Retail Strategies: Retail Design


Grand Illusions

Special West Coast Expo Profile
High-end style meets friendly service in Northern California

By Kristen Spina

Photographed by Lori Spears

Drawing inspiration from
the art and architecture of
old world, Italy, Optical Illusions’ newest store boasts a museum-quality interior featuring fine art reproduction murals including one on the ceiling that cost over $25,000; Fenton Allen, general manager, notes the clientele of the two-store Northern California dispensary have come to expect perfection.

When Fenton Allen came across a newspaper article touting the development of a high-end multi-use community in the heart of the Silicon Valley, he knew he had found the ideal site for a second Optical Illusions location. Just a 30 minute drive from the original Optical Illusions store in San Mateo, Calif., the new development boasts worldclass restaurants and shops, a European-style promenade, boutique hotel, condominiums, a weekly farmer’s market, valet parking, open air café seating and on-going street entertainment.

Nestled within this upscale mix of retail and residential space is Allen’s masterpiece. Drawing inspiration from the art and architecture of old world Italy, Optical Illusions newest venture boasts a museum- quality interior featuring limestone walls and floors, and fine art reproduction murals that on the ceiling alone cost over $25,000. “It cost us $750,000 to build this store,” says Allen, general manager. “We beat out about 30 other optical retailers who were trying to get in.”

The design of the new store is a unique backdrop to the high-end frame collections that line the custom cherry wood cabinets artfully positioned within the 1,900-square-foot interior. With two exam rooms and a finishing lab on the premises, Optical Illusions is a full-service optical shop with six staff members and a full-time optometrist on board. Catering to affluent private-paying customers, the San Jose location features an inventory of 1,800 frames, including the Fenton Solid Gold Collection. Designed by Fenton and produced in Japan, this custom collection features precious stone accents, including diamonds, sapphires and rubies. Priced from $3,000 to $7,000, it is not unusual for the store to sell at least one Solid Gold frame a month.

By comparison, the San Mateo store also has an inventory of approximately 1,800 high-end frames on display, but caters primarily to customers with insurance benefits. “We see about 300 insurance patients a month in San Mateo,” says Allen. “As a result, our average sale in that location is about $400 complete, compared to about $800 in San Jose.”

And while both locations continue to prosper, Allen is quick to note that the local economy, particularly in the Silicon Valley, has been a bit shaky in recent years. “We are, however, very optimistic that within the next two to three years, things will turn around,” he says.

Laylo Ngo, optical technician, shows off one of the
1,800 frames carried in the stores, which includes
the Fenton Solid Gold Collection. Designed by
Fenton Allen and produced in Japan, the custom
collection features such precious stone accents
as diamonds, sapphires and rubies.

To foster interest in the new location among regular clientele as well as tourists visiting the area, Optical Illusions supports a wide range of promotions throughout the year, including advertising in the local newspaper and participating in fashion shows. In addition, the store offers special discounts to Santana Row’s Hotel Valencia guests and donates gift certificates for product and/or exams to established charity events. “We also reward our clientele with gift with purchase items, such as a wine companion set featuring our printed logo,” he adds. The San Jose location is also host to designer eyewear trunk shows and periodic sale events.

Owned by William Steiner, OD, both locations bring in a combined sales volume of over $2 million. Allen, who has worked with Dr. Steiner for 20 years, credits their success to an emphasis on topline service, a well-trained staff and a large selection of high-end merchandise, including styles from Alain Mikli, Cartier and Anne et Valentin. “Our clientele has come to expect perfection and Optical Illusions strives to deliver the best,” he says. “Our biggest referrals come from clients who leave the store ecstatic about their selected eyewear and the excellent service they received.”

Allen and Dr. Steiner divide their time between both store locations, but Allen clearly has a fondness for their newest venture. “The interior is very similar to the lobby of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas,” he says. “The murals are custom-made laminates of world famous paintings, reproduced and hand-crafted to fit the dimensions of the ceiling. We are recognized as one of the most beautiful boutiques in the area.”

In fact, he says proudly, the San Jose location has become a “must see optical boutique,” with word travelling from California to the East Coast.