Dan Leberer is not afraid to take a chance. A skilled outdoorsman, he conducts his business much the same way he approaches his leisure time: with a healthy respect for his surroundings, an eye to the bumps in the road and a zest for life.
An avid water and snow skier, Leberer is not one to sit back and wait for things to happen. Quick to defend the often-bum rap given to his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., this optical industry veteran conveys just the right touch of civic pride. “You can live well in Buffalo,” he says.
Living well includes near-immediate access to lakes and mountains, an invigorating climate and a sophisticated city center that includes upscale shops and eateries, historical homes and one of the richest cultural centers for the arts and crafts movement in the United States.
“Buffalo is a wonderful place and our families run deep here. We’ve chosen to dig in and offer something that we hope no one else can.” That “something” is a dynamic mix of eyewear options and top-line customer service all housed under the Visualeyes banner in a renovated 3,000-square-foot storefront a stone’s throw from the University of Buffalo.
The expansion of Visualeyes in 2004 was the latest step in a journey that began for Leberer back in 1988 with 500 square feet in North Buffalo. Two locations later, Visualeyes occupies the site of a former restaurant in a small shopping center in what Leberer calls “an established” neighborhood. Though he’s moved locations twice, Leberer has, so far, not given in to the temptation of opening multiple stores. He has, instead, grown the business by optimizing his square footage.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us before we can make another move,” he explains. “But, once we are established here, I think it would be nice to have smaller satellite offices around the area.”
Leberer’s business philosophy is anchored by his passion for the optical industry. “I’m very much a lens freak,” he says. “So for me, it’s not just about the beauty of the frames. We work with four different labs so that we can offer each of our customers a vast selection and the right fit on lenses.”
In 1994, in a move that put Visualeyes at the forefront of contact lens technology and innovation, Leberer partnered with his cousin Dave, a contact lens specialist well known for his ability to handle complicated fits. The investment in time, manpower and equipment paid off. Contact lenses now account for approximately 25 percent of total sales.
And while Visualeyes strives to stay on the cutting-edge of lens technology, Leberer has worked hard to keep the overall product mix diversified and relevant. His inventory includes approximately 500 ophthalmic frames and 200 sunglass styles. Brands include Oliver Peoples, Face a Face, Paul Smith, Robert Marc and Lindbergh, in addition to a selection of frames that retail under $100.
“Our choice is to provide people with high-end options,” says Leberer, “but that isn’t all we are about. We have frames that sell for $89 and prefabricated readers that sell for $25 because we recognize people don’t always want to spend so much for their eyewear.”
With a product mix that caters to a diverse clientele, Leberer and his staff spare no effort when it comes to service. “We are known for the level of service we provide and it is our goal to take care of people,” he says.
Leberer believes in giving customers the “nickel tour” so that he or his staff can explain the product mix and highlight collections that are exclusive to the store. “Then we leave them alone,” he says. “We don’t want to hover. I don’t want to dictate what people should wear, but I will offer any amount of advice people are looking for.”
Though he has opted not to focus on promotional merchandise or seasonal sales, Leberer has been very successful with trunk shows. Always highlighting collections that are exclusive to Visualeyes, the trunk shows are all-day events that, in the words of Leberer, “are good for everyone.”
And while his strategy has so far been successful, Leberer recognizes the effort required to keep the business on track. “What we have here is about honesty, service and value. It may sound corny, but I like the reputation we have. I consider myself fortunate to be an optician, to be passionate about what we do here. People know we are sincere. It doesn’t do us any good to take advantage of anyone.”