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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

 

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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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America's Finest

A Suburban Chicago Practice That Delivers Quality Eyecare in Style — and With Heart

This close-knit team knows how to have fun, too!

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Midwest Eye, Downers Grove, IL

OWNER: Todd A. Robert, OD; URL: visionsource-midwesteye.com; FOUNDED: 2014; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Patrick Fortelka, formerly of CVG Architects, current owner of Moment Design; EMPLOYEES: 9 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 5,600 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Silhouette, Morel, Europa, Varilux X, Eyezen, Fresh Day, Proclear, Biotrue; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/MidwestEye; INSTAGRAM:instagram.com/midwesteye2600; TWITTER:twitter.com/MidwestEye2600; YELP:yelp.com/biz/midwest-eye-downers-grove


‘Hire good help’ is the most important lesson Midwest Eye owner Dr. Todd Robert has learned.

WHEN MIDWEST EYE opened in June 2014, recalls owner Dr. Todd Robert, staff spent the first month in a rented office, ordering contacts, answering calls and scheduling appointments from practice manager Pam Peters’ kitchen table, and training on new equipment at the doctor’s house for a couple of weeks. When the buildout was complete, the team moved into their current location in Downers Grove, a well-heeled suburb of Chicago. For a new business, Midwest Eye was somewhat unique in that the staff and doctor had previously worked together as part of another practice.

Downers Grove was specifically chosen as a location because Dr. Robert knew going in that it was home to the biggest share of the new practice’s patient base. “The office space was wide open, no walls, when we selected the space, allowing us to custom design what we needed,” recalls Robert, who made a point of getting his team’s input into the design of the work space, patient testing areas, reception and optical. “The entire group collaborated with our architect and builder to create kiosks for optical desks, offering a bit of privacy for our patients’ optical purchases. We created a ‘data bar’ in the center of the office complete with charging stations for our patients or reps as they show frames,” he says. The bar, situated between the reception desk and the optical, also offers additional seating.

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The open floor plan, dominated by reclaimed brick and lumber, and brightened with green, orange and yellow accents, features artwork from a local artist as well as photos from the doctor’s mission trips.

The business has developed a quirky, fun, highly personalized approach to online marketing that uses staff as models, inserted into recreations of iconic pop culture imagery, covering everything from Springsteen’s Born in the USA cover to a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off poster (a customer lent them the red convertible) to Men in Black. “This is our cup of tea! From recreating album covers to putting up a snowy backdrop and making a ‘sleigh’ for staff and patient Christmas pictures, we love to participate in our advertising projects,” says Peters. The practice’s online presence is viewed as both sales channel and branding tool, she adds. “We are still learning how to best utilize online, social media promotions, PSAs and events.”

Midwest tries to cater to all ages and styles with its eyewear, with a preference for high-quality frames manufactured in Europe, Japan and the US that are not readily available online. Says, Robert, “In setting up our optical we have worked to find a unique balance of frames for our patients — budget conscious to high-end frame lines.”

The practice is five years old, but the majority of staff have been working together for a decade or more. The team is close-knit, says Robert, adding that patients “feel the warmth.” He returns to this point when asked to cite the most important lesson he’s learned as an optical business owner: “Hire good help,” he says. “Enthusiastic employees with a passion for patient care, learning and all things optometric/optical will create an atmosphere that your patients and staff love.”

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Joining Robert three days a week is Dr. Dean Bauer, who also works with ophthalmic surgeons from Kirk Eye Center, to whom Midwest Eye refers patients for cataract and Lasik surgery. His experience interning at Hines VA Hospital for a year and mentoring optometry and ophthalmology residents has given him a strong medical background.

In addition to routine exams, the doctors see patients for co-management of cataract and Lasik surgeries and for glaucoma management. Midwest Eye is a part of its patients’ diabetic care teams and has a doctor on call for urgent or emergency visits 24/7. Says Dr. Robert, “Our constant feedback is that our patients appreciate the knowledge of the doctors and staff, the education that they get, the caring, family-like environment, the options and assistance they receive in our optical, and the attention to detail with their insurance questions and options. We enjoy seeing our patients, often sharing a hug and/or family photos as they come or go.”

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Midwest Eye has a hallway devoted to photos of mission trips the doctors have gone on. They chronicle the annual trips to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that Dr. Robert and members of his family have been making since 1999 along with members of his church and World Gospel Outreach, which takes teams to Tegucigalpa 30-40 weeks each year. According to Dr. Robert, “The teams set up medical clinics in little barrio churches that address both the spiritual and physical needs of the people there.” He works with a team including physicians, dentists and ODs, and brings thousands of pairs of glasses each year, many donated by his patients and the local Lion’s Club. Dr. Bauer joins a group of ophthalmologists from KEC on mission trips to Piura, Peru, sponsored by St. John the Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. During these trips, he assists with pre- and post-operative care of cataract patients, pterygium surgeries and treats diseased eyes. Taking their expertise to Honduras and Peru has been a wonderful opportunity for both doctors, says Dr. Robert, who adds he’s overwhelmed by the support of patients who collect glasses for trips; the reward for him and Dr. Bauer is the smiles of the many patients they see each trip.

PHOTO GALLERY (34 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Midwest Eye

1. GO GET ’EM. Every so often, staff form two groups and spread out into the two communities on either side of the office, introducing themselves, giving and gathering business cards, and selecting a winner from each town to receive a free eye exam and pair of glasses.

2. KID FRIENDLY. Midwest Eye has a live I Spy game in the office, and often gives kids books with items to find, fun facts and word searches. Kids can also do homework at the data bar.

3. POP STARS. The store is working on launching pop-up trunk shows that will spotlight one frame vendor periodically.

4. BACK TO SCHOOL. Staff are constantly learning new things while attending CE courses, and, according to Dr. Robert, “sharing what we have learned with our patients.”

5. OFF THE WALL. “We have a local artist display her artwork in the office,” says Dr. Robert, “and it’s for sale.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Beautiful, modern in-store design with a strong mix of color, materials, textures and style. Nathan Troxell, Think About Your Eyes, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The interior of this practice really upped their score. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • A playful, collaborative effort seems to shine throughout all elements of the business, which creates a nice environment for patients. The brick and wood as well as color scheme of the office create a warm yet modern appeal, and the privacy kiosks make the space feel more intimate. The eyeglass mirror and eyewear displays by the waiting area are nice little touches. The Superhero theme is fun and makes their SM posts unique. I especially liked the Superhero intro story. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

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America's Finest

Optical Doesn’t Get Any More ‘Indie’ Than This New England Boutique

The Eyeglass Lass has a knack for getting people to take a chance on distinctive eyewear.

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The Eyeglass Lass, New London, CT

OWNER: Siobhán Burns; URL: theeyeglasslass.com; FOUNDED: 2014; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: me, me, and me! “Eyeball Wall” by Rob Vaughn Guess, 2015 cleaning cloth and decor images by Sara M. Lyons; EMPLOYEES: 0; AREA: 450 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: l.a. Eyeworks, Lowercase NYC, Andy Wolf, theo, STATE Optical Co.; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/theeyeglasslass; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/theeyeglasslass; BUILDOUT COST: “Maybe $400”


Siobhán Burns

ABOUT SEVEN YEARS ago, feeling tapped out after 10 years in corporate optical, Siobhán Burns moved to Chicago “for a guy” and started working at an independent optical. On her first day, she had one of those “I could totally do this” moments, though she soon realized that neither the guy nor his hometown were her cup of tea.

In early 2014 she had another moment — this one was of the “If I don’t do it now…” variety. By March, Burns was back home in New London, CT, and by May she was opening the doors to The Eyeglass Lass. “Talk about a whirlwind! I was completely winging it — I had no savings or startup money! I had a lensometer, my lucky PD ruler, two display cases that I traded for a future pair of glasses, and some frames trickling in. From the moment I started preparing paperwork and researching locations, products, etc., I just told myself that I was going to try, and no matter what came of it, I could cross ‘business owner’ off of my bucket list. Six years later, I still can’t believe I did it.”

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New London is just south of Mystic, CT, a New England tourist hub whose maritime history brings in visitors from surrounding states by rail and ferry. “When I decided to take the leap, the only place I thought of was here — I love New London. People spend more time seeking out eyewear than they did before, and I’m happy to say that The Eyeglass Lass has become a destination for many,” she says.

The vibe at The Eyeglass Lass is funky/retro; Burns finds customers are more at ease in an environment that’s not overly “sterile and organized.” When she opened, she didn’t have a target clientele in mind, but most of her clients are women in their late 20s to late 60s. “I typically order eyewear based on if I would wear it,” Burns says with a laugh. “I have to remind myself that not everyone has my taste, but if it is unique or makes a statement, I’ll test it out. As more people come in, my reach has expanded. A great frame can give someone confidence. We use glasses to project what we want people to see us as, to hide scars, to boost our self-esteem.”

Every frame in the shop can be picked up and tried on. “I like people to ‘get their feet wet’ when they come in for the first time,” says Burns. “Over my 15-plus years in optical, I’ve seen how hesitant people are to ask to try something on that’s under lock and key. I let people know that they can make themselves comfortable and try anything and everything on; they might not find ‘the frame’ that way, but it may open up their mind to different colors and shapes, and that’s when I start to chime in,” says Burns, who’s worked in the optical field since 2003, and has been a licensed optician since 2008.

Burns doesn’t do any paid advertising outside of the odd Facebook “boost”. She credits word of mouth for almost all of her business to date. “I’ve had people come by car and train to have me help them because they saw so-and-so posted about their new glasses,” she says. Skillful use of social media plays a role here; customers enjoy striking poses with their new eyewear for the shop’s Instagram and FB, something she finds particularly pleasing because it means others get to see real people in the frames she carries. “I’m not posting a photo of an airbrushed model. It makes the idea of wearing funkier eyewear much more relatable, and takes someone from ‘Oh, I could never wear something like that’ to ‘Hey, maybe I could try something like that this time!’”

At some point during her transformation into The Eyeglass Lass, Burns realized that “selecting eyewear is not just about seeing anymore. Whether this is going to be their only pair for the next however many years, or one of a dozen, someone is putting their trust in me to help them put their best face forward. It’s a big deal!”

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PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Eyeglass Lass

1. OFF THE WALL. One whole wall of the optical is painted with bold eyes: the perfect spot for selfies and ‘new look’ glamour shots.

2. MINOR CELEBRITY. Her tattoos don’t just make her instantly recognizable; they have also made her slightly famous. She once appeared on the competition TV show INK MASTER.

3. SOLO ACT. Burns is a genuine one-ECP show. “No one else has ever worked in my shop in the five years it has been open. As much as I cringe saying this, I think people really do come here for me!” she says.

4. COLLECTIBLE. Born to antique-dealer parents, Burns has collecting in her blood; her “tchotchkes” now adorn every corner of the store. Customers even bring in cool trinkets for her.

5. LOCAL TALENT. “Awesome independent artist” Sara M Lyons (@saramlyons) designed the shop’s cleaning cloths and Rob Vaughn Guess painted the selfie wall.

 

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Siobhan’s story is incredibly moving. It embodies the “American Dream”—striking out on her own with very little to fall back on except her undeniable passion and love for eyewear. Out of all of the submissions, her store most directly reflects her unique personality. Nathan Troxell, Think About Your Eyes, Pittsburgh, PA
  • The Eyeglass Lass is an enthusiastic optical leader. Her sense of pride and passion is apparent, and she takes eyecare seriously. Siobhan takes a very people-first approach to both her business and marketing, and it’s refreshing to see her feature real customers in her social media feeds. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • I love the authentic, sassy feeling of this business. Even the wording on her website feels like she is “talking directly to you.” She seems to really home in on customer service and does everything she can to make the experience as fun and personable as possible. Kudos to her for creating and running this business on her own. Her tag line #makeeyecontactworthwhile is fantastic! Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

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“Elephant in the room,” cautions Burns. “I am covered in tattoos.” While they are not as instantly stigmatizing as they used to be, the truth is that extensive tattoos would probably still be a hiring obstacle for many small business owners. Says Burns, “It might come as a shock to many that I am pretty smart, don’t do illegal things in my spare time, and own a business that isn’t a tattoo shop.” When she’s out in the world, people stop her and offer comments ranging from how beautiful her body art is to how disgusting it is “and how could anyone ever love me.” She used to cover them up in professional situations, but now takes pride in changing the perception of tattooed individuals, especially in her shop. “My tattoos compliment the vibe of my store and the frame lines I carry, and they have definitely never kept me from making a sale once someone realizes that I, one, own the place, and, two, know what I’m doing.”

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America's Finest

This North Carolina Practice Greets Patients with a Beer, a Song and a Wag of the Tail

Simple word of mouth has kept them growing since day one.

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Swell Vision Center, Leland, NC

OWNER: Craig Scibal, OD; URL:swellvisioncenter.com; FOUNDED: 2016; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: BMH Architects, Bryan Humphrey Designs, Ken Hardy, Jonathan Pratt; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Todd Rogers, Moscot, OGI, Seraphin, Maui Jim; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/swellvisioncenter; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/swellvisioncenter; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


Owner Dr. Craig Scibal’s favorite patient is one that ‘comes in with their dog, has a beer and gets to know the practice while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music.’

H AVE YOU EVER asked yourself who your favorite type of patient is? Or is that the sort of question small business owners are no longer allowed to permit themselves? Dr. Craig Scibal, owner of Swell Vision Center in Leland, NC, has no such qualms. “My favorite patient is one that comes in with their dog, has a beer, gets to know us while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music, and then leaves excited to tell their friends about their experience.”

Clearly, here’s a practice that knows who and what it is, something its clientele — described by Scibal as “mostly newly retired happy folks from the Northeast,” seem to appreciate. Scibal and his team have pulled off that rare feat of delivering top-level patient care and eyewear while remaining true to themselves.

Swell Vision Center opened its doors cold one April day in 2016 in Leland, a small town west of Wilmington. Their first patient walked in around 11 a.m. and asked if they were open. “Admittedly shocked that somebody came in, my staff member and I were slightly speechless and stumbled upon the word ‘yes.’ Since that day, Swell has continued to grow, with most of our advertising and marketing being word of mouth.”

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In high school, Scibal worked for the private practice his dad owned for about 25 years in Morehead City, NC. He later worked at Elite Vision Care, a private practice in League City, TX, while attending optometry school in Houston.

“I knew that I wanted to be in Leland, NC, based on the growth it had seen,” says Scibal. Thanks to the huge influx of retirees southeastern North Carolina has seen in recent years, Brunswick has been the fastest growing county in the state since 2015. “The area really only had one other place for eyecare, so I figured I’d try to get in early before it became too saturated.”

Swell has made a point of offering all the latest technology and frame lines, carrying mostly independent eyewear brands that are unique to the area. “We’ve tried to shy away from having eyewear that can be purchased everywhere around town and I think patients enjoy it. Not only do patients appreciate it, but staff really appreciate it when they can tell you’re invested in the practice, so it’s a win-win.”

Dr. Scibal knew he wanted to be located in Leland, NC, based on the growth the town has seen in recent years, largely thanks to retirees.

According to Scibal, the office was designed so that somebody would come in and feel at home — not at a doctor’s office. Using a lot of neutral colors, polished concrete, metal and brick, the office design relays a relaxed and professional atmosphere. The office is split into a front half consisting of a reception desk/area and optical boutique, and a back half consisting of the pretest/exam/and contact lens area. The two are separated by frosted glass barn doors that create a modern feel with a comfortable, homey twist. Candles and oil diffusers enhance the olfactory experience.

Visiting Swell is a bit like calling on that one friend who puts you to shame by being such a thoughtful host. The idea, Scibal says, is that from the moment a patient calls the practice, they start to wonder if they are even talking to a doctor’s office. “With questions like, ‘What would you like to drink upon your arrival — water/beer/wine/soda/tea/coffee?’ to ‘Are you cool with dogs?’ to ‘What kind of music do you like?’ the patient realizes this isn’t just another office.

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Little does the patient know, every answer they give is written down and studied by the staff prior to their arrival.” When they turn up, their favorite drinks and music are waiting for them. (See Five Cool Things on page 71).

The personable approach carries over to Swell’s online presence. Says Scibal, “I think your website should be quick, clean, and informative. For a lot of people, it is the first impression they’ll get of your establishment and brand.” Swell’s site incorporates professional images of the office, logos of the eyewear, and information on the staff and the doctor. “So in that sense, I see our website as all three.” Possibly due to the demographic, Scibal doesn’t see social media as much of a sales channel or foot traffic driver, posting once every few weeks or so, mostly highlighting a new frame line, staff introduction post, or a funny optometry meme.

“I am nothing without my staff,” admits Scibal. The first interaction with Swell Vision Center is typically with the thick British accent of the receptionist, Helen. “She truly defines customer service and makes every single person feel comfortable and feeling like they want a ‘cup o’ tea.’ Both of the opticians/technicians are cross-trained and can float amongst the office performing any task as needed. Both are genuinely excited about eyewear and typically rub off their excitement on patients.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Swell Vision Center

1. PARTY TIME. Every time Swell gets another 100 5-star Google reviews, they throw a staff party, ranging from axe throwing to Topgolf.

2. TUNE IN. Upon entering the exam room, patients hear the music they requested during their appointment call, streaming at 50 percent volume so they hear it immediately, then a bit lower once the exam gets underway.

3. LOCAL BREWS. Swell is constantly rotating its craft beer selection with local breweries. With the craft beer industry booming in the area, it adds local flavor to the experience.

4. SLICE OF LIFE. Every year, Swell sponsors the photo booth at the local Children’s Museum. The event, called ‘Pizza Putt,’ converts the entire museum into a putt-putt course and brings in local pizza vendors and breweries.

5. GOODIES. Swell has custom Freakers (drink covers seen on Shark Tank), custom socks, and T-shirts/hoodies/polos for giving away to loyal patients.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Swell’s personal touch and welcoming approach to eyecare and eyewear shine through in their hospitality and how they take care of their customers. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the story — something so genuine and simple about the honesty and less-is-more approach. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • This is a great example of independent optometry and the personalized service that is so critical for differentiation and success. Great cabinetry, and love the little personal service touchpoints. The attention to detail in regard to customers’ preferred beverages and music is a nice touch, as are the craft beer offerings supporting local business. The content on their digital platforms contains a nice balance and shows off the warm personality of the business. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

One of the most important members of the team at Swell is Horatio (full name Horatio Fizkin Scibal), a “very well-behaved, found in a trash can, beautiful rescue dog who is the official greeter,” according to Scibal. He greets each patient at the entrance, follows them through pre-testing and the exam (he has a bed next to the exam chair), and helps them pick out eyewear. Since the day Scibal rescued Horatio in 2014, “he has been the most gentle and loyal dog I’ve ever known.” When a new patient calls to set up an appointment they are always asked if they mind having a “sweet pup named Horatio” roaming the office at their appointment. “In 3.5 years of being open, we’ve probably had less than 10 patients say they’d prefer him not to be there,” says Scibal. Horatio features prominently in marketing material, and behind the front desk there’s even a painted portrait of him at the phoropter getting his eyes checked.

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