Features: Successful Retail Strategies

Jun
2008

Blink Unique

An Allentown dispensary combines big city style with small town hospitality



If Blink Optique in Allentown, Pa., looks like it was lifted right out of New York, then owner and optometrist Suzanne Evano Hauck achieved her decorating goals. “I wanted it to look like a boutique setting you would find in SoHo,” she explains. From the red walls to the chandeliers to the draped fabrics, the optical shop is truly a work of art.

“I wanted to be in an environment that I felt comfortable. After working for other people for as long as I did, I was always in a doctor’s office setting and I thought it was kind of boring,” says Dr. Hauck. “Why should it be ugly out in the dispensing area?”

After graduating from Philadelphia College of Optometry in 1994, Dr. Hauck practiced in her home state of West Virginia, eventually becoming the optometrist for a steel mill. She met her husband and moved to Allentown, where she worked in a private practice before deciding to start her own.

Choosing a location in the “funky” part of town, she purchased an old pizza shop across the street from the local theater.  With the help of her husband, a painting contractor, she began to design a shop that would be different and memorable, making use of the 1,500 square feet of space. The historic building, from the late 1800s, featured elements like 11-foot ceilings and a unique front window. “It was kind of like decorating a second house,” she says. “I wanted it to be cute and inviting.” In January of 2007, Blink Optique opened its doors for business.

In addition to a uniquely decorated shop, Dr. Hauck also stocks a diverse selection of eyewear brands. “I bring in products that people haven’t seen so they won’t have to go to New York or Philly to keep their look fresh,” she says. Brands in her store include Face à Face, Francis Klein, Christian Roth, ic! berlin, Etnea Barcelona, Betsey Johnson, Chanel, Gucci, Dior and Tom Ford, with La Loop accessory displays scattered throughout. On average, most customers only purchase one pair of frames, whether it’s a high-end pair of ophthalmic glasses or a contact-lens wearer who wants some designer sunwear.

“Our opticians will make the customers try on things they probably wouldn’t have on their own,” says Dr. Hauck. “Because I carry different brands than people are used to seeing, people come out of their creative box.” Now that eyewear is more of a fashion accessory than before, the OD and her staff encourage people to try on glasses that are fashionable instead of traditional.
Combined with the boutique atmosphere, customers find themselves experimenting with new styles. “When you’re picking out glasses for yourself—or shopping for anything pretty, for that matter—you want to be in an environment where you feel good about yourself,” says Dr. Hauck. The decorations in her dispensary reflect her mantra. Ornate mirrors adorn the walls at every turn and frames hang invitingly on the walls. “I wanted my dispensary to be more of a shopping experience because eyewear is an important purchase. People end up leaving our office happy because they look different,” she says.

Dr. Hauck has discovered advantages to her smaller-town location that she would not have in a big-city location. Upon opening her new practice, Dr. Hauck introduced herself to her two “neighbors,” a handbag boutique and a jewelry store, as well as the owners of local salons.

When salon customers get a new haircut to change their look, the stylist will recommend a new pair of glasses to go with it and refer the customer to Blink Optique. And recently, Dr. Hauck and her two store neighbors hosted a “girls’ night out” fashion show for over 100 women, showing them new trends in accessories, from handbags to necklaces to eyewear. Dr. Hauck has also participated in several of the town’s “progressive happy hours,” where businesses will stay open later than normal while customers wander in and out of stores, sipping cocktails and shopping. Such partnerships would not be so readily available in a larger city. She also advertises in local newspapers and magazines, using the slogan: “Dress from the neck up.”

“My shop has been pretty well received,” says Dr. Hauck. “My clients are pretty much half men and half women, with a lot of children, too.” Dr. Hauck credits her success to good customer service and good inventory. “Customer service is a dying thing and I think people appreciate the amount of chair time I spend with them,” she notes. “Also, my shop wouldn’t survive if the optical part didn’t back it up.
Without a good selection of glasses, people wouldn’t be as motivated to come in.”
In addition to glasses, Dr. Hauck fits many of her customers with bifocal contacts or bifocal toric contact lenses. “The population is getting older and not everyone wants to wear glasses,” she says.

Glasses or not, Dr. Hauck says the store entered its second year in business still going strong. “I just want to make the same kind of living I did when I was working for someone else,” she says. “I’m not trying to make a million.”

 

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