Retail Stratigies

Model Customers
A Making your patients “work” for you By Timothy Herrick

Fine Eyes owner Cleve Braham (left) and his “model” patients, at right. Braham uses professional photos of his customersin their eyewear to promote his Mississippi- based practice.


Marketing a high-end optical boutique, promoting eyewear fashion and improving community relations; Fine Eyes in Ridgeland, Miss., accomplishes all three every week with innovative advertisements featuring a single photograph of a customer wearing his or her new glasses. “The ads reinforce the Fine Eyes brand in my market,” says Cleve Braham, owner/optician. “It’s the place where you go to get cool glasses that make you look good.” Braham follows two marketing dictums: commit funds to one advertising method and keep it fresh. He never runs the same photo two weeks in a row and he uses about 40 different photographs a year. These compelling yet simple—only a portrait and the name and address of Fine Eyes appears—advertisements run in the Northside Sun, a weekly paid-circulation newspaper with an estimated 20,000 readers. Many of the paper’s other advertisers are high-end boutiques selling designer fashions, eradicating misconceptions that a deep south red state cannot be fashion conscious. “People here care about looking stylish, we read the same fashion magazines as every body else,” says Misti Sims, account executive for the Northside Sun.

Most of the pictures are taken by a professional photographer, resulting in a very effective image: the subjects look attractive, but also recognizable as “average” people and local citizens. The subliminal message is that Fine Eyes eyewear enhances your look, but the ads have also entrenched the store as part of the community. “It’s fun, people recognize their friends and neighbors,” says Braham. “It creates a buzz about the store.”

F ine Eyes opened in 1995. Braham opened a second location in nearby Flowood in 2003. Both towns are upscale suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi’s state capital and largest city. His average eyewear (retail) price is $375. Braham is either the sole or largest Mississippi distributor of the brands that comprise the bulk of his inventory, which includes l.a. Eyeworks, Oliver Peoples, Italee 2.5, Kazu Kawasaki and Paul Smith. Progressives make up 50 percent of his lens sales, most of which are Varilux; Braham’s lens material of choice is generally Trivex or polycarbonate. More than 90 percent of his lenses are AR coated, usually Crazal.

The average customer age at Fine Eyes hovers in the 40 to 50 range. Regarding his inventories and how he fits customers, Braham explains, “Middle-aged folks are as interested in fashion as younger people. Someone who is 40 doesn’t want to look 20, but with the right frame, they can look 10 years younger.” Before opening his boutique, Braham spent more than 10 years as a frame sales representative. Braham, who grew up in Mississippi, saw that while there was no lack of optical retailers there, no one was addressing upscale consumers. His rep experience also influenced his marketing approach. “Most dispensers do price ads or co-op ads,” says Braham. “I wanted to establish a store-image within this market.”

At first, he mainly used manufacturer-supplied photos to establish this image. Then one week, in keeping with his “keep-it-fresh” philosophy, he used a picture of his siblings wearing Fine Eyes glasses. “I got more comments on that picture than the vendor shots,” says Braham. “My brothers and sisters were telling me that several folks said they saw their picture or recognized them from their picture.”

Around the same time, Braham participated in “The Look,” the Northside Sun’s biannual fashion insert, which features fashion layouts using advertisers’ products—the newspaper pays for the photographer, the advertisers supply the models. Many of the shoots are done on location at such local hot spots as the Jackson Yacht Club and the Jackson Zoo. Braham asked a customer to model frames, then soon featured the photos in subsequent ads. What started as a lark is now his standard marketing program. In addition to photographs from “The Look” shoots, Braham now sends customers to the studio of local photographer, Lonnie Kees. “With glasses you come up close to the face and find the best angle,” explains Kees. “The AR coating makes it a lot easier to shoot at whatever angle is best for that subject.” Kees’ photos are the core of the yearly rotation of ads for Fine Eyes.

Braham also encourages customers to submit photos to be featured in ads. The combination of professional and quality amateur pictures has resulted in a gallery of friends and neighbors eager to have their weekly 15 minutes of local fashion fame. “It has created a great word-of-mouth for the store,” he notes. Braham has started to reach out beyond the Jackson area. He recently launched a web site (www.fineeyes.com) spotlighting the eyewear fashion work of Kees and has run ads in Mississippi Today, a bi-monthly, state-wide magazine. “I’m in the fashion business; I sell image,” says Braham. Now, his customers are helping him sell that image throughout the entire state.

They’re not just models; they’re Fine Eyes’ customers, too. Patients get their 15 minutes of fame thanks to “The Look” ad campaign.