Photographs courtesy of Alain Mikli

By Gloria Nicola

With 29 stand-alone shops throughout the world, the Alain Mikli eyewear company continues its retail expansion, opening two boutiques in California—one in San Francisco’s Union Square in September 2011 and the second on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills in October. Although Mikli has a strong wholesale business in the U.S., it has only three other stores here—two in New York City and one in New Jersey. Plans are underway to open two or three stores per year in the U.S. for the next several years.

“We always planned to expand in the U.S. We’ve had requests for years for stores on the West Coast,” says Sophie Guerard-Raubiet, vice president of Alain Mikli retail. “Since the West Coast stores have opened, the energy and excitement levels have been amazing. Three Mikli clients visited our Beverly Hills shop in the first two days we were open, saying they had been waiting years for us to arrive in California. One customer was so excited we had to open a box before we had unfinished packing to sell a frame,” she continues.

Everything about the California stores, from the product (only Alain Mikli and Starck Eyes are sold in the boutiques) to the store design and the merchandising, reflects the Mikli image. The boutiques are designed by Philippe Starck and feature clean lines, modern glass cabinets, white floors, warm wood walls and the showstopping, signature red chandelier by Andromeda Murano. Even the way the frames are displayed is part of the Mikli message. They are always open and displayed as though they are on a person’s face—never folded.

“Mikli has been in business since 1978, and for 33 years we have had the same philosophy: ‘To see as well as be seen.’ That is our message and we have never gone off the game with that message,” Guerard-Raubiet explains. “When a new customer comes to a Mikli boutique we always take the time to deliver the Mikli story. We emphasize buying Mikli is a different experience from buying other eyewear. Because we are expensive and we don’t sell by logo, we have to explain the product and its attributes. We describe the handcrafted acetate, custom colors and the signature flex hinge with the opening at the endpiece. For reinforcement we have a video demonstrating how the frames are made looping in the background,” she notes. The staff also makes certain everyone who comes into the store tries on at least one pair of eyewear so they can judge the comfort for themselves. Only after frame and lens options have been thoroughly discussed is price mentioned. “Usually once they have heard the story and the facts about the products, they are willing to accept the price,” Guerard-Raubiet says. An average Mikli frame sells for $575; single vision lenses start at $195; progressive from $600 to $1,200. The boutiques have their own lab on the premises.

John Stuart Riddle, licensed optician and boutique manager for the San Francisco location, also stresses the importance of getting customers involved in the eyewear experience. “The Mikli philosophy is that our eyewear is made in passion and it should be presented and sold that way,” he notes. “We have two types of clients. The first group is those who know Mikli or the ‘Mikli cult’ as I call them. They come in to share their Mikli experiences and talk about their frames. They will bring a frame that’s 10 years old and know exactly where and when they bought it. We will polish it up for them and replace the hinges if necessary, and it’s as good as new. One of our clients who lives in San Francisco has 23 pairs of Mikli frames that he has purchased in Hong Kong, Paris, all over the world. He’s thrilled a Mikli boutique has finally opened in San Francisco.”

The second type of client, Riddle says, is those who come because they are attracted to the store design. “We talk with them and tell them the Mikli story. We offer espresso or wine. We don’t rush out customers. We see the Mikli boutiques as luxury retail stores that happen to sell eyewear. Our goal is to offer a luxury experience. But we do know our stuff and we are very service oriented,” he emphasizes. The staff in the California stores went through an extensive training program in New York, learning everything about the history of the company, the product and how to present the product.

What really makes the difference, however, is the service and attention to detail. Riddle mentions a recent customer from Wisconsin who had an expensive frame he did not like (not a Mikli), but he had spent $1,200 for lenses and was reluctant to abandon the eyewear. “We were able to take his lenses out and put them in a Mikli frame that he liked,”  the optician notes. If someone is too busy to come to the store, one of the staff will visit their home or office. “We also keep records on our customers and send them thank you notes whether or not they make a purchase,” Riddle says. “We are not just selling frames and lenses—we are providing an entire experience. Even if they are not going to buy, we encourage them to try frames on and have fun. We want our stores to be a destination. People come here expecting to find the perfect frame and the best technology, and they get it. We have always had California customers in our New York stores; now we’ve made it more convenient for them.” ■