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Solid As A Rock

Never losing sight of its founding values, this tireless Tennessee practice has weathered a population boom and created a stunning new location.

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Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

OWNER: Rob Szeliga, OD; URL:springhilleyecare.com; FOUNDED: 2005; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Rob Stensland, Optometric Architects (architect); Amy LeAnn Szeliga (interior designer); EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 8,300 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Dailies Total 1/Multifocals, Kate Spade, Costa, Shamir, neurolens; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/springhilleyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/springhilleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.6 million


ROB SZELIGA MOVED to Spring Hill, TN, about 30 miles south of Nashville, with his family as a teenager in 1993. They were in the vanguard of an influx that has seen the population grow from 1,200 to over 40,000. He graduated from Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in 2005 and opened Spring Hill Eyecare “ice cold.” He and his wife Amy had a clear idea of what they wanted the business to be: a practice that offers the total package and only refers when surgery is needed. “I spent 100 percent of my time and energy growing my practice — not filling in elsewhere,” he recalls. “Luckily, I had strong support — a wife teaching elementary school and my mom and two sisters as my first employees. We knew that if we treated patients right, the practice would grow.” They started with 1,200 square feet, their newborn son Jackson literally growing up in the office. “My second lane didn’t have a phoropter, it had a crib,” says Szeliga. By their 10th anniversary they already had one major expansion under their belt and needed another.

Spring Hill Eyecare owner Rob Szeliga OD with his wife Amy and family.

The Szeliga’s found their dream location in a vacant 1870 farmhouse, but the structure would require demolition if it was going to work. “Without the proper approach, this would not be well received in a community growing as fast as Spring Hill, and quickly losing its small-town charm,” recalls Szeliga. They posted a letter on their blog explaining their plans, and this honest approach elicited overwhelmingly positive feedback online.
In the months before the house and barns were demolished, Szeliga would leave work, change clothes and get busy reclaiming their great features, including 11 fireplace mantles, original barnwood/beadboard, old doors (now frame boards), giant parlor doors, live edge maple breakroom tables milled from original trees, wavy glass muntin windows, and a cast-iron tub flower bed. The new building’s layout centered around preserving a giant, centuries-old oak tree.

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The juxtaposition of the salvaged fixtures and curios with the practice’s modern equipment lends a unique vibe to the exam rooms, each of which has a theme, including “garage” (the practice’s logo painted on a 1940s truck door) and “music” (with 100-year-old instruments) to name just two. Spring Hill Eyecare’s dry eye treatment center is called The Greenhouse after the one on the original property. “You go in the room with dry eyes facing old rusty tools,” says Szeliga. “When you get up from the massaging chair your view is of lush plants and flowers; you leave refreshed.”

Catering to the town’s expanding demographic, the team sees everyone from InfantSEE babies to geriatric patients. Among its numerous specialty facilities is a 900-sq-ft. sports vision/vision therapy center.
Szeliga used to spend about $400 a month on newspaper ads, but he says that all changed when, for a one-time fee of that same amount, he hired a patient to install a marquee sign under the practice’s street sign. “When the sign is not describing an upcoming event, we try to keep it full of puns or statements about pop culture, particularly eye-related ones.” He says simply keeping this sign funny and relevant generates enough community feedback and new patients that he doesn’t bother much with traditional marketing anymore.

Word of mouth is Spring Hill Eyecare’s other main form of advertising, much of it generated by creatively cultivating ties with the community through charitable and other events.  Examples include Kids’ Day and a Pre-Parade Hot Chocolate Party every year before the Christmas parade. “We even begged to get the parade path extended to go by our new location to keep this tradition,” Szeliga says. Spring Hill Eyecare sponsors many schools, teams and causes, but they also enjoy creating their own charitable events, like their “Give A Gobbler” Thanksgiving turkey campaign. The team “gobbles” loudly for donations. “For larger donations even our doctors gobble!”

One of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870s farmhouse that once stood on the site is displayed in the optical.

Szeliga says that while there are ECPs with flashier sites, he’s proud of the genuine feel he’s achieved with Spring Hill Eyecare’s online presence. “Too many websites have just generic stock photos … Our most popular posts are those involving personal photos or stories about myself, my family and my team.”

He credits the trust he has established with his prized team for much of Spring Hill Eyecare’s success. And it’s a quality he repays handsomely. A believer in continuing education, he has taken his team to the state optometry meeting for the last 10 years and to IDOC’s Orlando meeting the last five. But it’s not all work and study. “For our 2018 Christmas party I rented a Hummer limo for a Christmas lights tour and created a jigsaw puzzle to reveal clues about their Christmas gift: a four-night cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate an excellent 2018,” he says.

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Crucially, through all the rapid growth, the practice has never lost the close-knit feel of the early days. “While I no longer have family working at my office,” says Szeliga, “we’ve been able to keep the family atmosphere for 13 years.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Spring Hill Eyecare

1. TV STARS. Szeliga’s repurposing of the old farmhouse that once stood on the site of the practice was featured in DIY Network’s Nashville Flipped series.

2. GOOGLE TOUR. Its website features a Google virtual tour: the photographers liked the building so much they shot extra rooms in exchange for being able to feature them on their website.

3. NEVER LEAVING. The coffee bar has two TVs, charging stations, customized coloring books for grownups, mini-fridge and a Keurig coffeemaker.

4. ACCOLADES GALORE. Office manager Melanie Jenkins was named Tennessee Paraoptometric of the year in 2018, SECO Paraoptometric of the year in 2019 and AOA Paraoptometric of the year in 2019.

5. WALKING ADS. At a community event this year staff had low-cost suns made with their logo and a sticker: “Redeem for $25 off a pair of sunglasses.” Only a few people did, but “others [wore] them around town,” says Szeliga. Next year’s target: high school marching bands.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Outstanding community engagement throughout the planning and construction of their new location. Honoring the legacy of the former structure by incorporating materials and elements is a testament to their respect and concern for the community they serve. Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Spring Hill Eyecare has built an optical business that’s people- and purpose-focused, and they’ve fostered a growing business by organically growing their practice, while remaining true to providing quality eyecare in a welcoming environment. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • The space is bonkers! Overall one of our faves! Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The focus on local, independent optometry is evident across all aspects of the business. The website shines. It is easy to maneuver, has all the info one would be looking for and the imagery is great. I felt like I knew the practice and the doctor after visiting. The themed exam rooms are also a great idea as they create a relaxed, eclectic environment for their high-tech functions. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Beneath a window in Spring Hill Eyecare’s optical, customers will find a hefty, timeworn, earth-stained rock that, while adding natural charm, clearly bears the marks of human shaping. It was one of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870 farmhouse that once stood on the site. The stone was hand-cut in the 1860s. Says Szeliga, “Opening my practice cold was a lot like the process of forming this hand-cut stone. It took patience — and patients! Like the old house, we started with a strong foundation that was built on two pearls I learned early: ‘What’s good for the patient is good for the practice,’ and ‘See everything we do from the patient’s point of view.’ Trends and tech are constantly changing…but we continually grow based on our strong foundation.”

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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