Features: Successful Retail Strategies

Jun
2007

RETRO-SPEC-TIVE On Madison

A.R. Trapp offers classic preppy frames, a classy street address,


By Lauren Taylor • Photographs by DAN D’ERRICO

While walking down Madison Avenue in midtown New York, it’s hard not to notice the small window of A.R. Trapp. The full display of red women’s eyewear and men’s P3 shapes is difficult to pass by without stopping. The unique plastic frames are a signature of the store, which caters more to men than to women, especially the attorneys, accountants, doctors and architects that work nearby. The tiny store with three dispensing tables and one counter may noy occupy much real estate, but the historic shop is frequented by celebrities and local customers looking for unique frames and personal, one-on-one service.

A.R. Trapp Opticians was bought from its previous owners in 1969 by a newly licensed optician named Andrew Janedis, who is now the president. Since then, the store has become known worldwide for its vintage and vintage-inspired frames. They specialize in thick, handmade P3 and vintage shapes for men, like styles worn by music legend Buddy Holly and wizardkid Harry Potter. The attention-grabbing frames speak loudly for themselves; Janedis has never had to worry about advertising. “We are working on a web site,” he admits. “But we rely mostly on word-of-mouth.”

Customers come from as far away as Europe for the plastic P3 frames, with tortoise being the top-selling color for men. Even director Spike Lee bought five in various colors. New York architect Philip Johnson was famous in the 1960s and ’70s for wearing them in black.

And although the clientele is 60/40 in favor of men, women can find plenty to love at A.R. Trapp, especially in red. “We put out the display of red frames for Valentine’s Day about three years ago,” says Janedis. “They were so popular we still haven’t taken them down.” The display predominantly features red eyewear of various shapes, sizes and materials, some more practical than others. Red is the top-selling color for women, says Janedis.



Most of the frames sold at A.R. Trapp are the store’s own handmade self-named line, but other brands fuel the mix, including Anglo-American, Calvin Klein, l.a. eyeworks and Ray-Ban. “Polo Ralph Lauren is our topselling designer,” notes Janedis.

Customers can also bring in old broken frames and photographs to take advantage of the custom-made frame service offered by the store. The visual guides given by the customer are then sent to an affiliate of A.R. Trapp in England, where they are made into a reality. The process takes about four weeks and starts at $395 a pair, and has resulted in many satisfied customers.

If new interpretations of vintage frames just aren’t cutting it, customers can take a look at the “vintage corner,” as Janedis calls it. Indeed, it is in the back right corner of the store, a whole section devoted to plastic cat-eyes, metal ovals and plastic circles from days past. Many of the vintage frames are also classic brands, such as Anglo-American and Ralph Lauren, so quality doesn’t have to be sacrificed for classic style.

Janedis and his employees work hard to build relationships with their customers and provide the best eyewear service available. “We are about Customer 101,” says Isaac Feig, an optician at the store. “We’re a small business and we talk to each other.” That way, every employee knows about each customer’s needs and wants, and can provide service accordingly. It’s this kind of personalized attention that has kept customers coming back time and again. Many have been coming since Janedis bought the store.

Since bold plastic P3s aren’t everybody’s frame of choice, the store also stocks other styles. Janedis says the sales of rimless frames are increasing, although they still only make up about 15 percent of their business. Sunwear makes up an even smaller portion at an estimated 10 percent. It seems customers can’t get enough of the preppy look. “People are motivated by a signature concept,” says Feig. “They have a picture in their mind.” Once the customer has explained what they are looking for, Janedis and Feig find three to four choices that fit their description, so as not to overwhelm the customer. That way, everybody leaves happy.

The future of Janedis’ store looks bright. Despite the influx of chain one-stop eye exam and eyewear shops, A.R. Trapp is going strong with the same mom-and-pop atmosphere and classic, timeless preppy looks it’s had from the beginning. “There are many competitors out there now, when there used to only be two or three,” says Feig. But it’s the customer service that keeps them coming back. “We give people choices and build a relationship with them,” says Feig. “Such a thing does not exist any more.”

Since his store is still unique, Janedis does not have any changes planned for the future. Other than adding a web site, he sees no reason to alter a formula that’s not broken. Customers appreciate a store where they are recognized and their needs are personally addressed. Like his famous P3 frames, good customer service never goes out of style.

 

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