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This Canadian boutique is on a mission to help every customer find the perfect frame, while supporting local artists and fostering a sense of community.

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Niche Eyewear Boutique, Vancouver, BC

OWNER: Valerie Afriat; URL:nicheeyewearboutique.com; FOUNDED: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Val E Design (Valerie Afriat); EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 1,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: l.a.Eyeworks, L.G.R, Tom Ford, Sabine Be, Maui Jim; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/NicheEyewearBoutique; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/nicheeyewearboutique; BUILDOUT COST: $150,000


AS A CHILD, Valerie Afriat would hang out with the seamstresses and fashion designers at her parents’ clothing factory in Montreal, Canada, watching them work and peppering them with questions. The experience gave her early exposure to the worlds of business, design and fashion, which sparked her lifelong love of the creative process. “There was a freedom in being able to make something that fit properly, and in the colors and textures I liked.” She also started wearing glasses as a child, so as someone who was coming up with her own outfits at the age of 10, it was frustrating to have to wear boring frames. “I hated that we all looked the same back then,” she recalls of her childhood eyewear options. Growing up, finding eyewear that reflected her personality became an obsession.

he soon discovered that the eyewear business incorporates significant handmade aspects. “This is the part of the eyewear business that I really love and align myself with. The independent eyewear designers, the artisanal facet of the designs … is what attracted my focus toward eyewear.” After graduation, she moved to Toronto and worked in all levels of the industry from retail to wholesale. By 2018, Afriat had moved across the country and opened her first Niche Eyewear Boutique location on Vancouver’s Main Street in a neighborhood that was high-traffic but still had a quaint, small-town feel.

Valerie Afriat

Valerie Afriat

Afriat designed and built out the location’s interiors herself, right down to the furniture. Niche’s clean, linear look and all-white background keep the emphasis on the frames while remaining welcoming and “not too medical.” All of the frames are showcased by LED lights, an effect created by a professional light engineer, and which allows the space to do double duty as an art gallery. “I love to support independent artists, whether it be frames or any other visual arts. So having an optical and art gallery in one is very cool.”

Niche targets “those who appreciate … having a frame that brings out individual personality traits, as opposed to having to look like everybody else,” says Afriat. She works hard to curate unique frames that provide enough variety for everyone’s tastes and needs. “We specialize in more unique facial shapes — whether very petite, smaller eye sizes or larger head sizes. We also cater to the current trend in material combinations by offering eyewear from companies or independent artists that use a variety of materials like titanium, wood, or even 3D printing.”

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Top frame collections include l.a.Eyeworks, Nina Mur, Sabine Be and Heneu, with Nikon, Zeiss and Essilor being the top lenses. On the operations front, “Visual Eyes has worked really well for us as a CRM and I highly recommend it,” says Afriat. The location does have a full OD office in the back but finding optometrists or licensed opticians in the current economic climate has been challenging — which makes Afriat all the more grateful for her crew. “I have the best staff,” she says. Industry veteran Michele Grisack is the managing optician at the Main St. location, while Afriat keeps things humming at the second shop in Kitsilano, with part-time optician Raman Rahl Deo working between the two.

This Vancouver Boutique Won’t Rest Until It Finds the Perfect Frame for Every Customer

When it comes to marketing, Afriat sees no substitute for providing the best possible service, from the orange velvet trays provided to help customers pick out eyewear and the thank you cards for every customer picking up glasses to the personalized cloth and cleaner with free refills for every customer. Personalized shopping bags are also offered. “It’s all about the perception,” says Afriat. “Service is everything … Our customers keep coming back for more. They realize that online shopping would never, ever come close.” That said, Niche takes its online presence seriously and this year hired a firm to handle it, including opening an online store. This can be used for purchases, but, says Afriat, “Because we’re so specialized — all about the whole personal fitting, eyewear and size — our website works more like a catalogue, helping clientele view a sampling of the over 2,000 frames we offer.”

Niche closed for the first three months after COVID hit, eventually reopening with shorter retail hours by appointment. “The personal shopping will definitely become permanent. It opened availability for clients with busy schedules and they really appreciate the one-on-one attention. They can take a peek online, then make an appointment at a time that is convenient for them, knowing that they aren’t going to have a long wait.”

As an independent business owner, Afriat places great value on community. This is reflected in the support for local artists but doesn’t end there. “We support and work with people from our community, from printers to social media to photographers, contractors, painters, electricians and plumbers. We donate back to our community. But most of all we have the support and love from our community.”

This Vancouver Boutique Won’t Rest Until It Finds the Perfect Frame for Every Customer

Five Cool Things About Niche Eyewear Boutique

1. DOG DAYS. When he’s not volunteering as an emotional therapy dog, customers come in to say “Hi” to store mascot Biscuit.

2. #SELFIE. A neon sign in the store features Niche’s hashtag; people take selfies in front of it after finding their new look.

3. TOP SHELF GALLERY. The walls above Niche’s displays feature art pieces from local independent artists from around the community.

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4. MINI MUSEUM. Niche has a collection of one-of-a-kind eyewear from independent designers that showcases their creative ability.

5. POP-UP. During summer festivals, Niche collaborates with neighboring shops and designers on pop-ups in support of the “Shop Local” movement.

PHOTO GALLERY (28 IMAGES)

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • The frame brands are just fantastic, making consumers feel unique and special. The interior is fun and the hours of operation intrigue me. I do like that they think retail and are open all day Saturday. Love that their emphasis is optical and frames. — Mark Hinton, eYeFacilitate, Indianapolis, IN
  • The logo and imagery in the space were well coordinated. The POP materials are clever, unique and allow for individual merchandising of “non-brand” items in a very effective manner. — Jan Ennis, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA 
  • It is a pleasure to visit Niche Eyewear Boutique’s social media. I absolutely loved seeing happy customers “modeling” their newest frame selections. — Walter Roth, A&A Optical, Louisville, KY

 

Fine Story

Niche’s managing optician Michele Grisack has over 40 years of experience. According to Afriat, “Michele has built quite the reputation with local film production companies as the ‘go-to’ for supplying their actors with the perfect look. She understands the process — the non-reflective lenses for filming and the way eyewear can change a character’s personality. While the very tight, concise deadlines of the movie industry would have other opticals turning them away, Michele takes their requests and makes it happen.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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