best ways to capture your personality and target market. Some of our favorites include Eye Candy (we know of at least three indie shops in the U.S. with this name, including those in Delafield, WI; McMurray, PA; and Westlake, OH); Glasses Menagerie in Minneapolis, MN; Silver Lining Opticians in New York, NY; and Goo Goo Goggles in Victoria, BC, Canada.

8 YOUR HISTORY

If you’ve been in business more than a few decades, your shop’s history is one worth sharing: in displays on your walls, on your social media feeds and on your website. A great example of this: the website for Jackson Davenport Vision Center in Charleston, SC, where a multimedia “Our History” page recounts highlights like having the first African American optician in South Carolina on staff and surviving Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

9 YOUR PETS

A friendly animal is one way to make people feel welcome at your business. At Eye Impact in Houston, TX, Chloe, a dog rescued by Dr. Gary Nguyen, serves as an ambassador to the neighborhood, where everyone seems to have at least one dog. If it’s not feasible to have a dog, consider a fish tank like they have at Eye-C-You Optometry in Riverside, CA.

10 YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY

What is the single best way to make a better impression on would-be patients and customers? Hire a professional photographer to get great photos of your business and your staff. If a photo shoot isn’t in the budget, maybe you can barter an eye exam, frames and lens package to your favorite local newspaper photographer. (Trust us. Talented but modestly paid photojournalists would love a deal like that.)

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11 YOUR GOOD MANNERS

Clients of Ulla Eyewear in Madison, WI, get showered with thanks, including a custom-made card featuring caricatures of the staff and a box of handmade confections from Infusion Chocolates, a neighbor in the Hilldale Shopping Center. At Eye Candy in Delafield, WI, people get M&Ms imprinted with the business’s name.

12 YOUR WINDOWS

Modern Eye of Philadelphia, PA, has mastered the art of window displays that make passers-by do a double take, often featuring the business’ signature eyeball people. Last spring, the window of Modern Eye’s University City shop featured three putti frolicking amid flowers. At Christmas, Santa and Mrs. Claus were the star attractions. (See a video at invmag.us/modeye.)

13 YOUR ARTWORK

In Portland, OR, an art curator stops by each month to put new paintings on Optik PDX’s walls in time for second Thursday art walks. At Oakland Vision Optometry in Oakland, CA, Dr. Tanya Gill curates everything from display backdrops to works by local artists.

14 YOUR PURPLE COW

This is Seth Godin’s term for something that makes your business remarkable. He came up with it after his family went on vacation in France and saw “hundreds of storybook cows grazing in lovely pastures right next to the road. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling at the beauty. Then, within a few minutes, we started ignoring the cows.” This article is full of purple cows, but if you’d like to read more from Godin on how to identify yours, see invmag.us/purple.

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15 YOUR GREEN SCREEN

Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH, makes every customer a rock star with portraits taken in front of a green screen, then posted on the shop’s Facebook feed with the motto, “Be who you want to be at Eye Candy Optical.”

16 YOUR DECOR

Elle Tatum of Elle’s Island Spectacle has a French fling going at her Bainbridge Island, WA, shop. The Parisian vintage vibe includes a red chandelier and an over-the-top bejeweled tutu atop a three-tiered marble table.

17 YOUR FAMILY

Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source-Tifton in Tifton, GA, tells how he once bought “infotainment” software for the exam room to help patients pass the time while they waited for him. But he couldn’t get around to loading it and finally just put in a thumb drive of family pictures. Patients immediately started asking, “Are those your kids?” or “Where did you go on that trip where the mountains are?” or “I see you’ve been to Disney. When did you go last?” Adds McElroy, “I knew the infotainment software was not getting a renewal. I now have guests who regularly ask about my family when I see them in our small town, and they tell whoever is around them about the pictures they saw on my computer while in the exam room. My good friend and idol, Dr. April Jasper of West Palm Peach, FL, says you will always get more connection to people you take care of if they see who you are outside the office than what you can do for them while you’re in your office. She puts pictures of her family everywhere and gets the same results.”

18 YOUR MOTTO

Dr. Tanya Gill of Oakland Vision Center Optometry in Oakland, CA, says the shop’s motto, We Love Eyes, “is not just a cute phrase to sell glasses” or win the 2015 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition. It’s a bold declaration of intent — not to mention great branding — that appears everywhere from the business’s front window to the inner temples of the shop’s private-label frames to a line of natural eyecare products the entrepreneurial Gill launched in 2015. Oh yes, it’s a hashtag on more than 1,800 Instagram posts, too.

19 YOUR BEACH

OK, not everyone can pull this one off, but there’s a sandy floor at Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL. In fact, the whole place looks like the beach-town optical shop it is, with a waterfall, a tiki hut to house the sunglasses and more. “I wanted my shop to be memorable and unique,” says owner Julie Uram. “It’s cozy and casual. My mom and I did feng shui in the shop, and I bless it regularly. Only good chi at Optical Oasis.”

20 YOUR MASCOT

Who is that blue man climbing out the window of Blink Eye Care and Eye Wear in Charlotte, NC? “That is Mr. Big, our practice mascot,” says Dr. Charlene Henderson, who found a similar character for a store in Serbia while researching designs for the business’s cold opening in 2009. She contacted the designer and found a local sign maker to manufacture the characters. “We like to think we have an optical that steps outside of the box, just like Mr. Big,” Henderson says. “He is bright, fun and marches to his own beat.” The character also pops up everywhere from Blink’s website to displays throughout the shop.

21 YOUR LAB

A lab is a lab is a lab — unless you’re in one of the nation’s largest shopping malls and you put a window into your lab so everyone walking by can see just how finely tuned Rx eyewear actually gets made. That’s what they’ve done at Vitra Eyewear in Costa Mesa, CA. Read more about this new shop in our Best of the Best story on page 72.

22 YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE

Facebook remains the top dog among social media sites, and it’s an increasingly important way people search for businesses, too. Some eyecare businesses even use Facebook as their main home online, bypassing a website for a public Facebook page, like that of Park Slope Eye (parkslopeeye.com), which forwards to Facebook. There, people can book an exam, learn about Ortho-K, or even see listings for upcoming local events via shared posts from neighborhood news site Park Slope Stoop.

23 YOUR GREEN CRED

Maybe you walk or ride your bike to work. Maybe you’ve created a line of Earth-friendly eyewear, like Optik PDX did with five OH three, made of wood from the old stadium bleachers at Lewis and Clark College. Whatever you’re doing to make every day Earth Day, let people know about it.

24 YOUR GOOGLE ID

“When I started working here, every time I logged onto the practice email account, Google would harass me to choose a photo for the account,” says Leslie Boyd, practice manager of Village Eye Care Optometry in Raleigh, NC. She finally relented and made the photo a high fashion model with some really cool frames. But Dr. Chris Bateman didn’t like it and said he didn’t want people to think he was a woman, so Boyd changed the pic to a male model with cool frames on. “Dr. Bateman said that was misleading and he didn’t want the patients to be disappointed when they found out he didn’t really look like that. He told me to change it to ‘George Clooney or something,’ so people would know it obviously wasn’t him,” Boyd recalls. So next, Boyd picked a Groucho Marxstyle glasses and nose. It took the doctor a while to notice, “and I had completely forgotten about it when one day I heard him yelling from his office, ‘Leslie! That is not George Clooney!’ He told me to change it back, but here we are a year and a half later and it’s still up there.” And email recipients smile every time they see it.

25 YOUR GIVEAWAYS

At Eyes on Fremont in Seattle, WA, winner of the 2014 America’s Finest competition, they have all sorts of unusual and fun giveaways you don’t see at the typical optical shop, from free pins dispensed from a bubble gum-style vending machine to stickers , beer koozies and snapback caps, all bearing the shop’s “Fight Evil” motto.

26 YOUR PASSIONS

“I am a hobby photographer, so I decorated the office with my own photographs,” says Dr. Selina McGee of Precision Vision in Edmond and Midwest City, OK. “I am a Master Gardener and love fresh flowers, so we have a fresh delivery every Monday from a local florist (who is our patient, too) to start our week off brightly. I like farmhouse, eclectic, shabby chic decor so there are no frame boards in our office, only white bright floating shelves.”

27 YOUR CURB APPEAL

Erker’s Fine Eyewear’s flagship location in downtown St. Louis has red awnings you can see from way down the street. Artsee Eyewear in Manhattan’s Battery Park City has streetside windows that draw passers-by into the store’s chic interior.

28 YOUR THEME SONG

Says Julie Uram of Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL, “I advertise on my hometown radio station. It’s not a big station, so the cost is not like a big station.” Customers come in all the time to tell Uram they heard her ad, “which I do the voiceover for. It’s really fun. And at the end of my ad, the song Midnight at the Oasis plays, which fits perfect because my shop is called Optical Oasis.”

29 YOUR SNACKS

Aim for a mix of savory and sweet, like they do at Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC. Fresh fruit and bottled water (or an eco-friendly water cooler) help people make healthy choices, too. But don’t forget: Everyone needs a little indulgence once in a while. So every Friday is “Dessert Friday” at EyeShop Optical Center in Ohio. “No store-bought treats here. Home-baked goods by the doc herself,” says Dr. Cynthia Sayers. And at Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, trays of truffles greeted customers for a pre-Valentine’s Tour de Chocolat fashion, music and art event.

30 YOUR LIVING ROOM

With a sofa from Restoration Hardware, midcentury-look leather chairs from Crate & Barrel and a one-ofa- kind rug from the Dallas Design District, Glass Optical in Dallas, TX, exudes a lounge-like vibe. Forget the waiting room; it’s time to give your patients and customers a place to relax and socialize. (The shop hosted its grand opening party with a neighbor, Spinster Records.)

31 YOUR SPA

At EyeBar in Houston, TX, Dr. Sheena Garner offers complimentary makeup sessions with every eye exam, along with eyebrow waxing, lash and brow extensions, and other pampering pluses. (See our America’s Finest feature on page 74.)

32 YOUR MOBILE BILLBOARD

Medford Optical in Massachusetts drives new business its way with a Honda Element colorfully shrink-wrapped to spotlight the shop’s focus on children. And because owner Dana Cohen is usually in his shop fitting glasses all day, the vehicle actually belongs to an art therapist friend who spends his work hours driving to and from appointments all over town.

33 YOUR GOOD SCENTS

At Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC, light citrus aromas from an essential oils nebulizer have replaced a scent machine. Your customers with allergies will thank you for going natural.

34 YOUR NETWORKING

Make yourself an inescapable presence in your community. “I do a lot of outside activities away from the business to keep our name out there,” says Kathy Maren of Combs EyeCare and EyeWear in Western Springs, IL. You’ll see her everywhere from the local Lions Club (always a great choice for ECPs, with its sight-saving programs) to volunteering at a women’s shelter, staying active in the local business association and serving on the board of a nonprofit.

35 YOUR DISPLAYS

Santa Fe Optical (below) had fun with Vinylize, the eyewear made from recycled records. We also love what super-creative optician Tamara Walker does with the displays at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA, using everything from family photos to antique fair finds to showcase the shop’s offbeat frames.

36 YOUR BARISTAS

In St. Paul, MN, Northwest Opticians shares its prime downtown corner location with a branch of the locally popular Dunn Bros. Coffee chain. People can grab their favorite coffee beverage, then browse the frame offerings seven days a week.

37 YOUR AIRSTREAM

Alissa Fields of Eye Spy Optical in Chicago, IL, owns an Airstream trailer. Of course, its name is Iris. Better yet, the trailer has its own hashtag for Instagram, #iristheairstream.

38 YOUR MOBILE DISPENSARY

Andes Optical is located several miles from the center of action in Knoxville, TN, so owner Faith Andes McDaniel decided to outfit a red Mini Cooper as a mobile eyewear showroom. Will Taylor of Eye 2 Eye Contact in Detroit, MI, also works out of his vehicle, noting, “I go to clients’ homes, place of business and coffee shops to meet up with them.”

39 YOUR DJ

Patients at the Union, NJ, office of Dr. Dawn Arnold are always asking office manager Tuli Santiago what music they’re hearing. It’s actually DJ Tuli, who builds sets based on the people who are on the schedule that day. “They are super happy when I just email them the link to a set and they can enjoy it at home,” she adds.

40 YOUR INSTAGRAM

The popular social media site is a great way to show your business’s personality. With its photocentric and largely ad-free layout, people enjoy scrolling through their Instagram feeds, and it’s an excellent place to highlight everything from happy customers with their glasses to the amazing hors d’oeuvres you’ve just put out for your trunk show.

41 YOUR TIARAS

Every Tuesday is Tiara Tuesday at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA. The tradition began since the shop is usually slower that day, when Dr. Viki Christopoulos is often in surgery. “It lightens everything up,” says Michelle Singer, who started the tradition — and who will show you her tiara on a day other than Tuesday, too, if you ask nicely.

42 YOUR HOLIDAY SPIRIT

Every December, Jeff Grosekemper at Casa de Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, brings out Santa and his team of Hush Puppies. Grosekemper explains that in the late 1990s, Kenmark was looking for the best store display for Christmas, so Kenmark rep Mark Argusa and his wife, Robin, made the sleigh team and Grosekemper featured it at the office where he worked at the time. “Every year, I bring out the team and the patients love it and bring family members by just to see the team,” Grosekemper says, adding that the 2015 display had special meaning since Argusa had passed away last year. “I’ve been offered money for the pups but won’t give them up. They’re one of a kind.”

43 YOUR SPECIAL EVENTS

“We like to do events with our patients,” says Tuli Santiago at Dr. Dawn Arnold’s office. Last year, a team of 10 people signed up for a mud run. A country line-dancing event was another hit.

44 YOUR LIBATIONS

On an everyday basis, you want to offer a selection of beverages to show customers you care, whether it’s water, herbal tea or — perhaps for a happy hour on the evening you stay open — a glass of wine. Special events call for an extra-special beverage, like the “Eye Can See Clearly Now Cosmo” custom cocktail that Urban Optiks offered at its Raise Your Glasses fundraising gala in San Diego, CA, or the beer from a local German-style brewery that they had on draft for the 10th anniversary Oktoberfest celebration at Look + See Eye Care in Minneapolis, MN.

45 YOUR VOICEMAIL GREETING

Scott Ginsberg, aka The Nametag Guy, suggests asking a specific question as part of the message — for example, “What’s your favorite pizza topping?” It encourages people to leave a response, and it definitely sets you apart.

46 YOUR MUSIC

At Whitaker Eye Works in Wayne, PA, they have in-store guitar lessons and a regular 4 o’clock dance party with funky music. “Stacey and I — and sometimes customers — boogie,” says Steve Whitaker. “Never forget to boogie.”

47 YOUR CLEANING CLOTH

With its tie-dye swirls, the cleaning cloth at Eyes & Optics in Las Vegas perfectly captures the shop’s rock ’n’ roll vibe, while doing double duty as a handy eyewear accessory and a reminder to clients of where they got their groovy glasses.

48 YOUR TREND SAVVINESS

At Wood Vision Clinic in Parkersburg and Iowa Falls, IA, they’re always on the alert for great interactive campaigns. In February, for example, they held a “So you think you can color?” contest to capitalize on the adult coloring craze. Here’s the beauty part: People had to come in to the office to pick up their coloring sheet.

49 YOUR ACCOLADES

If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em. Whether it’s a local “Best of” honor or placing in INVISION’s annual America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest, don’t keep your honors to yourself. LaFollette Eye Clinic in Tennessee had a big America’s Finest logo made for its front door. Art of Optiks in Wayzata, MN, celebrates its 2015 America’s Finest showing on a beautifully designed website. And Sonoma Eyeworks in Santa Rosa, CA, has an entire web page full of the local and national recognition it has seen.

50 YOUR FLOWERS

Optik PDX in Portland, OR, regularly gets fresh flower deliveries from Emerald Petals, a nearby eco-florist on Mississippi Avenue.

Julie Fanselow was the original editor-in-chief of INVISION magazine and now contributes to the publication.

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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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18 Ways to Make Your Team the Happiest on the Planet

Sell more, produce more, be more creative, satisfy more customers… through happiness.

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Traditional management theory has a lot to answer for. Don’t tolerate failure, keep workers emotionally at arm’s distance, discourage individualism, focus on remedying weakness as opposed to playing up strengths, frown at play, motivate workers by throwing money at them, or failing that, wielding a big stick … The list of prohibitions and negativity goes on.


It is perhaps surprising, then, that the realization happy workers also tend to be more productive workers was one of management theory’s earlier discoveries. As part of the famous Harvard study of the Hawthorne Works factory in Chicago in the mid-1920s, researchers observed that employee performance could be greatly boosted by influencing not only the physical environment but the social context within which they toiled. A worker was more than an input. He or she also had feelings. And when employees were in a positive state of mind, they did more, better work.

That finding set off decades of experiments in which bosses sought to boost productivity by trying to make workers more joyful. Yet the results were ambiguous. This was partly because they were measuring the wrong indicator of happiness — job satisfaction (something that can be guaranteed by a paycheck, but which doesn’t translate into improved performance over time) — and partly because happiness itself is such an elusive, mercurial target.

More recently, however, a consensus has started to form on what constitutes the kind of positive mindset that drives performance —and it’s not simply sensory pleasure that comes from a bowl of free M&Ms in the kitchen. It’s about inner well-being.

“Happiness isn’t just about feeling good every moment of the day, and it’s not just about pleasure,” says Dr. Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of Primal Leadership. “Happiness at work is a deep and abiding pleasure that is fueled by a sense of meaningful purpose, hope and friendships.”

McKee’s list reflects much of the PERMA acronym developed by Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness.
The acronym, which he sets out in his bestseller Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding Of Happiness And Well-Being, stands for just about everything you need to know about fostering happiness:

  • Positive emotion (optimism)5 Engagement (feeling in the flow at work, when workers are using their strengths)
  • Good Relationships (the importance of friends and feeling a part of the tribe)
  • Meaning (feeling that the work being done matters, including to the bottom line)
  • Accomplishment (the sense of making progress)

Seligman’s research suggests workers are happiest when they’re lost in a meaningful project, working toward a higher goal, or being helpful. Those factors also happen to be aligned with a productive workplace.
Happiness, then, should be light but not trivial. Get such a workplace ethos right, and the benefits are significant.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, Ed Diener and the Gallup Organization found that happy employees have, on average, 31 percent higher productivity; their sales are 37 percent higher; their creativity is three times higher. Other research has shown happy workers take one-tenth the sick leave, are more loyal, more likely to satisfy customers (who is not drawn to a happy worker?), and more likely to engage in safe workplace conduct. They deal with stress better, manage complexity better, are more engaged, motivated, resilient, energetic, and make smarter decisions.

“Every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive. I call this the ‘happiness advantage,’” says Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher, in his book of the same name (The Happiness Advantage).

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive,” Achor says.

The reason is because unlike fear or anger or anxiety, which cause our nervous systems to close down and inhibit rational functioning, positive emotions that go along with being happy, like enthusiasm and excitement, joy, and pleasure, actually help us to think better. “Our minds open up; we can take in more information; we can process it more quickly. Ultimately, we can make better decisions. Those conditions allow us to be more successful at work,” says McKee.

With such a strong case for happiness, it is perhaps surprising that most workplaces are anything but joyful. According to surveys done by the Gallup Organization, upwards of two-thirds of employees are either neutral, which means they don’t care about their work, or are actively disengaged, which suggests they are hurting the interests of their employer.

In many instances, the lack of cheer in the office, on the factory floor or in the shop is because of an entrenched suspicion of levity, that it somehow signals a lack of professionalism. Or in the case of high-end retailers, a lack of sophistication (rich people don’t need to please anyone, so why smile?).

Even in cases where companies try hard to boost happiness levels by investing in happiness coaches, team-building exercises, gameplays, funsultants, or Chief Happiness Officers, the record is not great.
As such programs have found, the frustrating thing about positive emotions — happiness, but also awe, wonder and love as well — is that they can’t be forced. It doesn’t work when you tell yourself to be happy — and when the pressure comes from others, especially when it is top down, as in a business setting, it’s worse. There’s something in the makeup of happiness that requires it arise freely; indeed, focusing on happiness can actually make people feel less happy.

There is also a problem with workers themselves, actually with all humans; it’s as if we are wired to resist lasting happiness.

Pay someone more money or celebrate the completion of a big project and after a fairly brief period, their level of happiness returns to its less-than-satisfactory base. Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill — no matter the effort applied, we end up in the same place.

Evolutionary scientists theorize this tendency serves as protection against complacency in a world of risk, but for a manager in 2018, it’s just really annoying. (Interestingly, research shows that the one time money does make people happy on a lasting basis is when it improves their social rank (i.e., makes them richer than their friends and work colleagues). But that’s not a sustainable remuneration strategy.

So what to do? How to build an army of happy worker bees?

The first step is to hire for attitude. The idea that a happy demeanor is to a large extent genetically determined is one of psychology’s most firmly held beliefs. Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert estimates genetics account for about 50 percent of your workers’ disposition.

That leaves a lot that you can work with.
“The goals you set, the culture you foster, the habits you cultivate, the way you interact with workers, how you think about stress—all these can be managed to increase your staff’s happiness and your chances of success,” says Achor.

The good news is that the No. 1 factor that will lift spirits is progress in meaningful work. Help your workers do their jobs better and they become happier, thereby laying the foundation for even better business results. It’s called the progress loop.

“Understand that people matter, feelings matter, and it’s the No. 1 job of a manager to create a climate where people feel good about what they’re doing, where they’re happy, engaged and ready to share their talents,” says McKee.

Too fuzzy and warm for you?

Consider that even workers participating in the most serious work — from finance to nuclear submarine crews to firefighters — perform better when they are in a good mood.

Developing new habits, nurturing your employees, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start (and next up we’ll provide more ways you can support a culture of happiness among your team).

But perhaps the best part about building a happiness culture is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes.

Ultimately, happiness can be cultivated by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to do the job, nourishing a spirit of positivity … and getting out of their way.

 

27 Ways to Make Your Business Happier

Research suggests we have a happiness set point we soon revert to after most events, happy or sad. So, aside from plying your staff with wine, is there anything that can be done to make them more content? It turns out quite a lot. We get you started with several here, but be sure to check out our online extras at invisionmag.com/extras.

1. Set a positive morning routine

Employees’ moods when they clock in tend to affect how they feel for the rest of the day as well as their perceptions of customers and how they interact with them. “We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” says Ohio State University’s Steffanie Wilk. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.” Get them anticipating something positive is one good way. Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, does this by getting to the office early every day, turning up the music loud and rocking out until it’s time to open the door. Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, opts for something more digital. “We do fun quotes, pictures, etc., in a group text to start the day. Adding fun to our workday consists of what is authentic to us, we laugh, don’t take ourselves too seriously, we pop a champagne cork to celebrate when cool things happen.”

2. Deliver progress

In their book The Progress Principle, Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer make a strong case that of all the things that can boost motivation during a workday, the single most important is making progress on meaningful work. And the wins don’t have to be big. “Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions,” they write. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Amabile and Kramer say the best managers know how to activate two forces that enable progress: 1) catalysts: events that directly drive work, such as clear goals and autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, using problems and successes as learning points, and allowing a free exchange of ideas — and 2) nourishers: interpersonal events that uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality and opportunities for affiliation.

3. Write a two-minute email

Achor recommends insisting employees take two minutes every morning to send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something. “We’ve done this at Facebook, at U.S. Foods, at Microsoft… What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection, which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.” Texts work fine, too.

4. Count your blessings

The old saying is true: “What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.” Yes, it can sound corny, but it’s hard to emphasize how powerful gratitude is. “Showing gratitude for the good things in life is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is,” says Barker. And according to Seligman, the best way to build it is the “Three Blessings” exercise. Urge your workers to set aside 10 minutes before they go to sleep to write down three things that went well in the day, and — this is important — why they went well. “Your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives,” says Achor. “This trains the brain to be more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for … growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.” Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, does something similar with its end of day meetings. “We incorporate any funny or odd things from the day into our end of the day huddle, recognize staff who went above and beyond, and recognize any team members for outstanding work,” says Bryan Hartgrave.

5. Exercise

What makes people happiest? Sex, socializing and exercise, says Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. As a business owner, it’s the last of these you can promote. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all. Being in good shape also increases learning ability. Enter your store in a fun run, give staff 10 minutes at lunch to fit in a CrossFit class, or play in a social softball league.

6. Do fun things often

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. Lots of little good things make people happier than a handful of big things because they give people frequent, regular boosts. Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says the findings lead to a really simple conclusion: The things that make you happy? Do them more often. “Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff,” she says.

7. Hire for a positive attitude

The “war for talent” is a myth, says marketing guru Seth Godin. It’s actually a war for attitude. “There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude,” he writes on his widely followed blog. And Achor’s research backs this up. “Seventy-five percent of long-term job success is predicted not by intelligence and technical skills, which is normally how we hire,” Achor says. Instead, it’s predicted by three categories: optimism, social connections, and the way people handle stress. In The Happiness Advantage, he recounts an experiment he ran with MET Life to hire people based on optimism. The optimistic group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 19 percent in year one and 57 percent in year two. They were also much less likely to quit.

8. Focus on strengths

Workers gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their signature strengths — those qualities they are uniquely best at. “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect,” write the Gallup Organization’s Brandon Rigoni and Jim Asplund in a blog. As their manager, you’re probably aware who does what well. But UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman says you should ask them anyway. “Identify their signature strengths and then make room to allow them to use their strengths more often,” he writes in Authentic Happiness. For workers, there is intrinsic satisfaction. For employers, a much higher state of performance.

9. Savor the Good Stuff

Old clichés like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life” are actually profound and effective. Happiness researchers call such strategies “savoring” and have even put a hard figure on it — people who regularly take notice of things that are positive were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. The point, says behavioral scientist Winifred Gallagher in her book RAPT, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

10. Hold happy meetings

Most managers are wary of allowing too much good cheer in meetings, apparently out of fear it will derail the agenda or distract the participants. But according to a study by psychologists from VU University Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska, humor can greatly boost the effectiveness of meetings, leading to long-term productivity gains. “Humor patterns triggered problem-solving behaviors (e.g., what do you think about this approach?), procedural suggestions (e.g., let’s talk about our next step), and goal orientation (e.g., we should target this issue),” reports Scientific American. “Humor patterns also promoted supportive behaviors like praise and encouragement, and led to new ideas and solutions.” Such humor works best when it is positive, as opposed to sarcastic, when it supports group rapport (joke, laughter, another joke) and when the workers have a certain level of job security. Jessica Brundidge at Clarity Vision in Clayton, NC, adds levity to their weekly meetings with “shout outs” and memes. “We do a weekly “shout out” that is a positive reinforcement to our staff. We go over any new items that may need to be discussed or reviewed and if a patient or another co-worker has complimented an employee we like to “shout it out,’” she says. “We also make some personal things in there such as a birthday or work anniversary etc. and then we always end the shout out with a funny meme of some sort.”

11. Encourage ‘me’ time

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and lack common ground with customers.

12. Set them free

Why do business owners outrank just about every other occupation in overall well-being despite working longer hours and earning slightly less, on average, than many professionals? A lot of it has to do with autonomy. People are happier when they aren’t being told what to do. “Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way,” says Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at San Diego State University. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, he cites a 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey that found nearly half of employees would give up a 20 percent raise for greater control over how they work. “Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches. Often, younger or less experienced employees — those you trust the least — will be your chief innovators, because they’re less constrained by what ‘usually’ works,” Zak says.

13. Create a fun environment

The traditional business environment isn’t often conducive to good cheer. Don Gibson, dean of management at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, found that working professionals from multiple organizations felt more comfortable expressing anger than joy on the job (they reported expressing anger three times as often). Office décor and furnishings, too, may suggest what’s expected emotionally. Signs with lists of rules and consequences for breaking them reflect a culture of fear. Photos of employees laughing at social events or action figures perched on cubicle walls, Kleenexes stapled to potentially stressful memos, or chocolate kisses taped to boring ones signal a culture of joy.

14. Be a model

A long line of research on emotional contagion shows that people in groups “catch” feelings from others through behavioral mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function. “If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it. So consciously model the emotions you want to cultivate in your company,” says the HBR’s guide to Everyday Emotional Intelligence.

15. Celebrate with rituals

Sharing and celebrating successes is a time-honored way to drive performance, define best practice, boost team solidarity — and elevate pleasant emotions. Recognition has the largest effect on emotion when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public, says Zak. Be sure to celebrate small wins with almost the same fervor as the big accomplishments. Visionelle Eyecare in Zionsville, IN, does that with little competitions. “My squad loves competition so I will have a small competition once a month to see who can get the most reviews, or sell a second pair and they win a small prize like a gift card or movie tickets. We also have a daily and monthly goal,” says owner Nytarsha Thomas, OD. “We have a tradition of doing a happy dance at the end of the day when we make our daily goal and if we make our monthly goal, we’ll treat them to something more sought after like a massage or nice dinner.”

16. Ask for help

Realize that you can’t and shouldn’t be Superman. In fact, a boss willing to show vulnerability makes for a happier workplace. “My research team has found that this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals,” says Zak.

17. Find meaning

Experiments show that having a sense of higher purpose — a sense that your work has meaning and is helping someone — stimulates production of oxytocin, the “hug hormone.” Meaning can be as simple as making a useful and high-quality product for a customer or providing a genuine service for the local community. It can be supporting a colleague or boosting an organization’s profits by reducing inefficiencies in a production process. It’s not hard for managers to infuse meaning into the work of their employees’ lives, but it’s also incredibly easy for them to undermine it. For example, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted a study in which participants were paid to build Lego models, some of which were dismantled in front of them upon completion. People whose creations were preserved made, on average, 50 percent more Lego models than those whose models were destroyed, despite identical monetary incentives. Trust and purpose are as fragile as they are important.

18. Manage in micromoments

A mission statement is one thing; day-to-day work life is another. “It’s not enough to codify emotional culture; it must also be managed and enacted in the ‘micromoments’ of daily organizational life,” writes Andy Westmoreland on the productivity blog Elevator Up. “Small gestures rather than bold declarations of feeling; little acts of kindness and support adding up to an emotional culture characterized by caring and compassion,” he says.

19. Hug more

In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, this may be dangerous advice, but try to touch your workers more (handshakes and back pats work just fine). Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks “increases happiness big time,” says Barker. “Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills,” he writes on his blog. Don’t want to risk it? Offer a massage as a spiff for good work. According to a review of studies by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase your brain and body’s levels of serotonin.

20. Get a light box

If you live in the north of the continent, get a light box. According to research from UBC Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, light therapy — it provides the kind of bright rays that elevate levels of happiness-boosting serotonin in your brain — is effective at combating seasonal affective disorder. If you live in other parts of the country, be sure your employees get outside regularly. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown that by spending at least 30 minutes a day outdoors should be enough to offset your seasonal drops in serotonin.

21. Stress people the right way

People are happier when they are active. Don’t be afraid to push your people hard. “Frankly, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes us to be innovative and to do things differently and to push harder,” says Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of PRIMAL LEADERSHIP. One of the most famous longevity studies conducted, the ongoing Terman Study, found those who work hard are healthier and happier.

22. Tough guys finish last

Gen. George S. Patton more your idea of an effective leader? Consider this: researchers found annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness in the US Navy are far more frequently awarded to units whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson says her research into fostering a state of flow in workers has shown a critical three-to-one ratio is required; we need to have three positive interactions for every negative one in order to thrive.

23. Foster friendships

The brain networks that light up in response to social contact are evolutionarily old, implying that such behavior is deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends, even though science has shown repeatedly that when employees intentionally build social ties, their performance improves. People who care for one another give generously of time, talent, and resources. Gallup found that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and that people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work. You can help people build social connections by sponsoring lunches, after-work parties, and team-building activities. It may sound like forced fun, but when people care about one another, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down. “We love to blow off steam late in the day, that’s why our fridge is always well stocked,” says Jim Williams, owner of Eye to Eye in Mexico, MO. “On a recent Tuesday, we hung a sign in the window, and announced on Facebook that we had an ‘offsite staff meeting.’ We rented a big pontoon boat and spent the day on the lake with food drinks and fun. A day well spent!!”

24. Encourage staff to leave

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and share no common ground with customers.

25. Remove hassles

While it’s true happiness comes from the small pleasures in life, it’s also the little hassles that are most apt to get people down. The same is true in the workplace where little hassles are a reliable predictor of job satisfaction. Make it a habit to ask your staff for tweaks than can be made to the way things are done around the store.

26. Set goals

Have staff set written goals. Writing about goals makes people happier and more likely to follow through with them.

27. Institutionalize fun

According to a case study of Vail Resorts in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, the culture of joy has been incorporated into the annual review, which indicates how well each employee integrates fun into the work environment and rates everyone on supporting behaviors, such as being inclusive, welcoming, approachable and positive. Management tactics, special outings, celebrations and rewards all support the emotional culture. Rather than asking people to follow standardized customer service scripts, they tell everyone to “go out there and have fun.” Resort managers consistently model joy and prescribe it for their teams. At an annual ceremony, a Have Fun award goes to whoever led that year’s best initiative promoting fun at work.

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Cover Stories

An Eyecare Pro’s Visual Guide to Making Better Choices in 5 Critical Categories

Making decisions is hard, we’ve made it easy.

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RUNNING OR MANAGING a business means you are constantly making decisions. Some are easy, many are hard, and others are just plain messy. We thought we’d help you take a little bit of the work and stress out of it by creating some very scientific* decision trees for a few of the most common questions you may face running an optical business. By INVISION Staff

* By “scientific” we mean not scientific at all.

 

 

 

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