Retail Strategies: Retail Design


Eye on Tech

Creatively displaying 2,000 frames is no easy task. Doing so in such a way as to give customers carte blanche to touch, feel and try on only adds to the challenge. Successfully managing this scenario with just four full-time employees—well, it’s daunting, to say the least.

Located in the picturesque university town of San Luis Obispo on California’s central coast, Debonair Eyes relies on cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art software to make the most of its large inventory, limited staff and growing customer base. Owners Kim and Deborah Kurpjuweit, along with Deborah’s son R.J. and daughter Tara, have turned this 1,900-square-foot storefront into an eyewear superstore that caters to a wide range of customers, including college students, young families and the elderly. The store—much like the city itself—has benefited from a recent influx of new money and a strong real estate market.

Dynamic Dispensing
Debonair Eyes

June 2000

3840-5 Broad Street,
San Luis Obispo, Calif.






Debonair Eyes is high on technology thanks to owners Deborah and Kim Kurpjuweit: Deborah shows off the shops interactive computer system, which allows customers to virtually view themselves in a variety of eyewear styles on a 73 inch high-definition TV; Kim has developed a digital scan system that stores all customer records; sunwear is an important part of the store’s large inventory of frames.

“We are in a newer part of town that has just exploded in the last three years,” says Kim Kurpjuweit. “This is the end of town where the money is.”

Debonair Eyes takes pride in having something for everyone. Kurpjuweit, by way of explanation, says, “I love to build things, but I’m frustrated by neighborhood hardware stores and their limited selection. I often end up driving 30 miles to the nearest Home Depot to find what I need. That was something I thought about a lot in reference to this store. We really wanted to make sure we had added selection. We carry over 65 brands and every single frame is on display.”

Debonair Eyes stocks a range of styles—priced from just $35 up to $400—from most major eyewear companies, including Luxottica, Marchon and Sàfilo. “I just love frames,” says Deborah Kurpjuweit, an optician with over 18 years experience. “We also do really well with sunwear—Persol, Spy, Oakley, Dragon and Smith. People are beginning to catch on that we retail a little differently than the neighborhood Sunglass Hut.”

Managing that kind of inventory with just four family members on staff is no small task. In fact, says Kim Kurpjuweit, shrinkage was a problem the store had to deal with early on. “We like to leave the displays open and the eyewear accessible,” adds Kurpjuweit. “But it does create a bit of a security problem.” He researched ways to increase security and found a radio antenna system ideal for tagging the frames. A foldover adhesive security tag is placed on the temple of each frame. Designed for multi-purpose use, the tag is small enough not to interfere with customers trying on frames and yet is secure enough to thwart would-be shoplifters. The tags run about three cents each, making them a cost-effective alternative. Kurpjuweit then added four digital cameras that record store activity 24/7 and installed Retail Edge software in the store’s computers to manage the inventory database. “We still have an environment where customers can help themselves, but now it’s pretty obvious if someone is trying to shoplift.”

Technology also plays a leading role on the sales floor. A 73" Mitsubishi HD-TV, digital camcorder and high-speed interactive computer system gives customers the opportunity to try a variety of frames and then review their options in either a side-by-side or freeze frame picture mode. “We make appointments for people to try this service and it’s been an overwhelming success.” When not in use as a sales tool, the TV plays a wide range of seasonal videos, including underwater photography and Warren Miller ski flicks.

Kurpjuweit also developed a system that digitally scans customer records and stores the information on the shop’s computers for quick and easy reference. “It really saves us time and energy—our productivity is up and our costs are down.” Kurpjuweit, who is a self-described “electronic junky,” adds, “You can either work smarter using available technology and fewer employees or you can pay a large staff to shuffle papers. We do a lot more with less people.” In fact, says Kurpjuweit, the more the company automates, the better. “I believe we are poised to hit $800,000 to $1 million with the infrastructure we already have in place.”

The San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based shop creatively displays a stock of about 2,000 frames; because the dispensary is run by a staff of four, the Kurpjuweits uses all the latest computer technology to save both time and money.