Sep
2003

Eye Opener

Charlie
Collins


Founder and President
Vision
Dynamics

By Andrew Karp

For most consumers, even those who love to shop, visiting a retail store isn’t usually a life changing experience. Yet many of the customers who visit Vision Dynamics in Cheshire, Conn. discover products that make a world of difference for them.

Vision Dynamics is a one-stop shopping Mecca for people who are blind or have failing eyesight. The store carries everything from hand-held magnifiers to talking computers. Charles Collins, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, founded Vision Dynamics six years ago; he claims it’s the first store of its type. In addition to Collins, who is legally blind, the store currently has six partially sighted employees and a sighted person who does outside sales.

Collins is a visionary. Believing that sight impaired people should live as independently as possible, he has created a unique retail business by offering them the tools as well as teaching them the skills to do so. L&T spoke with Collins about his retailing approach, his customer service philosophy and his plans to expand Vision Dynamics.

Why did you decide to start Vision Dynamics?
I’ve had macular degeneration since I was young. My brothers and sister all had it too. I had been in denial for many years, fighting the fact that I had an eye disease. I wasted 10 years of my life pretending I could see. When I finally grabbed my magnifier and started to use it, my life started changing. I was able to live independently. I realized that by opening a store that offered products for people with vision problems I could help them live independently  too.

How do people typically react when they first visit Vision Dynamics?
It’s a wonderful thing when they come in and discover all the things we have to offer. They’re thrilled. It’s very gratifying.

What are some of your most popular products?
A signature guide that helps people when they’re signing their name, a dark writing pen and magnifiers. We carry over 100 types of magnifiers. We also have talking watches, magnifying mirrors with lights, electronic magnification, large print talking computers and scan and read machines. That’s a little machine, four inches tall, which can read back to you.

We can cater each level of vision, whether you have perfect vision all the way to complete blindness. I call us the “clear vision company,” because that’s what these products offer.

Some of this equipment is quite sophisticated. What type of training do you offer?
This equipment is useless unless people know how to use it. We take our time and work with customers one-on-one. Each computerized piece of equipment is custom-built.

We’d like you to come to our store so you can experience everything. If you can’t make it to the store, we’ll find a way to come to you.

How is your store designed to accommodate the needs of your customers?
I have the best lighting, with good contrast. Outside, the curbing is painted so that it sticks out bright white against the black asphalt. Inside, there are also guidelines on the floor.

The main part of the store is the retail area. Another section is a dedicated training center where we can work with customers one-on-one or have group sessions.

Do many of your customers come through referrals from eyecare professionals?
Yes. We do lot of direct mailing to doctors, mostly ophthalmologists. So we get a lot of doctor referrals. When the doctor makes a referral, they often tell the patient that this is the next phase of their recovery.

What other marketing do you do?
We have a web site,
www.visiondynamics.com, which we’re revamping right now. Also, I go through the Connecticut State agency for the blind. I go out and do presentations all over the state in retirement communities, assisted living homes and other facilities. I share my experience, strength and hope with my life and business.

What are your next steps?
We’re in the process of expanding the store, putting in a home center with a kitchen, family room, bedroom, office and classroom for students and teachers to come and work together. It’s exciting.

 

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