Optique Unique

Metuchen, N.J.

Number of employees 5


20/20 take
An eclectic, vibrant eyeglass shop where customers are graciously welcomed in with quality craftsmanship and service.


By Jillian Urcelay

In the small tight-knit community of Metuchen, N.J., sits an eyeglass shop rightfully named Optique Unique. Nestled amid hordes of competitors including LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Walmart and Costco, owner Barry Montalto knew in order to be successful, he needed to make his store stand out. That he did.

The optician set up shop 13 years ago in the suburban homey New Jersey town. Montalto decided to mirror and incorporate that same small town, comfortable feel into his eyeglass store. Optique Unique is inviting, warm and enchantingly colorful. Upon first entry the shop gives off an “Alice in Wonderland” vibe. Vibrant colors, patterns and materials welcome customers as they peruse through the 3,000 pairs of glasses neatly displayed on every table, shelf and cabinet in the 2,200-square-foot store.

While Montalto succeeded in achieving his relaxed and homey atmosphere, the store also has an undeniable New York City ambiance. The artsy-cool and comfortable juxtaposition somehow flows effortlessly in Optique Unique. Customers instantly take in a mix of an antique and industrial feel. His wife, a designer by trade, picked out all of the eclectic colors and textures dispersed throughout the store and even hand-painted the walls. They drew their inspiration from Manhattan because they felt like the original empty shell of a building looked like a classic brownstone or row house. Now the store is separated into countless little sections that are designed to feel like different rooms. “From the start we went out and bought china cabinets to display the glasses,” says Montalto. “We wanted it to feel like you were in a house. You can go ‘room to room’ and feel a different warmth or vibe from each section you walk into.”

While most optical shops are very airy and modern, Optique Unique is quite the opposite. “I’ve worked in the industry for 30 years, and everything I’ve seen is very bland and white,” says Montalto. “There are always rows of frames and glass countertops. I wanted to do something different.” He began his career working in the labs of large eyewear chains and then switched to private companies, opticians and optometrists. He spent almost 20 years in the industry seeing firsthand what worked and what didn’t, before taking the plunge to open up his own retail store.

“Nobody did it the way I wanted,” says Montalto. “I was always very much into optics, lenses and performance. I felt like everyone else was into costs, insurances and margins. Ultimately, no one was making really good quality glasses, and I wanted to change that.” From his experience in the business, Montalto knows he needs to stand out through his customer service. For the employees at Optique Unique, the motto is “quality and service.” With that in mind, they decided to carry more independent brands rather than selling the mass-market products. Montalto distinguished himself and his business by moving away from what everyone else was selling and putting the prescription first. In terms of repairs and adjustments, they are all done in-house. Montalto and his team also do all of the finish work, custom-made orders and reworking of antique frames on-site.

Optique Unique carries a large collection of over 3,000 eyewear pieces customers can choose from. There are more than 40 frame brands in-store which include Oliver Peoples, Bevel, Oakley and Barton Perreira. On average, the store sells about 120 frames per month, and Mykita is its best-selling brand. In terms of price, complete eyewear packages can range from $300 to $2,000 to the consumer. Optique Unique does not accept insurance, but Debbie Newman, a third-generation optician and employee at Optique Unique, believes that it doesn’t deter customers from shopping there. “People here know they are going to get what is best for them,” she says. “So the insurance doesn’t seem to chase them away because they know the quality is there. The craftsmanship, attention to detail and performance of the glasses quickly become their primary concern. Price simply becomes a secondary factor.”

During the process of treating a customer, Montalto and his four employees always start with the lenses. They figure out whether or not a customer has certain limitations with his prescription and then move onto the important lifestyle questions. “Barry is really good at figuring out what lenses work best with the tasks and work environment that a person is in,” says Newman. Ultimately, Montalto has an innate gift for picking out and suggesting the best frames for a person’s face shape and coloring. The frames are also displayed throughout the store in a way that customers can take their time and pick out the frames they like best. Everything in the store is showcased by brand, and each brand has its own section in a cabinet or shelf, making it easier for the customer to find the style that he or she likes. Men’s, women’s and children’s frames are also distinguished from each other.

Optique Unique’s children’s section is another standout feature. “What makes Barry different is that he caters to children,” says Newman. “He has a very big pediatric business which is a hole that no one else seems to fill quite nicely.” Surprisingly, Montalto thinks that treating children is a lot easier than adults. He believes that if you have fun with it and let the kids do the same, you can get into the right mindset. “Most of it is just getting on their level and treating them like people,” he says. “There’s also no doubt that the kids are the customers and not their parents. For it to work, you make the kids active participants and sway them toward what the parents want. But, it’s always the kid’s choice, and we stress that to their parents.” In Montalto’s experience, the child really needs to make the final decision.

Having a large child consumer base has paid off for the business. “There’s always a new undercurrent of children coming in especially around the time school starts each year,” says Newman. “Of course, the parents also come with them and after looking around and working with us, they become customers too! It’s really nice when we end up getting to work with the whole family.” The children’s section of the store is indeed a comforting and friendly place for both nervous and excited kids to hang around in. Along with a big selection of toys to play with, there are fun hand-painted walls with cartoon kids smiling down on them and countless frames to choose from.

Ultimately, it’s the environment that sets Optique Unique apart from the competitors. “Everyone I work with has a smile on their face—they are happy to see you, and they welcome you in,” says Newman. “It’s very relaxed here—homey, but professional.” The eclectic, colorful atmosphere draws customers in, but it’s the attention to detail, knowledge about the product and care for its customers that causes them to keep coming back. When it comes down to it, this store truly is unique.■