Features: Successful Retail Strategies

Jan
2003

Coming Home

Coming Home
Adolph Optical brings intense meaning
to the phrase “family business”

By Heather Pollock

1. At Adolph Optical in Akron, Ohio an antique oak table is used in lieu of a typical dispensing table; 2. Eyewear displayed on gilded shelving from the early 1900s; 3. Adolph Barracato’s first optical shop was on wheels—he went door to door with his services; 4. The dispensary carries an eclectic mix of frames; 5. Vintage eyewear on display at the shop does double duty for local theater productions


When is an optical shop a home? When it’s the century-old home housing Adolph Optical. Constructed as a residence in 1903 by Akron, Ohio’s Esselburn family, the building became the West Hill Branch Library in the 1950s. It was later broken into apartments before finally welcoming the Adolph Barracato family and its unique optical vision in 1980. 

Adolph Barracato began his optical training while serving as a Navy corpsman. “It beat working in the kitchen,” he jokes. 

After his military stint, Barracato delved into the optical industry full-time, working as an optician in various practices in Cleveland and Akron. But when he proposed opening his own dispensary, he was shut out by the local optical community. So he decided to take his business on the road. Borrowing a page from Chuck Taylor who originally sold his now-famous high-top Converse sneakers from the trunk of his car, Barracato went door-to-door with his optical services. Though the idea was short-lived, the theory behind it remained: make the customer feel at home.  
That home is Adolph Optical. Located in the eclectic West Akron neighborhood of Highland Square, customers feel as if they’ve just popped in on their neighbors. After 31 years in the business, Al Barracato and his son and successor, Tom Barracato, know almost three generations of their clientele on a personal level.
A typical day at the shop finds “Leslie” coming in to pick up her new glasses. She tells Tom Barracato how her father has traded his 1966 Mustang for a 1994 Saab and some cash. “Good deal,” Barracato remarks. “How are the glasses?” Leslie is pleased.

That’s the Adolph Optical idea of a personalized buying experience. Barracato likens it to purchasing a can of grocery store coffee versus getting a cup at Starbucks; many people prefer the latter because it’s not just about the coffee—it’s the whole package of product and customer service. “It’s more than delivery,” notes Barracato. “This is our profession. It’s not an occupation.”

Speaking of coffee… that is something customers also find at Adolph Optical served on antique china atop a vintage armoire. The coffee service and the armoire are important Adolph essentials. Those essentials never seem contrived. For example, the large antique oak table in the center of what was a living room for so many years is in lieu of a typical counter one might see in a dispensary. 
“It was my mom’s idea,” says Barracato. “At that time [1980] no one was doing it.” The table sits in front of a working marble fireplace. The two main display shelves are pieces from the early 1900s adorned with gilded pineapples—classic symbols of hospitality. They are surrounded by antique desks, mirrors and dressers—all of which complete the distinct mix of vintage and contemporary comprising the Highland Square look. “This is a fun neighborhood,” says Barracato. “Our clients may be lawyers or landscapers, some are artists, some musicians.”

Kids have a room of their own at Adolph Optical. Everything is smaller in scale. There are kid-sized tables and chairs as well as colorful displays. Photos of Barracato’s own children smile down on customers.   

Adolph Optical’s cache of best sellers is an eclectic mix including handmade Italian frames from Taxi, magnetic clip styles from Takumi and frames from Cazal, Fendi, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Alain Mikli and Neostyle. Modo is a popular brand and a hot new name to the mix is Via Spiga from Zyloware. The shop’s most popular lens brand is Varilux.

Besides the product offerings, there is a wide range of vintage eyewear displayed including mask-like creations from Anglo-American. A few of the more eccentric optical objects d’art occasionally do double duty as props for local plays and performances. 

Being part of the community is an essential ingredient to the dispensary’s recipe for success. Adolph Optical promotes rather than advertises, often donating eyewear to school functions, raffles and the local charity ball.  “We prefer word-of-mouth advertising,” explains Barracato.  Part of their promotional efforts includes a web site (
www.adolphoptical.com), which features a brief history, directions to the store, products and specials. 

Adolph Optical’s success is a true family tradition. When asked why their formula has worked for so long, Barracato smiles. “We love being here,” he says. “We love having you here. It’s our home. Join us.”

6. Adolph Optical founder Adolph Barracato got his optical training while serving as a Navy corpsman; 7. Adolph’s son Tom Barracato keeps the optical tradition in the family; 8. Antique desks, mirrors and dressers exude the shops homey flavor.

 

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