By Samantha Cortez


Innovative Eye Care

Charlotte, N.C.

Number of employees 4

20/20 take
A unique blend of custom-made and customer service

An affluent and suburban neighborhood located five minutes outside of downtown Charlotte, N.C., Dilworth is a town straddling the old and new. Six of Dilworth’s buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is home to the city’s first electric streetcar. A walk down busy East Boulevard reveals new businesses sprouted up from old soil. Off East Boulevard sits Innovative Eye Care, a testament to the new.

The 1,500-square-foot area was a hair salon, and owners Michelle and Jeff Mumford wanted to maintain the previous business’ open space.

Prior to starting Innovative Eye Care, Michelle was an associate optometrist at a private practice in Baltimore. Jeff worked as a consultant to companies on finance, business strategies and sales operations. While Michelle wanted to become a partner at a private practice, Jeff encouraged her to start her own venture. With Michelle’s background in optometry and Jeff’s business-savvy skills, their expertise made them a perfect match for the optical practice.

When it came to planning the design, the Mumfords decided to steer clear of ready-made furniture, opting instead for customized and unique architecture options. “We really wanted something fresh and charming,” says Michelle. “As we researched our options, it became clear that Barbara Wright was the perfect choice for our vision. The thing that really sold us on Barbara was that she was equally passionate about our vision.”

Michelle was intent on a blue color for the interior. She gathered photos that inspired her and handed them off to Wright to create a color scheme that worked in tandem with the space. Michelle initially requested dark wood cabinetry, but after Wright voiced her opinion on using white instead, the Mumfords complied—and they’re happy they did. “The white makes the optical office appear larger than it really is and gives the frames a starring role in the merchandise,” says Wright.

The soothing pale blue and white create a smooth ambiance. Wright designed the white cabinets with beadboard recessed panels to give it an air of southern charm and mixed in pieces like the demi-lune (half-moon) tables for Parisian flair. What really brought everything together, says Wright, is the lighting. “Lighting isn’t about buying frame displays with lighting in them,” she advises. “It is not a simple matter, and the more complex your lighting is, the more sophisticated your design is going to look.”

When customers enter the practice, they are greeted by a playfully regal metalwork chandelier reminiscent of an antique Paris flea market find. “It gives the practice a whimsical charm that conveys a unique sense of style. We liked the scroll detail in the chandelier so much that we incorporated it into the Innovative Eye Care logo too,” says Wright.

The practice also features layered lighting, track-rail lighting and small LED lighting in seasonal display areas. The pendant downlights have a special glass filter that disperses light, making it feel warm like incandescent light with the energy-saving efficiency of fluorescent light.

Variations of frame displays enhance the shopping experience for customers. There are single pedestal displays to feature certain frames prominently, tiered displays that show frames at a slanted downward angle (for customers looking down at the frames) and tier-drop displays that feature frames perpendicular from one another (for customers looking up at them). To provide customers with an easy way to grab frames on display cases, Wright created a glide-out display case with a pullout feature that makes it easy to pull frames from a display without disturbing neighboring frames.

Beyond Innovative Eye Care’s eye-catching interior is a similarly appealing set of customer service principles. The Mumfords are extremely optimistic about the future of the practice and believe their customer service model will be the pillar of their brand’s identity. “We want everyone who interacts with our brand to feel that they are treated very well and are absolutely comfortable with any buying decisions they make,” says Michelle.

During the hiring process, the husband-and-wife duo made sure to find people that fit the model they wanted for the business. “We hire people that fit our core ideals and train them to ensure customers are absolutely satisfied with their purchase.”

The open front area of the office seamlessly flows into the dispensary to encourage people to walk around and enjoy the experience. It boasts a 550-square-foot dispensary, with bestselling brands including Barton Perreira, Chanel, Tom Ford, ProDesign and Persol. Over time, the Mumfords’ merchandising strategy is to carry a diverse selection of the latest in technology and fashion from both mainstream and boutique brands.

As a start-up, the business is focusing on acquiring new customers and easing into its technology investments. Currently in the office are a corneal topographer, auto-refractor and digital eye chart. To keep clutter to a minimum, the practice employs electronic medical records.

The Mumfords focus on four main areas to drive new customers to their practice: social networking, community networking, partnerships and print media. Taking advantage of the benefits of social media, they leverage Facebook and Twitter to interact with their customers. They print ads in local magazines, such as the Dilworth Quarterly and Myers Park. Later down the line, they’ll focus on larger Charlotte magazines and newspapers.

The practice currently has a relationship with a high-end yoga studio and five additional salon and spa businesses. “We took a unique approach with business relationships,” says Jeff. “The idea was to partner with a brand that has a similar customer demographic, offer discounted optical services to the employees of that company and through a lucrative referral program, we can tap into their great customer base.”

Still growing, any avenue of gaining customers for Innovative Eye Care is not left unexplored, and the effort put into the design is not left unnoticed. When people visit the practice, they are sure to come back.

“Every day, patients comment to us on how wonderful and welcoming everything looks,” says Michelle. “And we never get tired of hearing it.”■