By Kristen Spina
Photographs by Lisa Farrer
Google “Clear Optometry,” the name of Dr. Katherine Lok Chan’s eight-month-old optical shop in San Mateo, Calif., and the first link to appear (at flickr.com, a photo sharing social network) includes four delicious pictures of food—food you want to reach into your computer screen and grab, it’s that beautiful. The second link (at yelp.com, an open network for “real people, real reviews”) highlights over 50 four and five star reviews of frozen yogurt—nary a word about Fendi or Ferragamo or progressive lenses.
Confused? Well, what if we couched all this by reminding you that it is not the least bit unusual for high-end retailers in Europe and Japan to feature a gourmet refreshment bar as a complimentary service to shoppers? It’s just one more way to pamper clientele and make a memorable impression, right?
And yet, in the case of Clear Optometry, it seems something entirely different is going on. The heartfelt reviews at yelp.com lead one to believe that Clear is more restaurant than optical shop. But, truly, that is not the case. At the same time, this is no “put out a tray of cookies and a few bottles of water” operation. The “Refresh” bar, as Dr. Chan refers to it, is restaurant-coded and equipped to serve not just frozen yogurt, but also a wide range of dessert options, including fancy grown-up cupcakes.
The idea, says Dr. Chan, an OD, was to create a destination, an optical store that provides a comfortable backdrop to hanging out, meeting new people and sharing a unique experience. “On Friday and Saturday nights we stay open until 10 p.m. and the place is packed,” she says. “All our traffic is word of mouth—and so far, we are exceeding our expectations. About 75 percent of our total sales to date have been from people who have stopped by for something to eat.” Refreshments are complimentary for customers—not so for everyone else. Yelp.com prices out the froyo at two dollar signs ($$). High end all around. “It’s not necessarily the people who come in to buy yogurt [who are contributing to the bottom line], it’s the fact that they tell others, they pass the word.”
And while it may seem the yogurt is the immediate star of this chic salon, Dr. Chan makes it clear there’s more to the place than the food. With an inventory of close to 1,000 frames, from designers including Tiffany, Bvlgari, Chanel and Michael Kors, Clear is pretty serious about its eyewear. The average sale of a complete pair of eyewear runs between $700 and $800, while the most expensive frame in the store taps out at $2,000. “Right now, sunwear makes up about 45 percent of our inventory, and yes, it is more of an impulse buy, the kind of thing people like to try on and show their friends while they are relaxing and enjoying something from the Refresh bar,” notes Dr. Chan.
There’s almost no way to tell from the store’s exterior that edible treats are within reach. It is, after all, first and foremost an optical shop, and as you would expect, what is visible through the front glass windows and upon immediately entering the store, is a long wall of open shelves and hundreds of frames. “The stark white walls and the unique lighting draw attention right to the frames,” says Dr. Chan. “The design is modern and clean—it’s a great showcase.”
Seven sliding glass doors with locks keep the inventory away from curious hands. Dr. Chan is a firm believer in customer service and admits the lounge-like feel of her store would be impossible to oversee if the inventory were accessible to customers. There are also mirrors that slide up and down the 50 foot display wall, making any spot the ideal place to try a new style.
“We want to take care of our patients. We put a lot of thought into the flow of traffic and where to position everything. The store is designed in a way that pulls you in and toward the back, so you can’t help but look at the frames all along the way,” she adds. “And despite all the attention it is getting, the food section is very discreet.” Staffing includes professional opticians as well as food service personnel.
In addition to the display wall and the Refresh bar, there is an enclosed children’s room with toys and books and videos, an exam room, a kitchen and a bathroom on the main floor. There is also an additional 1,000 square feet of space upstairs (currently not in use) but fully equipped to eventually house the optometry portion of the business, leaving the ground floor to retail.
“We have a lot of competition in the area,” says Dr. Chan. “There are quite a few opticians and some optometrists nearby—even some yogurt shops. So, the competition is challenging in both fields, but I think the concept and the design carry us.”