–Kristen SpinaTHE PLAYERS
“When Todd and I first met, I owned the go-to clothing store in town, and he owned the go-to optical shop,” says Leigh Heffron, Massachusetts sales representative and head of marketing and public relations for Todd Rogers USA. “He was the local optician, and I was a shop girl. At the time, he had just started working on his own collection, a house brand for his optical store.” Today, Heffron, who was never simply a shop girl—her career includes stints in fashion, TV production, costume design and advertising—and Rogers are married with two small children, and the “house brand” is a growing entity with distribution in roughly 500 accounts across the country. Four years ago, they added an 11-piece children’s line to the mix—named after the couple’s son Jackson. Two years ago they completely remodeled and renovated a historic building in the heart of downtown Andover to house both Todd Rogers Andover (the retail shop) and Todd Rogers USA (the collections). And this year, they will introduce Todd Rogers Plaid, an upscale foray into combination frames.
“I’m definitely my husband’s biggest fan. In fact, in our wedding vows, I told him I’d be the president of his fan club forever,” says Heffron, who is not alone in her admiration.
“When I met Todd, I knew instantly there was something special about him,” says Dibby Bartlett, chief operating officer for Todd Rogers USA. “It was five or six years ago. I was a sales rep for Rem Eyewear, and I made a cold call to Todd’s old office. We ended up talking for hours; it was a kismet moment.” Later, meeting Heffron was like the cherry on top. Bartlett knew she had to work with the couple in some way. The right time and the right opportunity took a few years to come together, but last year Bartlett, a 37-year optical industry veteran, was able to trade n her sales rep hat and turn the dynamic duo of Andover into a trio. “Todd and Leigh are an inspiration,” she adds. “They have so much passion and integrity.” The fact that Bartlett’s business card reads “COO and Mom” speaks directly to the tightly woven fabric of this small family. Says Bartlett, “Sometimes we are together 10 hours a day, and honestly, there has never been a ruffle.”
And while the retail business and the collections reflect the commitment and hard work of the team, none of it would be anything without the creative energy and talent of the man himself. Rogers’ passion and integrity stem from one simple fact: He loves eyewear. “I’m the worst self-promoter in the world. I don’t tell my story very well,” says the licensed optician and designer whose career has spanned 20 years in the business. “I’ve always said that if I can do this, anyone can do this.” What “this” is is the marriage of optical shop and optical collection, a fiercely independent endeavor rooted in the craft-oriented, small-batch ideals of a free-enterprise system.
“We are in a time where people want to know, not only about the product, but the story behind it,” explains Bartlett. “There is a desire and an appreciation for individuality. It’s a pushback against the Wal-Mart-ization of consumer goods.” And though each of the three executives here has his or her own way of articulating the phenomenon, there is little doubt that the desire to drive their own destiny is the guiding force behind all things Todd Rogers.
“Todd’s original optical shop was a rental in the back of a parking lot up a flight of stairs and almost completely hidden from street traffic,” says Heffron. “He built an incredible business in that space. But when this location (a former bar and grill) became available, we both knew it was exactly right.” Moving the shop into a building renovated to their own specs in the heart of downtown Andover gave the retail business a highly visible footprint and set it up for greater growth potential. “When we opened in the new space, business went through the roof. We had to hire more people,” adds Heffron.
Working with Andover’s historic review board, Rogers and Heffron opted to save many of the building’s assets during the full-gut remodel. For example, the old bar-back has become a merchandising space for sunglasses, and the original bar top was cut and fashioned into a reception desk, as well as dispensing and fitting tables. “We acquired 3,700 square feet of space that had not been well-maintained over the years,” says Heffron. “With the remodel, we turned it into a place that makes you feel like you are a member of a private club or in on a private joke.”
As in any optical shop, there are exam rooms, a lab and a dispensing area—but at Todd Rogers Andover, the space is unique and whimsical in terms of execution. The lab, for example, sits behind floor-to-ceiling glass panels where clients can watch technicians work in a modern white interior. The open selling floor, on the other hand, has a club-like feel with its emphasis on wood and leather, but when you take a closer look, you quickly spot the foils. Acrylic “ghost” chairs and a sofa give the illusion that people are sitting on air. Framed celebrity photos look like those you’ve seen a hundred times lining the walls of famous establishments, but here a jovial Todd has been photoshopped into each image. A stack of books on display features titles like Evil Genius and Talent is Overrated, and what looks from a distance like a classic Louis Vuitton logo on the wallpaper in the entry hall is actually a repeat pattern of tiny faces wearing glasses. “We wanted to create a feast for your eyes everywhere you look,” says Heffron. “It’s all about entertaining people visually while they wait and shop.”
The store is staffed by optometrist Charlene Glynn, OD, plus two full-time opticians, a lab technician and office manager. Eyewear brands lining the shelves and display cases are dedicated to the value and power of independents. Mixed in among the eponymous frames are styles from Thom Browne, Face a Face, Barton Perreira, Lindberg, Bevel, Blake Kuwahara and Orgreen, among others. “I’ve always tried to bring boutique-like collections into the office. I look for small companies doing quality work. Then I educate my clientele on why I believe a collection is good. Over the years, I have introduced a number of lines to the New England area,” says Rogers. “Right now, there is an independent movement and it’s booming, but it’s the kind of thing you have to commit to.”
Those same principles carry over into the three collections—Todd Rogers Classic, Todd Rogers Plaid and Jackson Rogers—all designed by Rogers and born of the simple desire to provide a good quality frame at a good price. “I started researching because I really thought there should be a better product out there. At the time, everything was about the name and the licensing agreements,” says Rogers. “I finally decided I would learn how to do it myself. One of the things I pride this collection on is knowledge. All those years of research and pushing my way through the maze of manufacturing and materials, to come out the other side and say, ‘wow, I really have a base of knowledge about this, about the industry’—that’s what charges me.”
While Todd Rogers Classic made its debut about eight years ago at Vision Expo, the company’s newest collection is looking to expand and build on that success. Todd Rogers Plaid, which will be introduced at Vision Expo East, is a foray into luxury product and an entree into the world of designing with metals. Combinations of beta titanium hand-tooled temples with ultra-thin acetate fronts are detailed with gold-plated hinges, rivets and screws, high-luster hand polishing and other careful attentions to craft. In many ways, adds Heffron, Todd Rogers Plaid is an ode to Rogers’ own personal heritage—his Scottish roots and his city upbringing. “It’s a blend of timeless style and ultra modern materials.”
Wholesale price points are: $$$ for Todd Rogers Classic, $$$ for Todd Rogers Plaid and $$$ for Jackson Rogers. The collections are represented by Heffron in Boston and by additional sales reps based in Ohio, Florida, New York, North Carolina, California and Maine/New Hampshire/Vermont. “The tricky thing is that when you are starting out, your collection alone is not going to really support independent reps on its own,” says Barlett. “So you have to look for someone stepping out of a big full-time job who may be looking for a little less, or a multi-liner. The challenge is to become the one bag the multi-liner takes out of the car because they will always pull out the bag that’s going to buy the groceries, so to speak.” To that end, she adds that growing, supporting and incentivizing the sales force is a key action plan for 2017.
Bartlett, who sees her role as that of a guardian against chaos, spends much of her time ensuring the company is able to grow in such a way as to avoid inventory problems, while maintaining the integrity of the brand. “I’m a dot the i’s and cross the t’s person,” she says. “Which frees up Todd to be creative. Sometimes growth comes so fast that you aren’t able to do what you are supposed to do, and your priorities—your personal priorities—get out of whack. I think one of the things the three of us agree on is that this is important, but it’s important to have a nice life too.”
When it comes to all things Todd Rogers, both Bartlett and Heffron agree that it’s Rogers’ attention to detail that sets the company apart. “I knew when I left corporate optical that I needed to do something I could be incredibly proud of,” says Bartlett. “I’ve found that thing.”
A typical day, says Heffron, may find Todd working with clients in the front of the shop, while she and Bartlett field phone calls and pack orders in the back (no robots here). “When we pack a box of Todd Rogers frames for one of our accounts, the box looks like a gift. Every frame is in a case. All the cases are facing in the same direction. There’s even a personal note,” says Bartlett. “In the beginning, it made me want to clock Todd. Every corner, every piece of tape, everything had to look a certain way. But he understands what the experience needs to be on the other end. It makes me very proud.”
Such commitment, such drive—these things are not always easy to sustain through years of building a business. But for Rogers, there seems to be no other choice. It’s forward motion. Always. As an optician, as a designer, as a businessman in general. “Those of us out here on a common path, we know it’s about education, quality and customer service. That’s what I believe in,” says Rogers. “This is a true independent movement, and you can’t just dip your toe in the pool. You have to go in all the way. Commit to the turn.” ■
TODD ROGERS TWELVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Rogers is Todd’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name. His last name is Berberian, but for a brand, it’s kind of hard to spell.
- Todd is a stickler for quality control and will often bench adjust frames personally before shipping.
- North Carolina sells more Todd Rogers frames than anywhere else in the country.
- Todd has a Black Belt in Tai-Kwon-Do. He’s also a big fan of yoga. And skiing.
- And the Waffle Hut.
- Todd has a thing for quality hinges: German made OBE hinges, to be exact, with anti-back out screws and nylon bushings.
- Isidora Goreshter, the actress who plays Svetlana in the HBO series “Shameless,” wore style PKPK in Cherry Slice throughout the show’s last season. She loved the frames so much, she tweeted about them to all her fans.
- Both Todd and Dibby teach at the Benjamin Franklin Institute in Boston: He is a guest lecturer on eyewear design, and she teaches a course on optical business.
- All of the eyewear is manufactured in Japan.
- Only a few months after meeting his wife Leigh, Todd was voted “Andover’s Hottest Bachelor” by a regional magazine.
- Todd loves to draw and will occasionally add an original sketch to the outside of a box waiting to be shipped.
- Commit to the turn—Todd’s personal mantra—means go all in, don’t back down, trust your choices; bend your knees and put your whole body into it.