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The Big Story: A Matter of Survival

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Imagine the worst thing that could happen to your business … Would you be able to recover?

Story by DEIRDRE CARROLL
Illustrations by MAR JEFFERSON GO

 

Running a business is hard workand sometimes the challenges and hurdles can nearly break you. So when a major catastrophe strikes, it can mean the end of business  for many.

Natural disasters, technology failure, unscrupulous colleagues, personal tragedy: The next few pages are full of eyecare providers that faced just the sorts of challenges that have destroyed many businesses. Even the best emergency planning strategy is put to the test when the world conspires against you, but here are their stories of how they persevered and brought their businesses back from the brink.

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When A Hurricane Strikes

G.R. McGuirt, OD
20/20 Vision Clinic, Lake Charles, LA
w2020clinic.com

Acts of God are hard to prepare for and even harder to recover from. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana around New Orleans. Less embedded in our collective consciousness, though, is the havoc Hurricane Rita brought to the same region just six weeks later.

Dr. G.R. McGuirt of 20/20 Vision Clinic in Lake Charles remembers. “Our town was already turned upside down with displaced people from New Orleans,” he says. “Hurricanes pop up occasionally, but hadn’t been a problem and we had protocols. Hurricane Rita was another kind of hurricane, though.

“Before she hit, we took down all the merchandise, boxed it up and sent it home with different employees in case a shopping cart came through the window or if one person was hit we wouldn’t lose everything,” McGuirt recalls. “We stacked chairs in back, turned off the computers and stacked them high, covered in plastic to keep them from water.”

20/20 Vision Clinic’s “lagniappe” snack bar20/20 Vision Clinic’s “lagniappe” snack bar was born during crisis and lives on today.

Fortunately, 20/20 Vision Clinic suffered little damage. “No broken windows and we only got some windblown water. We just dried out the carpets and pads,” he says. That is, of course, after he was able to get back to his office. The city had not fared so well.

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“The city was evacuated and closed for more than a week and it was wrecked for months,” he continues. “We had trees stacked 20 feet deep and 20 feet wide. The National Guard on the ground. We started coming back into the city a week after to check on things but there was still no electricity.”

They were closed for two weeks, which for a small business can be hard to recover from, but in a strange twist it resulted in one of 20/20 Vision Clinic’s strongest fourth quarters ever.

“I thought it was going to kill our year, but when we started back we were extra-ordinarily busy,” McGuirt says. “There was a lot of insurance money going a round. We saw all sorts of people with lost and broken glasses, foreign bodies and abrasions. We had long, full days under duress, but everyone pulled together. Business was incredibly robust for the rest of the year.”

The industry also came out to help.

“Somewhere in the two weeks, not knowing this would turn into our busiest fourth quarter ever, I was concerned about cash flow. Out of the blue, I received a call from the president of Vision Source [Glenn Ellisor],” McGuirt says. “He told me they were sending $2,000 checks to Louisiana ODs affected by the storm. Then the AOA sent $1,500. I was moved by both. It wasn’t expected, and it made a huge difference knowing we had support. Now, I’m quick to write a check when someone, especially a Vision Source or AOA doctor, has been damaged.”

But recovery had its challenges.

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“It was a highly stressful time and nerves were jangled. That’s when we started having a coffee and snack bar to give people a little relief, a little respite. We call it lagniappe (a little something extra). We still have it, and it’s always a surprising delight to our clients,” McGuirt says.

Dr. G.R. McGuirt and the current staff of 20/20 Vision Clinic.

Today, the clinic prepares for potential disasters differently. Their new building has an emergency generator and hurricane shutters. They keep water, food, clothes, cleanup equipment, and gasoline ready for their return.

“Cellphones have changed preparations a lot, too,” McGuirt says. “It’s much easier to communicate with and check in on employees now; it’s not just texting though, but the camera as well. When we need to evacuate, we go take a picture of all four walls in each room, a picture of every shelf, every open drawer. Pictures of every piece of equipment’s ID, make, model and serial number. Insurance pays, but only if you can prove ownership. The amount of small items adds up if you are not reimbursed. And it’s much better to take the food out of the freezer before it spoils. But take a picture first!”

“Does crap happen? It sure does. Be prepared,” he concludes.

 

 

 

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We Asked ECPs Which Famous Names Bought Their Eyewear

And boy did they get to bragging….

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FOOTBALL ICONS, RECLUSIVE troubadours, presidential candidates, Hollywood A-listers, and childhood heroes: We asked our readers to indulge in a little shameless bragging and tell us about some of the famous faces that have propped up their eyewear.

Rick Rickgauer, Vision Associates
Girard, PA

“The day Gene Hackman stopped in I happened to be off,” recalls Rick Rickgauer of the day the bona fide Hollywood legend strolled into a LensCrafters in Tuscon, AZ. (Rickgauer has since moved on to Vision Associates in Girard, PA.) “My lab manager called me to tell me Mr. Hackman was in the store. ‘If I drive all the way down there and you’re lying to me,’ I told him, ‘I’ll $#@* you over good.’ So, I hopped in my car and drove the 30 minutes to work. And there he was, all 6’4” of him in all his star quality. I’ve seen Gene Hackman in more movies than I can count. I don’t know what I expected of him, at the time, but he was the most mild-mannered person. Totally oblivious that he was a major motion picture star.” But it was baseball legend Ken Griffey Sr. that left Rickgauer nearly speechless. “I was a bumbling idiot. In the mid-’70s I was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan when they were known as the Big Red Machine, winning multiple World Series along the way. Ken G was a big cog in that machine. His son, Ken Griffey Jr. was all the rage. One of the best players ever to play the game. I proceeded to tell Ken G that, to me, he was the original Ken Griffey, not his famous son.” In retrospect, Rickgauer wonders if it would’ve been better if he had been speechless. “To this day, I still feel like an idiot for saying that.”

Nancy Revis, Uber Optics
Petaluma, CA

Nancy Revis, owner of Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA, had heard that singer/songwriter, actor, and one of her personal heroes, Tom Waits, a resident of neighboring Occidental, was often spotted in her town. “Why was he not coming into my shop?” she asked herself. “I have the cool eyewear and he has cool taste! Tom Waits always has cool eyewear on!”

Then about seven months ago, Revis and staff members Jess and Elizabeth were having what they thought was a regular workday. “Elizabeth was closing a sale at the computer desk and in walks a woman, a younger woman — her daughter — and Tom Waits! I instantly started sweating. It was actually happening — Tom Waits was walking into my store. Everything seemed to slow down and I started to sweat.” Revis managed to get a greeting out, and “Tom went right over to the sitting area and just chilled out. He was watching me help his wife and giving feedback. Nodding only. He looked so cool. Crazy huge grey curly hair. I offered him water but he declined. He sat there and grabbed a Rolling Stone. I mean… Tom Waits was sitting in my store and reading a Rolling Stone. Jess hadn’t seen that he was in the shop because she was checking in jobs. I walked to the back and all I said was… ‘Oh my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ and then walked back out. She came out and her facial expression said, ‘HOLY S**T!’ His wife loved cat eyes and so do I … so, I ended up selling her an Oliver Peoples that I wear… the Marienella in black.”

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Musicians seem drawn to Uber. Revis recalls John McCrea, of the band Cake, as being “so super cool. I asked if he would model for me but he didn’t want to. But, I was so stoked that he bought glasses from me. He was hilarious and sweet.” And she has struck up something of a friendship with actor and pioneering punk rocker John Doe of the band X. “He became my customer the moment I opened because Pat with Moscot was his friend… he sent him a pair of glasses and I was the liaison. He let me take his photo wearing Moscot on a few occasions. Just recently he was in town performing with the Psychedelic Furs and swung in to say hi. He fell in love with a pair of sunglasses and modeled them for me. I told him to let me take his photo wearing the sunglasses that he loved… He sent me a pic of himself in NYC wearing the Moscot sunglasses.”

Other memorable Uber clients include Oscar-winning movie sound designer Chris Boyes, songwriter George Merrill and the actress Jane Levy (and her mom).

William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear
McDonough, GA

As an Army veteran, William Chancellor says it was a personal pleasure to sit down and dispense to Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate from the Atlanta area, who has a history of offering praise and support for the military. (The experience took place at Chancellor’s previous office, DePoe Eye Center, which has several Georgia locations. He is now the practice manager and licensed optician for Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough.) “Having the pleasure of meeting him in person was a wonderful experience. He was very humble and authentic. Who can’t appreciate his quote, ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.’” Chancellor recalls dispensing Silhouette Eyewear to Cain. “I would listen to his syndicated talk show daily and supported him in his bid for the White House in 2012.”

Julie Uram, Optical Oasis
Jupiter, FL

Jupiter, FL, is home to a disproportionately high population of sports pros. Not surprising, then, that Julie Uram often looks up to find former football players stooping to squeeze through her doors. “Well, it seems as though I have many retired football players or coaches [coming in]: Joe Namath, Ron Wolf and Dan Henning. Funny story about Joe Namath, the other day a customer recognized him and asked if he would speak to his brother on the phone. Joe did and told him when he was in the area they should get together! Then the guy was all excited, and Joe said, ‘Oh, I was really just kidding…’ It was quite a funny moment.”

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Tom Brillante, OD, Decatur Eye Care
Decatur, GA

The Atlanta area now rivals Southern California as a center of the U.S. film industry. So much so that these days you’re as well positioned in the Peach State as on Rodeo Drive for superhero sightings. Ask Dr. Tom Brillante of Decatur Eye Care in Decatur, GA — or at least ask his employees. He spotted Cress Williams of The CW’s Black Lightning. “I didn’t know who he was, but the rest of my staff did. Such a nice guy! For a superhero, I expected him to be a lot more arrogant. Maybe his other super power is humility.” Kevin Bacon and Billy Bob Thornton filmed a part of their indie film Jayne Mansfield’s Car right downstairs in the courtyard. Most recently — and most personally thrilling for unashamed retro-soft rock fan Brillante — was his brush with Peter Olson, one of the lead singers for “the greatest ’70s/’80s cover band of all time — Yacht Rock Revue. Definitely check them out, they tour the country throughout the year and I’ve probably seen them about 10 times now,” Brillante says.

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America's Finest

Want to Know What ‘Start-to-Finish’ Service Really Looks Like?

This Fort Worth, TX practice reinvented itself into a boutique optical with high tech examinations.

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Clear Eye Associates + Optical, Fort Worth, TX

OWNER: David Moore, OD; URL: cleareye.com; FOUNDED: 2007; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Norman Ward Architect, EyeDesigns, and Entirely Interiors; EMPLOYEES: 12 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 11,000 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: ic! berlin, Rolf, Dita, Barton Perreira, Face à Face; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/ClearEyeOptical; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/cleareyeoptical; YELP: yelp.com/biz/clear-eye-associates-optical-fort-worth-2


EXPERIENCE,” SAYS DR. DAVID Moore, “is in the eye of the beholder.” Put another way, each patient has preferences unique to them, whether they care most about time, convenient and upfront pricing, carefully curated and unique frames, or a high-tech examination experience.

‘In today’s market you have to do a little of everything to be competitive,’ says Clear Eye owner Dr. David Moore.

It’s a lesson Moore learned over 10 years in private practice at Clear Eye Associates + Optical in Fort Worth, TX and fully implemented by introducing a new concept in 2017; an optical boutique procuring mostly independent lines. “The idea was the easy part. Overcoming, retraining and rethinking how the current consumer wants to shop has been the challenge. The age-old idea of personalized service, customer experience, and product expertise has become the linchpin for growing the business,” Moore says.

Central to the concept is customer immersion in what Moore refers to as the “CLEAR experience,” from the time they book and select their arrival item — be it a cappuccino, chocolate or craft beer ­— to the personal handwritten “thank you” note and custom cookie that arrive for them in the mail in a special CLEAR box. Staff follow this up with a call a few weeks after the customer has received the product to make sure they are satisfied.

For those who haven’t booked, “We try to impact our patients prior to their appointment so we begin with a tailored check-in experience. Our staff presents a menu, with offerings ranging from chocolate to cappuccino or a seasonal cocktail.”

According to Moore, the store and the service are designed around creating an experience and offering products that appeal to the aficionado. “Our intent is to cater to people that want to feel special, where their time is valued, and their needs are met.”

EyeDesigns and architect Norman Ward were able to create a modern design with Lum lighting that highlights the detail of the frames and allows customers to look their best.

Frames are displayed by brand but in a carefully controlled way. “We want patients to recognize brands from distinct signage that looks like our store, versus our store looking like 20 different brands,” Moore says.

When Moore discusses pricing policy, the value he places on being “upfront” and “transparent” quickly becomes apparent. But he admits that achieving this goal is complicated by the presence of so many different insurance plans with different pricing.

“Our team has done a great job learning the plans and developing methods to more quickly give accurate pricing for customers,” he explains. “For uninsured customers, we have selected products that provide value and state-of-the-art fashion while fitting within their budget. We feel that giving customers lens pricing first then allowing them to select the perfect frame is the most transparent way for customers to purchase spectacles.”

Moore says digital marketing is second only to personal referrals as a driver of growth at Clear Eye. “We do well with Google, Facebook, and are growing our Instagram presence. What we have learned is that in today’s market you have to do a little of everything to be competitive. Photography is key to making everything pop.”

Having an on-site lab is important to Moore because it enables the practice to customize lenses and lens shapes. And quick turnaround is something they pride themselves in. “Our Mr. Orange edger helps us do this,” says Moore. “The edger has been great for us. Although we are a boutique optical, we want to provide the most comprehensive eyecare possible.” The practice prides itself on a full range of equipment as well as top-level dry eye treatment.

This no-stone-unturned approach would seem to be Clear Eye’s signature achievement, whether it’s online, at reception, in the optical or the exam lane. As Moore defines it: “Expertise and personalized service in a modern, clean aesthetic that provides a unique experience for our customers.”

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Five Cool Things About Clear Eye Associates + Optical

1. QUICK CLEAN. Clear Eye’s optical features the OpticWash, a device Moore describes as a “car wash for glasses … an ingenious inven­­tion that does a great job of cleaning frames and lenses.”

2. GET THE MESSAGE. Patients are sent a text after their glasses purchase with details on their frames. The text contains links to the product’s brand story so that the customer can learn more about their frames prior to them being completed.

3. SMELL OF SUCCESS. The list of items offered to patients prior to their arrival goes beyond just drinks and sweets; even the music and scent have been selected specifically for customers.

4. NO SURPRISES. Price transparency is one of Clear Eye’s core goals. To ensure this is maintained, the practice makes a point of working up special handouts with pricing information on lens benefits and cost.

5. FULL TREATMENT. Clear Eye takes special pride in its dry eye treatment. “Dry eye impacts our core demographic to such an extent we felt the need to have the technology to solve this problem for our patients,” says Moore.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Interesting color scheme; the natural wood looks great and is a contrast to the whites. Offering craft beer is a great idea too. Mick Kling, OD, Invision Optometry, San Diego, CA
  • The “CLEAR” logo is handled in a very nice way, where it is important to the conversation but does not dominate it. Their dedication to making information accessible to the customer is evident in their materials, and the delivery of a customized cookie and a handwritten note is a charming touch. Brent Zerger, l.a. Eyeworks, Los Angeles, CA
  • Texting a customer cool details on the frame they’ve purchased is CLEARly brilliant and impactful! Their “Seeing Good” campaign is wonderful: they donate generously AND they’ve “branded” it. One of the best URLs I’ve ever seen; simple and in line with their overall brand. Robert Bell, EyeCoach, San Francisco, CA

 

Fine Story

Clear Eye donates 100 frames each month to a local charity clinic as part of its “Seeing Good” campaign. “Although we don’t publicize or market this, we feel that local is important. We are fortunate enough to be able to partner with Community Clinic in Fort Worth, which is run by the University of Houston College of Optometry. They see thousands of patients a year at little to no cost in the First Christian Church downtown. Donating frames is our way of helping the local community.”

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Best of the Best

This California Lens Lab Has an Inspiring Recovery Story

They were burned to the ground in last year’s wildfires. Six months later, they’re thriving.

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SOMETIMES, THE THINGS that make you the best of the best are born of tragic necessity. On Nov. 8, 2018, the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in a century, raged through the Northern California town of Paradise, destroying it entirely. Eighty-six people died in the blaze, which destroyed more than 18,000 structures. Among them was Paradise Lens Lab, which the day before had just celebrated its seventh anniversary.

THE FIRE

“I was headed to work a little before 7am,” recalls owner Gary Bates of that day. “It was a clear day but off to the side, where the sun was coming up over the hill I could see either clouds or smoke around the sun.” After about an hour at work, Bates headed to a lookout point 200 yards away. “The flames … were racing up the hill towards the back of the lab.”

A brief discussion about what they might be able to save was soon abandoned. “The Fire Department was telling people it was time to run.” There were five staff including Bates working that day; all got out, but all lost their homes. A few days later it was confirmed that the building and all its equipment was lost.

The rebuilt Paradise Lens Lab in Chico, CA. ‘It took us about three weeks to get our first edger and start the buildout,’ says owner Gary Bates.

THE REBUILD

That weekend, Bates and wife Tammy’s first thought was to move to Oregon. “But we just decided we had too many people relying on us. We had to give it a shot. That day we were out looking for commercial real estate” in Chico, CA, 15 miles west of Paradise.

Already reeling from the loss of his business, a second shock followed: “I thought I was insured fully, you know, rookie business owner.” Bates’ insurer informed him that on the $400,000 worth of equipment and stock he’d lost, he was covered for just $3,500. Help was at hand, however. Prior to opening Paradise Lens Lab, Bates, who’s been in the optical industry since 1989, had worked at Coburn Technologies. He was able to marshal some contacts there to get some edgers delivered within a matter of weeks. Later, Satisloh came through with a donation of brand new digital equipment. And a group of local doctors he does a lot of work for gave Bates $50,000 to help him start back up. “The generosity and kindness was amazing right after the fire,” he says. Most importantly, Bates’ customer base came through, pledging to stay with him.

Not everyone was so helpful, though. According to Bates, one major industry player “actually tried to poach my business. They went into all my shops, and promised them all this awesome pricing to ‘help them out.’”

Thankfully, things moved fast. “It took us about three weeks to get our first edger and start the buildout.” He was able to take some customers back almost immediately, though some were asked to be a little patient, as he didn’t want to underserve anyone. “Within a month and a half we were able to get them all back and provide excellent service for them all.”

THE POSITIVES

Many in this situation would see it as an insurmountable setback. But the Bateses have been rewarded for their determination. He says that whereas before Paradise Lens relied on conventional surfacing, with the new equipment, they can now process digital freeform lenses. Amazingly, business is actually up about 32 percent from before the fire. “We’ve gotten more customers; people have reached out to us wanting to give us their business.” And while they still live in their travel trailer, because of a post-fire housing shortage, they’re philosophical. “At least we have a travel trailer,” Bates says.

The rebuild at Paradise is now fully finished. “We’ve been complete for about three months now. It took us just a little over three months to build out and get all the equipment, get everybody trained and up to date,” he says.

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