For optometrist Elaine Happ, every day at work is a walk in the park… literally. Her Monticello, Minn.-based practice, Uptown Eyecare, is an optical respite complete with live trees stretching up into the rafters of an open ceiling, park benches, street lights and even a fountain.
“People walk in and do a ‘wow,’” says the OD. “I’ve even had patients tell me they were going to eat their lunch here.”
The concept made its initial steps in 1997. At the time, Dr. Happ was working at another practice when she came across a location she thought would be perfect. “I asked the woman I was working for to move the practice, but she couldn’t get a loan so I decided to do it on my own,” she explains. Having her own practice had not been an aspiration for the OD. “I thought it would be easier to work for other people and not deal with the hassle of having my own business,” she notes.
But the location was just too good for her to pass up. The shop, located in a strip mall, had pavers on the floor. “It reminded me of going down a cobble stone street,” says Dr. Happ. She created an art fair feel by fashioning panels with picture frames attached to one side to showcase eyewear—frames within a frame—and a mirror on the other side so patients could look at themselves in the glasses. “I went to every garage sale known to man and bought every ugly living room picture I could find,” says Dr. Happ. “I took out the picture and put in a new background. Then my sister and I gold leafed the frames and displayed eyeglasses in the picture frames.”
The look and the practice were a hit. So much so, that after a while, the practice outgrew its digs. Dr. Happ moved to a new 5,000 square-foot location (a former flower shop) in the same strip mall in March of last year. “In moving to the new location, we wanted to keep those pavers,” she says. “I thought, ‘how can I do that?’ Then it popped into my head one night. I got out of bed, got a piece of paper and started drawing park benches and a fountain. I wanted it to look like a park.”
Dr. Happ brought in a fountain, park benches and tall trees. “We also did these half walls,” she adds. “We did them in stucco with brick showing underneath.” The walls enclose the benches.
In addition, she incorporated the paneled frame displays from the previous location around the street lights. The dispensary has about 700 frames on display including brands from Marchon, Sàfilo, Silhouette and Oakley.
“The other location had three columns and more of a Roman look,” says the OD. “We went from a Roman gothic look to a park. Some patients say, ‘I thought the other place was cool but this place rocks.’”
Uptown Eyecare, however, is more than just a pretty face. The practice does a lot of medical exams and contact lens fittings. “Hospitals in our area refer patients to us,” says Dr. Happ. “I have an associate Mary Gregory, OD. It’s just the two of us [doing exams]. She specializes in children. She also does a lot of infant exams.”
Dr. Happ is a dry eye specialist and has even gone on a medical mission to Baja, Mexico to treat dry eye. She is also a believer in using the latest technology in her practice. “We have the newest technology around,” she explains. “We added the Epic vision diagnostic system from Marco. Our techs do the refractions. We have two pre-testing rooms and four exam rooms. We first do a history and take fields as well as a retinal photo on everybody. Then, in the next room the tech will run through a whole eye exam.” The staff also wear pagers to keep the process flowing. So, for example, when an optometrist is done with a patient she’ll page an optician and explain what that patient needs.
Uptown does not have an in-office lab, although Dr. Happ has her eye on a new $40,000 edger as well as an ideal spot for it—the old flower shop office. “I’d like to be able to offer glasses in about an hour,” she notes.
The OD works with Spectrum Optical and has such a good relationship with the lab that Spectrum’s Terry Slingluff, Larry Thomas and Mike Sunby helped with the move to the new location. “They were putting the carpet down as we were bringing the equipment in,” says Dr. Happ.
The practice averages $400 a patient, including eye exam. A complete pair of eyewear ranges between $275 and $325. “I think we do a great job with second pair sales,” says the optometrist. “I think if doctors are not prescribing right from the chair they are idiots.” She adds that multiple prescriptions are the norm not the exception at Uptown.
Dr. Happ recommends anti-glare lenses to all her patients. “We carry a two year warranty on AR,” she says. “If it scratches, you can bring it back and have it replaced. We have a two year warranty on frames as well. We are starting to do lens packaging but we’re trying not to call it that.”
The optometrist also tells her patients about the dangers of UV rays. “I talk to everybody about how I want them to have something for sun, whether it’s a second pair of Rx sun, Transition lenses or clips. It’s what’s going to prevent them from getting cataracts. Also, when I do post-op for Lasik, I ask the patient, ‘Have you treated yourself to a new pair of sunglasses?’”
To keep the practice top-of-mind in the community, Uptown hosts trunk shows and Dr. Happ does some advertising. “I am constantly in newspaper under professional services,” she says. “We did a commercial on cable TV. Then we did one of those still ads at the movie theater. My goal for this year is to do a billboard.” Uptown Eyecare is a practice with both beauty and brains. It has exceeded Dr. Happ’s expectations in revenue, “We did over $1.2 million this past year and the practice isn’t even a year old,” as well as appearance, “The look of the practice turned out better than I imagined.” Who says you can’t have it all?