Retail Strategies: Retail Design


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Altar-ed Images

IdolEyez puts eyewear on a pedestal

by Maryann Lorusso

At Thom Hayward’s new Eyez 2.0 store in San Francisco, the latest cutting-edge frames are showcased on chic, ultra-modern display stands constructed of stainless steel and translucent Plexiglas. But the retailer’s reverence for eyewear goes way beyond cool merchandising tactics.

“Most stores don’t treat frames with the respect they deserve,” Hayward explains. “As a consumer, I would go into a store to buy glasses and find the whole process very uncomfortable and overwhelming. There would be 2,000 frames locked behind cabinets or sitting on awful plastic holders. I’ve always felt that beautiful eyewear should be treated as works of art.”

That’s the philosophy behind Hayward’s business development company, IdolEyez LLC, whose goal is to “streamline and enhance the eyewear buying process.” The Eyez 2.0 store, which recently opened in the city’s business district, is a joint venture with Hayward’s cousin, optometrist Michele Blas, and is the first effort in what Hayward hopes will be a growing chain of high-end eyewear boutiques.

Hayward, who fancies himself “a designer, an architect, a marketing and advertising guy,” says his retail concept offers consumers the best products and the most efficient, technology-based service. “When I looked at the experience of buying eyewear, I found most [retailers] were not using technology wisely. They were using it to replace customer service, rather than enhance it.”
At Eyez 2.0, Hayward insists, customers find service and technology completely in sync. For example, the shop is the only Bay Area retailer to offer the Activisu digital imaging system, which is particularly useful for nearsighted clients. It works like this: The computer captures a still or live image of a customer and then allows him or her to experiment with various frames, lens colorings, coatings and other options. The client can even take home a printout if he or she needs more time to decide on a purchase.

The store sets itself apart with a range of additional services, including house calls and after-hour appointments. Eyez 2.0 also has a sophisticated web site that enables patrons to schedule appointments online and to preselect frames before coming into the store. Hayward says these options are designed to make shopping fun and accessible. “We want to make people comfortable and give them choices,” he explains. “You can set up an appointment or you just pop into the store whenever you have time—we’ll even serve you a cold Coca-Cola and let you look around all you want. Or, if you want to come back on a Sunday evening with your kids and husband, that’s no problem, either.”

Equally customer friendly and creative is the store’s design. A collaboration between the company’s creative director, Hock Yeo and architect Richard Brereton, the store interior has the feel of an art gallery, with stainless-steel and translucent fixtures, illuminated drawers and museum-style cases featuring backlighting and pedestals. “The store is completely built for the human experience,” says Hayward. “There are mirrors everywhere. And everything slides out—all the tables have drawers and all the cabinets are on rails so the displays can be easily changed.” The 608-square-foot space also includes a complete state-of-the-art examination facility.

This clean, efficient atmosphere was created to appeal to the store’s target customer: An affluent, time-pressed individual who works in the financial district. Hayward chose the Howard Street location “because it’s a nice area, yet inexpensive, and gives us access to people who would buy our products—people who love eyewear, people who are busy, active individuals like myself who need several pairs of eyewear.” It’s not unusual, he says, for one of his customers to need separate frames for work, mountain climbing and golfing.
To feed this lifestyle, Eyez 2.0 offers a carefully chosen assortment of trendy, cutting-edge brands. Among those currently on hand are Sama, Kenta, Line 3, IC Berlin, Bevel, Martine Sitbon, Theo, Anne et Valentin and Dita, all handpicked
by Hayward. “My goal is to carry designers who are really revolutionizing the industry. I scour the earth for the coolest, best-made products for my customers.”

In his quest for the world’s coolest products, Hayward is amazed how much of a fashion necessity eyewear has become. He recalls, “I recently met a 60-something woman who told me that a few decades ago, she would never be caught leaving her house without the right accessories—like a purse, jewelry or scarf. But now, she says won’t leave her house without the right eyewear.” Hayward adds his own assessment, “Eyewear can help you express different sides of yourself. There used to be a time when everyone wanted to have the same glasses—now you wouldn’t want to show up at a party wearing the same frames as someone else.”

Does the current economic climate mean consumers think twice before buying that extra pair of lenses? Absolutely not, insists Hayward. “People may not buy that extra D&G sweater right now, but they won’t skimp on eyewear,” he says. “Unlike other fashion items, eyewear is a necessity. The sun is harsh to your eyes, especially if you’re a backpacker or skier or golfer, and you simply need glasses for protection. And if you happen to be like me and 90 percent of people over 40 who need corrective lenses, you have to make the purchase.”
It makes sense that an entrepreneur so confident in his product and clientele would be selective about his advertising. While Hayward is relying mostly on word of mouth and his location to draw new customers, he is also running color print ads in Soma, the city’s art and fashion magazine. The store is also organizing trunk shows at local hotels and restaurants and working with the fashion community on several charity events.

As for the future of Eyez 2.0, Hayward has big plans. “We are looking to innovate the industry and be a top player in high-end eyewear,” he says, adding that opening more stores is one of his goals. “We have every intention of being on Rodeo Drive and in Union Square. We want to be the Saks Fifth Avenue of eyewear.”