Features: Successful Retail Strategies

Sep
2003

The O Team

Photo by MICHAEL SAHAIDA


Norman Childs is not one to let opportunity pass him by. As president of the Pittsburgh-based Eyetique optical shop chain, the optical-passionate industry veteran has spent the last 24 years turning the Eyetique name into a retail brand that stands for innovation, quality and top-line services.

Eyetique is a growing enterprise. There are currently three stores in the Pittsburgh area, but Childs is hoping to open one or two more locations by year end. In addition, the innovative and continually developing Eyetique Advantage program is going a long way toward expanding the business beyond the boundaries of a bricks-and-mortar storefront.

“Norman’s philosophy is that if you are thinking inside the box, you are not for this company,” says brother and vice president/COO Brad Childs. “We don’t sit around our stores and wait for people to come in. We go out and get them.”

Eyetique’s proactive business stance is clearly visible in the evolution of Eyetique Advantage. Introduced 15 years ago as a way to bring more patients through the door, Advantage offers the employees and family members of participating corporate clients a 20 percent discount on most products and services available in store. Recently, Childs and his team created two new programs that complement the Eyetique Advantage objective—each program is designed to meet the changing needs of corporate clients or large organizations and to further grow the business.

The Eyetique Combination plan supplements a corporation or group’s existing vision benefits with enhanced features and added discounts; the Eyetique Premium plan offers benefits, including discounts on frames and lenses, to those who don’t currently have vision care coverage. With the Premium plan, Eyetique essentially takes on the role of insurance company for a company or an organization—a local union, for example. Under the umbrella of each of these three plans is Eyetique Advantage to You, a service that brings an OD, optician and a comprehensive selection of frames, lenses and contacts right into the client’s conference room.

In fact, says Norman Childs, the framework of all these retail programs is simply added value. “While others are cutting back, we’re being proactive,” he says. “We needed to get out there and make it happen. I’m always looking for opportunity.”

“Making it happen” requires a great deal of legwork—an idea that is not lost on the Childs brothers. In fact, both say networking is of tantamount importance. “When I opened my first store in 1979, I used credit cards to pay for it and then I went out and shook hands and made sure people knew I was in business,” says Norman. “It’s a little different today—but not by much. Now I’m taking the marketing of shaking hands and meeting people and using it on a broader scale.” Networking, it seems, has been raised to an artform at Eyetique. In fact, attending fundraisers, civic meetings and just shaking hands with other business leaders has gone a long way toward building the Eyetique brand and launching its various retail programs.

Taking the Eyetique Advantage to You program on the road involves the expertise of a marketing executive, an OD and an optician. The team travels with portable equipment, including a handheld autorefractor borrowed from lab partner Beitler McKee, approximately 200 frames and a full selection of lenses and contact lenses. “The marketing rep typically gets us in the door and sets up all the appointments,” explains Brad. “The OD spends the day doing exams and the optician sells frames and lenses.” A week later, the team returns to deliver the eyewear and make adjustments. Two weeks later they are on site again for troubleshooting and final adjustments. It’s also important, says Brad, to maintain the image of Eyetique while on the road. Toward that end, the team makes a point to bring in gourmet coffee, bottled water, chocolate and other small amenities chosen to enhance the experience for participating clients and their employees.

Internet service provider Stargate, clothing giant American Eagle Outfitters and supermarket superchain Giant Eagle are three recent participants. “We did over 100 exams at American Eagle,” says Brad.

While frame selection is targeted to the demographics of the participating client, Eyetique executives are typically prepared to tempt Eyetique to You participants with high-end brands and directional styling. “By researching each of the companies and talking to their own marketing people, we’re able to get an idea of what the price range of our frame selection should be,” says Brad. “At the same time, we never judge a book by its cover. We always bring a great selection, including Cartier, Matsuda and Oliver Peoples because it’s very important to be diversified. We bring in color contact, regular contact and toric contact lenses—all because it doesn’t look good for us if we don’t have everything available on site.”

One of the added benefits to the Eyetique Advantage to You program, according to both Norman and Brad, is that many of the employees of participating companies go on to become customers in store, often bringing in other family members as well. “This is found business,” says Norman. “If we don’t get it, someone else will.”

Eyetique Advantage To You and its umbrella programs are clearly just one ingredient of one store’s retail strategy—but it is perhaps the ingredient that sets this small chain apart from many of its competitors. “If business gets slow, we don’t sit around our stores and wait for people to walk in,” says Brad. “We go out and get them. We pound the pavement. There is no stopping ever.”

Norman agrees. “We have to be creative. We have to find ways to build the business without solely being dependent on the people who walk through the doors.”

 

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