Features: Retailing

Oct
2004

What Do Eye Care Does Care

A neighborhood business that works hard to keep it special

By Kristen Spina
You could say that Sheila Caliman is married to the optical industry. And while she is, quite literally, married to the general manager of Anglo American Eyewear, she is also not-quite-so-literally married to a resume that includes stints at America’s Best, Signet-Armorlite and Hoya as well as her newest venture What Do Eye Care Optical, Ltd.

Opened in March of 2002, What Do Eye Care Optical is a 1,000-square-foot neighborhood shop just around the corner from where Sheila, her husband Allan J. Caliman II and their three children live. It is the kind of place where neighbors come and sit and chat and shop and where her six-year-old and four-year-old might wander in with their babysitter looking for some change to buy ice cream a few doors away.


What Do Eye Care’s Sheila Caliman welcomed the challenge of designing her take on optical retailing. That insight ranged from Ikea furnishings to quirky display tactics.

 



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WHO
What Do Eye Care Optical, Ltd.

ESTABLISHED
March 2002

LOCATION
Evergreen Park, Ill.

NUMBER OF STORES
One

AVERAGE SALE OF EYEWEAR
PACKAGE
$349

NUMBER OF FRAMES DISPLAYED
Approximately 1,000

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES
5

SALES VOLUME
$150,000

THE 20/20 TAKE
It takes a special eye to specialize

If you talk to Sheila Caliman, who runs the retail business with Jean Morrissette, long enough, it all makes perfect sense. She has a genuine interest in people—family and community—as well as a nose for problem solving. Which brings up the next point: What Do Eye Care Optical specializes in specialty eyewear. In addition to a strong business in handmade custom frames, the shop takes great pride in its ability to troubleshoot Rx and fit problems. “When people come in with complaints, we are very good at figuring out how to handle whatever problem they may be dealing with,” says Caliman. “We don’t have a doctor on the premises, but there is a doctor right down the street who we share referrals with. He gives our customers a good deal on the exam and since we are non-competing in the frames we carry, it works out well for both of us.”

If a customer comes into the shop with a pair of frames that have been broken or otherwise damaged, What Do Eye Care Optical can make a duplicate pair. And while the program is only available in zyl through Anglo American, it is a service that sets this retailer apart from much of its competition. “We can duplicate any frame in any color, change the bridge, take away the metal temples and stamp the customer’s own name inside,” says Sheila. The service takes three to four weeks for completion and costs $239.99—but for those who are very specific about their needs and willing to wait, it’s a good deal. The custom program accounts for about 15 percent of overall sales, or five to eight pairs a week.
In addition, the shop carries an inventory of approximately 1,000 frames from a wide range of vendors. Silhouette, Anglo American, Bolle, Maui Jim, Ray-Ban, Gucci, Armani, Versace and D&G are among the bestsellers here. Prices range from approximately $50 to $350. Three full-time and two part-time employees cater to the needs of a mixed clientele. While the neighborhood is home to a strong Irish community and a population based heavily in the service sector—police officers, firefighters, etc.—the store also has customers who live in the nearby affluent suburb of Beverly as well as customers who drive in from as far away as Wisconsin to have frames custom-made.

What Do Eye Care does not have a lab on site, but Caliman’s past work experience in the lens market has made her a true believer in the quality and workmanship of Hoya Optical Labs. “In our minds, they are the best lab in the country,” she says. “They are very easy to work with and we never have a problem that they won’t fix. We try to use all Hoya products and all AR coatings are index matched.”

At present, What Do Eye Care does not accept insurance plans, however, they have found that there are a few insurance companies willing to reimburse members for purchases made at the store. “I think managed care will continue to be one of our biggest challenges going forward,” Caliman notes. “Many of our clients have vision care, but right now we don’t accept coverage and while we may be forced to in the future, we don’t really want to.”

Caliman designed the store’s interior and purchased many of her display units from Ikea. “We really had a limited budget,” she explains. “A carpenter friend put in the wood floors and I shopped at Ikea for shelves and display cases. I even picked out a table and chairs for a kids’ section.” Caliman also made use of industry contacts and trade show experiences to secure point of sale pieces that would enhance the design and look of the interior.

Advertising and promotions remain a grassroots effort—local newspapers, postcard mailings, flyers and gift certificates are some of the tried-and-true tactics Caliman has used to generate interest in the shop. “I feel like we have to advertise locally all the time. It is the old adage, ‘out of site out of mind.’ The return on investment is hard to determine; even when we run a coupon we may not get many back, but eventually someone may remember the ad and come in and see us.”

And while Caliman believes that community outreach is the starting point for any new business, it’s clear that What Do Eye Care Optical takes the idea to the limit. “We are really big on customer service,” she says. “This is, afterall, a neighborhood place.”

 

 

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