By Christine Yeh
Eyes on Main
Sauk Centre, Minn.
Number of employees 6
Hometown warmth meets
Las Vegas crowd appeal.
Tucked in the heart of central Minnesota’s fishing lakes country is Sauk Centre, a city home to 4,325 residents and eyecare practice Eyes on Main. Located about 40 miles west of the city of St. Cloud, Sauk Centre may be a small town by geographical standards, but its residents take pride in its heritage rooted deep in American literature. The city is the birthplace and childhood home of Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis, the first American novelist to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930. The author’s hometown of Sauk Centre served as inspiration for one of his most famous works, Main Street, a satirical novel depicting small-town life.
Brett Freese, OD, started Sauk Centre Eye Clinic in 1993, where he practiced until 2006 when he moved the clinic across the street to its present location. Freese revamped the look of his practice and changed its name to Eyes on Main, paying tribute to the practice’s physical address on Main Street. In redesigning the practice, Freese drew inspiration from Lewis’ Main Street novel. “We’re located in a historic district called ‘The Original Main Street,’ modeled after Sinclair Lewis’ book. My wife and I also own a hotel in town called The Palmer House where Lewis once worked,” says Freese, who wanted to incorporate the warmth of small-town life into his store’s design. “We wanted to tie the Main Street theme into the clinic; the concept was to take the local history as you walk off Main Street and continue it as you walk inside our practice—right back onto Main Street.” And that’s exactly what he achieved with his 4,080-square-foot space—Freese brought the town’s Main Street inside his practice, giving it a “Main Street on Main Street” theme.
Each area of the practice is represented by three-dimensional building facades that Freese designed and built with a local contractor. The reception/check-in area is located in a “building” in the middle of the store, with the patient lounge/waiting area adjacent to it. The dispensary area is also themed with building structures, including the frame displays, which are three-dimensional, 2-foot deep structures with brick veneer that protrude from the shop’s walls. Freese worked with a local mason to create the structures using concrete and stone to give the buildings a realistic look. On the wall adjacent to one of the buildings is a mural painted by a local artist that extends the building and street theme, continuing the three-dimensional aspect of the store’s Main Street concept.
“When you come into our optical, it’s like walking down the street—the optical area IS the street,” says Laurie Holman, lead optician at Eyes on Main. “We display our frames in the windows of these building facades so people are literally window-shopping. We don’t have frameboards here… we have frame windows!” Each of the three buildings displaying frames has its own look and personality. “In each building window display, we try to convey that building’s personality by displaying frames that match the personality,” explains Holman. “We place our fun, funky and more youthful-looking product in a different window than we do with our jewelry store.” The “jewelry store,” not surprisingly, has windows that display the higher end and designer eyewear brands. “Here we show premium brands like Jimmy Choo and Dior, and we have these beautiful Tura frames with Swarovski crystals—products that have a little more feeling like jewelry… a little more luxurious.”
While Eyes on Main offers products that fall in the middle range on the retail price spectrum, it mainly caters to a high-end clientele. Frame prices range from $115 through the mid-$500s. “We’ve always loved Charmant’s products, the Aerostar line specifically in regard to price point and quality. On the higher end of the scale, in addition to Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior, we also sell a lot of Kate Spade, as well as Tura,” says Holman. For men’s brands, the shop has done very well with Banana Republic and Liz Claiborne, and on the higher end, the Greg Norman line from Aspex geared toward golfers. Maui Jim is the practice’s main sunwear line; Eyes on Main is one of the first shops outside the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to sell Maui Jim. Wiley X is also a popular choice for sunwear, especially for the safety and motorcycle wearer. A selection of children’s frames is also offered, with Juicy being the most popular brand among kids.
As part of the patient’s eyewear package, the practice is highly proactive on education when it comes to lens options. At the conclusion of each patient’s eye exam, Freese pages one of his opticians into the exam room so they can have a three-way conversation with the patient on their needs and the product recommendations being made to them. From there, the optician walks the patient out into the optical area and in addition to helping them select their frames, presents them with options on lens materials and designs. “We want to make sure we communicate every possible option to each patient so they can make a well-educated choice as to what they like and need as it regards their Rx and their lifestyle. That way they can make good choices for themselves.”
Education is the culture at Eyes on Main, and it ties in to the practice’s customer service principles. “We focus on providing peace of mind through education,” Freese reiterates. “We consider ourselves educators, and the only way we can make sure that patients understand and have peace of mind on what they’re buying is to make sure they understand the answers to the questions they don’t even know to ask.” To reinforce education and good customer service among his staff, Freese keeps an open line of communication with them. “I invest at least three hours of my time each week to meeting with my staff. We have department and management meetings every week, and we benchmark everything.” He also takes them to off-site meetings for further education, including Cleinman events, an optometric business consulting firm, and the local Minnesota Optometric Association meetings.
Between the shop’s one-of-a-kind design and excellent customer service, Eyes on Main maintains a loyal customer base and relies on them for new referrals. “We really focus a lot on internal word-of-mouth and asking patients for referrals—if we do a good job, please tell your family and friends, and we’ll give you a certificate for $20,” says Freese.
The practice’s location on historic Main Street is also advantageous for potential new customers. Situated directly across the street from the city’s original Main Street theater, it becomes a major attraction among moviegoers especially when there are long lines outside the theater. When the shop is lighted up at night, curious onlookers can peek in through the windows. Its convenient location in central Minnesota right off of two major highways, Interstate 94 and MN Highway 71 also draws many customers from communities within a 40-mile radius, including the St. Cloud market. “We certainly make a huge impression to people who come in to see us. We even have people who drive here just to look at our shop because they have heard about it, and people would bring friends, asking us if they can show them the store,” beams Holman.
“In the seven years that we have been here, we definitely have achieved that feeling of ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore,’ when customers walk into our store,” says Freese. “I wanted that Vegas feel; that awe when you first walk in here. But our Main Street theme still allows them to have that hometown feel... that Main Street feel, no pun intended.”
Pun intended or not, Freese and his staff have certainly created a one-of-a-kind customer experience, paving the crossroads to premium vision care and personalized customer service while striking a harmonious balance between small-town warmth and the crowd appeal of a “tourist” attraction.
“Around here in Sauk Centre, we hold fast to our claim to fame, so we loved the idea of bringing our Main Street inside and doing something different with an optical—creating a destination for optical,” says Holman proudly. “We have folks coming in and telling us they have never seen anything like our store before, and it’s that impression that we want to leave people with—in the products that we offer, the services that we offer and in our medical practice. Whatever our customers are looking for when they walk in here, we want them to walk out with answers, not questions. My personal motto is: I want everybody who walks out the door to feel better when they first walked in. That’s our culture here. That’s who we are at Eyes on Main.” ■