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The Big Story: Way More of that Funny Business

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The Big Story: Way More of that Funny Business
 

How many optometrists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One
… or two? Why do techs live such long lives? Because they di-late! And
have you heard the one about ophthalmology jokes? They just get cornea
and cornea! But seriously, ladies and gents, it’s good to have fun at work.
And as these six eyecare professionals show, there are many ways to have
a good time on and off the job. Read their stories to see how they do it, then
think about how following your own passions might prove entertaining
to you, your staff and everyone else you meet all day. — By Marissa Walsh

 

Steve Grabowski
THE LAST OLD-FASHIONED OPTICIAN

The Big Story: Way More of that Funny Business

Steve Grabowski is full of one-liners:
“Did the nose come with the glasses
or did you have to buy it separately?”
“Did you hear about the optician
who stuck his finger in the edger and
made a spectacle of himself?” (Yup,
that was him.)

He’s quick with a quip, and that’s
part of his whole persona as “the Last
Old-Fashioned Optician.” He dresses
the part, walking around town in his
top hat. And if you enter his shop (The
Spectacle Emporium in Laramie, WY,
outfitted to look like an old-time, well,
emporium), you’ll be greeted with a
suitably authentic “Howdy, Pard!” In
fact, except for the ultra-modern frames
he keeps in stock, you might think you’ve
stepped back in time.

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In business for 40 years, Grabowski
became the Last Old-Fashioned Optician
eight years ago, when he realized
he needed to do something different to
distinguish himself. (“It’s tough whenyou don’t have a doctor feeding you business,”
he says.) He attended Destination
BootCamp, an
immersive program from business coach
Jon Schallert, to make his business a
“destination,” and it worked. Almost
every day, someone from outside Laramie
walks through his door. Grabowski
differentiated himself by emphasizing
what he knows best: his hometown and
authentic, quality eyewear.

“I’ve always done
things differently.
You want your competition
to think you
are nuts … and you
don’t want them
to copy you.”

As a fifth-generation Laramie resident
— his family has been in the town
since 1874 — Grabowski loves sharing
wild Old West stories with customers
while he’s working on their glasses. Of
course, sometimes people walk in and
think it’s an antique store or a museum,
and he spends a half-hour giving a tour.
He doesn’t mind, though. He’s trying to
bring more people to Laramie, so they
view it as “not just a place to get gasoline
on the way to Yellowstone.”

Grabowski enjoys slowing things down
for visitors and customers alike, and that
sets him apart in today’s marketplace.

He figured his older customers would
appreciate the vintage vibe. “What I didn’t
bargain for was that the kids — little
tykes to college students — would go
nutty over all the antique stuff,” he says.

After eight years, his efforts are finally
starting to pay off. “I’m hearing I’m just
about the only doctor-less mom-and-pop
optical left in this part of the country,”

Grabowski says. “It’s even more fun
now. I’ve always done things differently.
You want your competition to think you
are nuts … and you don’t want them to
copy you.” facebook.com/spectacle.
emporium

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The Big Story: Way More of that Funny Business

Dr. Scott Lee
THE CARTOONIST

Optometrist Dr. Scott Lee was looking
for a way to combine his cartooning,
which he studied in college, and his work
as an eye doctor at Atlantis Eyecare in
Huntington Beach, CA. “You draw what
you know,” he says, so he started creating
optometry-themed
cartoons every week
to share with his office.
Sight Gags proved to
be a hit, and he soon
had such a large collection
that he decided
to publish them as a
book. (It’s available at
invmag.us/5158.)

His patients enjoyed
the book in his waiting
room when it was first
published — sometimes
they enjoyed
it so much he had to replace the copy.
Other patients appreciate that he does
creative work in his spare time. Still others
feel better when Lee shows them a few
cartoons on his phone. (He’s found it
relaxes patients who might be anxious.)

Of course, a few people are concerned
they might do something to inspire a
cartoon, and Lee does get some of his
ideas from patient interactions. He
points out, however: “I want to be the
optometrist who draws cartoons, rather
than a cartoonist who does optometry.
It’s very important for me to be a good
optometrist and know
my stuff. I want to put
that first and foremost,
and then have fun with
the cartooning on the
side.”

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He doesn’t sketch at
the office, but he does
keep a running list of
ideas. And the jokes
keep coming. Dr. Lee
already has 50 new
cartoons ready to go
for his next book. “It
makes work more enjoyable.
Everything is more enjoyable
when you can laugh at it,” he says. “I’ve
always been a funny person. I’ve always
liked to incorporate humor in everything
I do, so to be able to do that with family,
friends and now work has really helped
me keep my career fresh.” facebook.
com/sightgags

 

TRACY GROOMS-KEY
THE SINGING TECH

Since she started working in eyecare in 1994,
Tracy Grooms-Key has
been lightening the mood
of her office with song —
and her co-workers and
patients love it. At Drs.
Record & Record Optometrists
in Charlottesville,
VA, people often come in
and ask for “the singing
tech.” Tray, as everyone
calls her, went to school
for voice and has been the
music director for a local
choir for 24 years. “I like to
sing, so sometimes to break
the silence, or if a patient
is feeling nervous or awkward,
I would just break
out into …” — Grooms-Key
starts singing Minnie Riperton’s
“Lovin’ You” over
the phone — “… and they’re
like, ‘O.M.G.’”

Sometimes patients
start singing along with her
and even dancing with her,
but even if they just listen
and enjoy, they often tell
her it was their best eye
exam ever. “By the time
they leave, I usually try to
put them in a good mood,”
she says. “But my main goal
is never to treat them like
a number. I will treat them
the same way I would want

to be treated and that’s as a
person, as an individual.”

“My main goal
is never to treat
[patients] like
a number.”

Over the years, Grooms-
Key has learned a lot of
people hate visiting the
eye doctor — it’s like going
to the dentist for them.
They know they have to get
drops and they have to be
dilated, so she tries to help
them forget where they are.
She says she wants them
to think, “I’m just hanging
out with someone that is
cool and crazy. It kind of
takes their mind off of it,
and by the time they to get
to glasses, they want to
look for something fun and
funky. And I’m like, ‘You
better do you, girl.’”

Grooms-Key has gotten
to know a lot of her
patients, and she looks forward
to their visits to learn
what happened on the person’s
cruise vacation, or if
the new baby in the family
is a boy or a girl. Her enthusiasm
is infectious, and it
comes in handy on the days
when she is confronted
with those few not-so-nice
patients. She loves life, and
even if she is having a bad
day, you won’t know it. Ask
her how she is on Tuesday,
and she will answer, “I am
fantastic. It is almost Friday,
boo.” A pause. “Don’t
kill my dream.” She laughs.

 

JONATHAN DONG
THE VIDEO DIRECTOR

The Big Story: Way More of that Funny Business

OK, maybe it doesn’t have more than
750 million YouTube hits like the video
it parodies. But with 136,000 views for his
Thrift Opt video filmed during his first
year at the Illinois College of Optometry,
Jonathan Dong made a clever and hilarious
viral video that would make Weird Al
Yankovic proud.

Dong got the idea for the parody
of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2012
Grammy-winning hit Thrift Shop in part
from discovering that so many of his
classmates had interesting talents. The
star of the video had a theater background;
others were choreographers. “Optometry
school brings together a whole kind of
diverse group of people and you never
know really what someone’s talented
at until you ask them,” he says. Dong
decided to get everyone together to make
something really cool, and he certainly
succeeded. The administration and
students got on board and more than 60
of his classmates — happy for the study
break — participated in the actual shoot.

The video’s YouTube rise helped
Dong understand just how tight-knit
the optometry community is. Ever since
its debut, Dong has met people who’ve
watched the video, or showed it at a conference,
or even to potential optometry
students to illustrate what they would
be learning in school. Doctors shared it
with their patients and their staff. “Seeing that it was something that the optometry
community really rallied around and had
a good time with, that was really impressive
to me,” he says. “We always want to
take what we do as doctors and (make
it) something that everybody can relate
to and that everybody can appreciate.”

Dong has been too busy with school
— he graduates next year — to make
a follow-up video, but he’s happy with
his chosen field. “Optometry, helping
patients, being with people — helping
solve their problem and complaints with
their eyes — can be just as creative, just
in a different way,” he says.

Watch Dong’s video at invmag.us/
thriftopt. And speaking of videos, we
also love the latest one (New Glasses, a
takeoff of Good Lovin’ by the Rascals)
from Drs. Andrew May and Barrett Martin
of Johnson Optometric Associates. We
profiled this prolific optometric video
team in our Best of the Best department
last year. See all their spoofs at youtube. com/user/johnsoneye.

 

DR. DAVE SCHULZ
THE MAN IN SHORT PANTS

Dr. Dave Schultz of Urban Optics

Dr. Dave Schultz recently celebrated his
25th anniversary in business, and he has
been wearing shorts — or “short pants”
as he calls them — to work every day for
at least the last 15 years. It used to be an
intermittent thing until one of his regular
patients referred her 80-year-old mother
to him. The mother was disappointed
because her daughter had promised that
the doctor would be wearing short pants
— but he had long ones on. That was the
last day he wore long pants to the office.

In fact, his motto is, “Life’s too short
for long pants.” His shorts set the tone
for the whole office at Urban Optics in
San Luis Obispo, CA; they loosen things
up. Women will come in and they’ll say,
“I’ve never seen you in pants.” He leaves
that one alone. Men will come in and
say, “Aw, I wish I had a job where I could
wear short pants.” To which the happily
self-employed Dr. Dave replies, “Well,
you need a boss like I’ve got.”

“Life’s
too short
for long
pants.”

He finds this relaxed environment
makes his patients more relaxed, too,
and it allows him to be funnier than most
doctors. “When patients come in, I’ll go
out to call them in, and the patient will
say, ‘Do you need my glasses?’ and my
response will be, ‘No, thanks, I already
have a pair of my own.’ And I have a basic
rule for my patients with contact lenses: If
you drop them in a gas station bathroom,
please don’t pick them up.”

Schultz acknowledges that he does
have more freedom because of the retail
end of his practice. His custom space is
cool, definitely more retail than medical,
and his staff wears neither lab coats nor
nametags.

He is clearly a guy who enjoys life, and
his business reflects that. But there’s
another reason for his comic routine at
the office: “My staff loves it.” It keeps
turnover low, too, he says, adding, “I’ve
had staff members leave and make more
money doing something else and then
come back and ask for their jobs back.”
urbanoptics.com

 

Dr. Rachel
Holden

THE STAND-UP COMEDIAN

Dr. Rachel Holden

Dr. Rachel Holden is an optometrist by
day. But by night, she’s Rachel Sommer
(her maiden name), an award-winning
stand-up comedian. And at all hours she is a
mother to her three small children.

Yep, she’s basically a superhero. And
like Superman, most of her patients don’t
know about her nighttime
identity. Audiences know
about her optometry,
though; she bills herself as
the world’s funniest optometrist,
and one-third
of her act is about her job.
The rest of her material is
about being a mother, and
being married to an Australian.
(She sometimes
wears her wedding gown
on stage because she
wants to get additional
use out of it.)

Holden’s doubleidentity
started after
graduating from optometry
school in Australia.
She was in her first year of
working when she happened to see a poster
for a comedy competition. She had always
wanted to try it out, so she wrote some material,
memorized it, practiced, freaked out
backstage before going on — and ended up
winning. It was her first time on stage.

“On average, most people would say
their optometrist is not funny, but when
you work with people, you have to have
some level of a sense of humor to keep
your sanity,” says Holden, who practiced
in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and is in
the process of moving back to Australia. “If
you can put a little bit of
humor into a consultation
it goes a long way. Optometry
attracts a wide range
of people that have a lot
of other interests. A lot of
optometrists have dual
identities, do other stuff,
too. It’s cool. It makes for
a well-rounded profession.”

Both in her office and
on stage, she’s excited to
be “breaking a few of the
rules that optometrists
are boring and dull and
not fun.” If she had to
choose, though, she
would choose comedy.
She’s currently pitching a
TV show with two co-writers. Called Hindsight,
it’s about — you probably won’t be
surprised to learn — an optometrist who
wants to be a stand-up comedian. Facebook
page: invmag.us/rachel

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