Features: Retailing

Apr
2003

The Specialists

Photos by Nedjeljko Matura

It’s the same story no matter what the business. True success often
takes considerable specialization. You’ve got to pick your spot and
dominate it. Find the favorite aspect of your chosen business or
profession and make yourself an expert.


And… it helps if you can make that “specialization” work because you’ve integrated part of the core of your personality and being into that arena. The adage is time-tested and true—figure out what you love doing and then figure out a way to make that passion a key part of your vocation.

The examples are obvious and easy to understand.

You are a sports fanatic. You read every paper from back to front so you can get an immediate fix on any range of athletic games. Or maybe your secret passion is gems or jewelry or exotic chronograph watches. With the given of your optical profession (already, hopefully a passion on your part) you owe it to yourself and your customers/patients to enhance the visual part of their lives with the knowledge of your profession and the ardor of your particular pleasure.

Herewith, the stories of two optical players who decided to follow their hearts in dealing with the eyes of their customers and patients. In the final frame, so to speak, their message works for them because it addresses the core of their being. You might be of a similar bent. Or, your interests might be elsewhere. The point is to follow their example and your own heart in an effort to find your “special” place in this vast and challenging opti-world. 

Eye Love Sports

When Jeanne R. Derber, OD graduated from optometry school in the early 1980s, she had wanted to start a low vision practice. “I had planned on working with older adults with macular degeneration and other visual impairments,” recalls the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based optometrist with a chuckle. “The only problem was I looked 16 at the time. It’s hard sometimes to get the older patients to respect you when you look that young.”

But Dr. Derber wasn’t a professional without a specialty for long. Soon after her decision to pass on low vision, the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC)—also based in Colorado Springs—placed an ad locally for volunteers to provide healthcare services for the athletes. A lifelong sports fan, Dr. Derber signed up. Six years later she was named director of the vision center at the Training Center. Since then, she has helped fill the vision care needs of hundreds of athletes in dozens of sports.

“I see the athletes as they rotate through the clinic,” she says. “They know when they get to me that vision is crucial to sports performance.”

Dr. Derber spends most of her time at the USOTC working with the national teams in the summer sports (i.e., shooting and track and field) as well as with the speed-skating and women’s hockey team. Her work involves not only routine eyecare services, but also emergency eyecare for sports-related trauma.

Using her Olympic experience as her base, she has expanded her private practice to include local college and professional athletes as well as “amateur” athletes, including “weekend warriors” and younger sports enthusiasts (i.e., Little Leaguers and high school athletes). Dr. Derber has recently worked with professional hockey players—she is an avid hockey fan—and with the Colorado College men’s hockey team, at press time the top-ranked team in NCAA Division I.

“Where I have found success is in networking with team trainers, with pro teams as well as college and high school teams,” she explains. “They are always looking for information and they are the point people when it comes to treating the athletes in their charge. I can give them information on eyecare, basic eye anatomy, handeling eye emergencies, contact lens insertion and removal; I can even teach them to stain the eye and look for abrasions. In exchange, I have the opportunity to work for the teams.

“It’s a hobby of mine,” she continues. “There isn’t a lot of money in it, but that’s not why I do it.”

Indeed, she considers sports vision a great way to build “notoriety” for your practice and “get some enjoyment out of your profession, if sports interest you.”

In terms of vision-correction options for sports participants (roughly 25 percent of her athlete patients require some correction, according to Dr. Derber), the optometrist usually recommends wearing disposable contact lenses with tighter base curves as opposed to eyewear or goggles. “In a sport like wrestling, you don’t want anything that can get jarred around or fogged,” she says.

Tinted sports eyewear has become part of her message for shooting sports, however, such as the biathlon and the modern pentathlon. “Yellows, oranges and purples are good,” notes Dr. Derber. “Also they need to be able to change tints depending on the lighting conditions and the targets.” As a result, she usually prescribes frames with changeable lenses that athletes can pop in and out to meet their needs. Anti-reflective lenses are also prescribed. “Shooters are extremely critical about their vision; 20/20 is not good enough,” she explains. Also, for sports where eye protection is an issue—such as badminton, handball or racquetball—eyewear equipped with polycarbonate lenses is an absolute necessity, whether athletes need a vision correction or not.

In addition to her in-house prescription work, Dr. Derber will consult with outdoor-sport athletes such as track and field participants and cyclists to ensure they are using the best eyewear for their visual health and performance. Usually, these athletes will have sponsorship arrangements with eyewear manufacturers, but she will talk with them about the various performance properties they need for their sports before they select the eyewear they use. “A lot of it is trial and error,” she says.

In the exam room, Dr. Derber performs a number of “fusional” tests (which measure and evaluate how effectively the eyes work in tandem) above and beyond traditional exam tests. She is not a proponent of sports vision therapy per se, believing that sound eyecare and eyewear/contact lens dispensing can be the best therapy for an athlete.

“As their doctor, it’s up to you to ensure they are seeing the best they can so that they can perform at their best possible level,” Dr. Derber notes. “You also want them to be safe. Really, at heart, it’s like treating any other patient.”

All in all the OD has found the experience rewarding. “I have found that your practice tends to go and grow with you,” she says. “I’ve gotten involved in this area and it’s been enjoyable and rewarding on many levels. My athlete patients are all willing to follow my advice and there is really a special feeling when you know you are helping them do better in competition. You can really see the results of your work.”  —Brian P. Dunleavy

An Eye for Luxury
The owner of four Los Angeles-based optical boutiques, all under the Maison d’Optique name, Franco Eyramian, known simply as Franco, is a jeweler at heart. In fact, while still in his early teens, he began working in the jewelry business in his native Lebanon. At the age of 18, he moved to Los Angeles and established his own business as a diamond setter. He soon had a roster of celebrity clientele, including Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Then in the early ’90s after more than 10 years of working in fine-jewelry design, he wanted to move into the fashion business.

“I did volunteer work in the clothing and shoe businesses, just to see if I liked them, but I didn’t like the seasonal aspect and I didn’t want to deal with sizes and all that sort of thing,” Franco says. Fortunately, at that point his future wife was working as a Jean Paul Gaultier rep for Optical Affairs, founded by eyewear designers Christian Roth and Eric Domege, and introduced him to the designers.

After several discussions, Franco, with the encouragement of Roth and Domege, decided to study opticianry. He took a six-month course in Los Angeles, which he completed in three months. “When I cut my first lens as part of the course, my instructor asked me where I had learned to cut lenses. I had never cut a lens before. But because of my jewelry background, I had an aptitude for working with eyewear,” Franco says.

In 1992, he opened his first Maison d’Optique in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard, an enclave for the entertainment world. His objective was to attract a very high-end clientele and carry only top-of-the line merchandise. “People laughed at me when I said I was going to sell $300 frames, but it worked. It’s all in building confidence and in providing the appropriate luxury environment,” he notes. To create a visually luxurious setting, he had Michelangelo-inspired murals painted on the walls and installed floor-to-ceiling classical columns. He has since opened boutiques in West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and Calabasas, all catering to the high end.

From the beginning, Franco concentrated on customizing eyewear for his clients, using his jewelry background and specializing in three-piece mounts, colors lenses and gemstone enhancements. He created one style that has an eyebrow of diamonds inside the lenses. Now he says the majority of his clients come to him for customizing. He has two collections he designed and sells only in his shops: Franco Wood, a three-piece metal and wood style with various lens options, and a plastic collection consisting of 25 to 30 designs.

After 10 years of selling luxury eyewear in his own shops, Franco decided to branch out and at the same time return to his jewelry roots. In 2002, he created a collection called Luxuriator by Franco, which he presented to high-end jewelers. The new line features classic three-piece mount designs in 18-karat white, yellow or rose gold or platinum with hand-engraved buffalo temples and pave diamond accents. Lenses, all available in prescription, are offered in a variety of gradient and solid colors, ranging from light and medium tints to dark/sunglass intensity.

The frames retail for $4,500 for the gold to $5,500 for the platinum. “My initial intention was only to sell this collection at my own shops and to jewelers because they are the ones who can truly understand and appreciate the quality of the product,” Franco explains. “For someone selling a diamond ring or bracelet, it’s a logical next step to offer jeweled eyewear to the customer. However, I was approached by some high-end optical retailers and have sold the line to a very select handful of optical shops in addition to jewelers throughout the country. I want to grow this part of the business very slowly so I can exercise strict control over the quality of product and make certain it’s merchandised and presented properly—as luxury jewelry.” And he definitely does not want to go into the wholesale business fulltime. “I’m a retailer and I want to continue to sell retail.”

But from the beginning, Franco believed there was a need for what he’s doing. “I felt true luxury was missing from the eyewear business “It’s not for everyone—it probably only represents about 2 percent of the optical market, but luxury is not hard to sell once you gain the confidence of your customers. In fact, it’s easier for me to sell a $5,000 frame at this point than a $300 one. My customers appreciate superb craftsmanship, superior quality and the timeless elegance of real luxury.”

Franco’s next goal is to go into even more expensive eyewear. He’s thinking about solid gold. “I want to be known as the optical person that can do custom work,” he says. “If someone want a solid gold frame with diamonds, I want to be the guy that can make it happen.”  —Gloria Nicola

 

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