When optometrist Jan Mertz decided to open her own eye practice, she jumped at the chance to rent a space in the revived Cordage Park, a historic old rope factory that was renovated into an office park in Plymouth, Mass. “Patients, colleagues and sales reps exclaim, ‘How gorgeous,’ and ‘Wow,’ whenever they come in for the first time,” she says. “The floors are the original floors from the 1800s and are beautiful, wide-planked, dark wooden boards despite the scarring from the years of rope manufacturing. All the ceilings are 12 to 15 feet and the windows go from floor to ceiling and still have the original glass.”
Dr. Mertz opened her practice, M2Eye, in mid-January of 2008, after 25 years in the field working for private and commercial practices, the military and teaching in California and Boston. Besides herself, she has one other employee to work the front desk. Her husband, Dr. James Mertz, recently got his optometry degree, which he uses in conjunction with his Ph.D. in biochemistry to teach at the New England College of Optometry. In the future, he will have his own exam lane and spend one or two days a week sharing the practice with his wife, which was the original motivation behind the practice name. “He’s so smart,” says Dr. Jan Mertz. “He sees the whole picture and really knows how to take care of a patient.”
In addition to his medical experience, Dr. James Mertz is also an accomplished woodworker—he built the front desk of the practice from 15 feet of dark, curved wood, which he hand-stained before applying a top laminate that looks like marble. Dr. Jan Mertz incorporated mahogany frame cabinets to match the wood of the front desk and floors and also found furniture with glass tabletops to allow the rich, old floors to show through. Because the office is only 550 square feet total, lots of mirrors were placed to visually increase the space, including a 10 foot by five foot mirror with the office logo sandblasted into it, as well as a two-way mirror into the dispensary so that outside pedestrians can “window shop” while customers try on frames.
Although Dr. Mertz says her specialty has always been contact lens fittings, she has recently become the go-to person for bifocals and bifocal contacts. “I just became presbyopic myself, so I know what it’s like to reach an age where you can’t read anymore,” she says. “I guess I didn’t really get it until now, when it happened to me.” She uses her personal experience to help Baby Boomers deal with the issues that arise from aging eyes. Now she draws a large group of middle-age customers who want bifocal glasses and contacts.
But Dr. Mertz is not content to just sit back and wait for patients to come to her. She gives talks in offices throughout the Cordage Park complex, encouraging people to take care of their vision and explaining the warning signs and treatments for problems like glaucoma and cataracts. She networks with a local women’s business group through the chamber of commerce, getting the word out about her practice and its specialties. And, of course, her parents refer all their friends.
Dr. Mertz is also able to work with uninsured patients to provide them with the care they need. “I spent time working in a homeless shelter when I was in optometry school,” she says. “It’s a good service and we can provide them with quality frames and take care of their vision.”
But that’s not the only thing Dr. Mertz has done for a good cause. Last Labor Day weekend, she swam a mile in the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for the National Eye Institute. She and her two college-aged children, Valerie, 20, and Vincent, 19, participated in the Mayflower International Triathlon that included a 30-mile bike ride completed by Vincent and a 6.2-mile run completed by Valerie. “At first the children were going to do it themselves, but the swimming part got a little bit daunting,” Dr. Mertz says. “So they figured they’d ask mom to do it, since they know I love to swim.” After months of training Dr. Mertz completed her mile-long swim in the harbor in front of her office park and raised a small but helpful sum of money to donate to the institute.
Of course, all the networking and advertising in the world wouldn’t matter if Dr. Mertz didn’t have the quality service and inventory to provide to her new customers. “I have very nice reps who come in and keep me up-to-date,” she says. “We try to keep our frame boards current.” With about 700 frames on display, all hand-picked by Dr. Mertz, it’s easy to offer multiple options to customers with confidence. “I would wear any frame that’s in my dispensary,” says Dr. Mertz. Popular brands she sells range from Gucci, Burberry and Ralph Lauren to Vogue and Luxottica’s Memorize line.
In addition to picking all her stock, Dr. Mertz also uses an inventory system to keep track of her sales by computer. Every frame has a bar code so the OD can keep track of which frames sell the most, what hasn’t sold, etc., as well as give receipts and keep track of transactions for warranty claims or returns. “We want people to be 100 percent happy all the time,” she says. “I want people to see good, look good and feel good.” With every exam or frame purchase, she gives out cleaning cloths with her name and phone number on them. “I tell them, ‘See this number? This is for you to always call me,’” she says. “I will make calls during off hours to see someone. It’s better for them to see me immediately than to go to the ER and wait and wait and wait.”
Dr. Mertz’s love for her job is apparent in her dedication to quality service and customer satisfaction. “I love taking care of people and their vision,” she says. “It’s a lot of responsibility and an honor. I feel very privileged that I can take care of someone’s eyes.”