Too many shoplifters and not enough security led Mary Lou Schatan to rethink the interior layout of her optical shop. Located in a small strip mall at the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California, Schatan Optical Gallery has been providing high-end eyewear to a wealthy clientele for over 20 years. In recent years, however, professional shoplifters have been the source of financial loss and a great deal of frustration.

“I really got tired of it,” Schatan says. “So I asked a friend who is a designer to create a floor plan and display units that would allow me to stay in the center of the store where I could help customers and keep an eye on the product.”

Though this industry veteran has a full-time assistant who has been with her for 16 years and a part-time staff member who handles computer work and inventory, there is typically only one person working in the store at a time. Clearly, something needed to change.
The redesign grouped the inventory on one wall and moved the seating area directly across the sales floor, opposite the displays. Now, when clients are waiting to be helped, Schatan can ask them to sit where they remain in view and far enough away from the eyewear on display that to touch a pair of frames would require standing and walking across the room.

Working with designer Dan Bloom, Schatan also enhanced the rear entrance to the store and made better use of her entrance space in front. “Most people park in the rear and use the back door,” she explains, “so we upgraded our double glass doors and added an awning in the back that extends the length of the store. In the front, we reworked the space to sort of close off that entrance and make better use of our square footage.”

At just 1,000 square feet, it was imperative that Schatan Optical operate at maximum efficiency. There are roughly 1,000 frames on display from a wide range of high-end designers and brands, including Chanel, Bugati, Christian Roth and Lafont. “We carry an even mix of sun and ophthalmic,” says Schatan, “and I will almost always sell a pair of sunglasses with a pair of regular glasses.”
Sixty-five percent of her clientele is women—most of whom are extremely wealthy and willing to treat their eyewear as another fashion accessory. “The women buy six times more than the men. I’m like a shoe store. They don’t come in because they have a new prescription and need new glasses, they come in because they want something new—whether they need it or not.” Women who live and shop in this area, she says, want to look young and fun, wealthy and intelligent. The men, on the other hand, are a bit more reticent. Most of the men who shop at Schatan Optical are sent in by their wives and girlfriends.

While the impetus for the redesign was, in fact, enhanced security, one of the benefits has been a more upscale and focused presentation. The open display cases are rich and modern, combining glass shelves with an aluminum composite, jeweled hardware and directional lighting. The interior walls were repainted—periwinkle with yellow accents—and the lab space was modernized and revamped to include a full kitchen. “We want our customers to understand this is a seriously modern store with a modern attitude,” says Schatan. “We offer the newest styles from the leading brands and an array of high-end technology.” Schatan Optical Gallery works with three area labs and offers a two-week maximum turnaround on Rx lenses.

“People come here, not just for the quality selection of frames, but also for the lenses,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 38 years—20 years in this store—and I know what I’m doing. I really am a lens expert.”

According to Schatan, price is not an issue for her customers. Most are paying approximately $800 for a complete pair of progressive lenses and frames, $600 for a single lens and frames. And though she does not honor any insurance policies, she believes the aging Baby Boomers will offer the greatest opportunity for growth in the years to come.

“I am so excited about the next 20 years in eyewear,” she adds. “The Baby Boomers are going to make eyewear one of the biggest businesses in the world. It doesn’t matter what kind of eye surgery you have, you can’t fix age-related eyewear issues and that means in the years to come, more and more people are going to need glasses.” And Schatan Optical Gallery will be ready and waiting.