INDEPENDENT RETAILER AND OWNER OF URBAN OPTICS DAVE SCHULTZ, OD, SHARES THE SECRETS TO HIS SUCCESS WITH FEATURE EDITOR JILLIAN URCELAY
"Whoever thought that an optometrist could be cool?” reads one of the endless positive Yelp reviews on Urban Optics’ owner Dave Schultz, OD. All it takes is a quick conversation to confirm—Dr. Dave, as he’s known around town, is very cool. Five years ago, 20/20 first introduced our readers to Urban Optics with a Successful Retail Strategy feature, and we decided it was time to revisit the optical store to catch up with Schultz and learn what’s new.
Schultz has been providing the Central Coast town of San Luis Obispo, Calif., (nicknamed SLO) with quality eyewear and eyecare for over 30 years. Urban Optics is nestled just blocks away from the popular Downtown SLO Farmer’s Market and is surrounded by a bustling restaurant scene in the laid-back city. SLO’s slower pace and quintessential California location surrounded by ocean and mountains make it a dream for outdoor enthusiasts looking to enjoy a day surfing or hiking. This draw brings in thousands of students every year to California Polytechnic State University who fall in love with the city’s local charm and college-town feel filled with enough restaurants, shopping and activities to keep students busy while still maintaining that small town vibe.
Located on a main corner downtown with 1,600 square feet of space is Urban Optics, the brainchild of sole owner Schultz. Designed to look more like an art gallery than an optometric practice, the store’s custom interior has won architectural awards, and he commissions artwork to display in his business. Schultz works with a team of four full-time and two part-time employees. When hiring staff, he concentrates on style and the ability to provide the ultimate customer experience—the rest can be taught. Besides performing eye exams and prescribing eyewear and contact lenses, Schultz continues to do all of the buying for all of the lines in his store. At any given time, the store carries 800 to 1,000 pieces of eyewear, retailing between $250 to $1,200.
Schultz opened his practice in January 1990 carrying only two independent frame lines—l.a.Eyeworks and Alain Mikli. Staying true to the store’s independent roots, Urban Optics’ current top selling brands are SALT. Optics, l.a.Eyeworks, Bevel and Garrett Leight California Optical. Schultz’s personal favorite? Kuboraum. “It is funky, artistic and sellable,” he says. It’s clear that he is passionate about the brands his business carries. He has remained good friends and fostered relationships with many of the owners and designers of the independent eyewear pieces he sells. “We were one of the first people to carry Oliver Peoples in the early ’90s, and then Larry Leight’s son Garrett worked for me,” he says. “He went to Cal Poly, the university in town and worked for me. I carried Larry Leight’s line, and I now carry his son’s line. I also carried Alain Mikli, and now I carry his son Jeremy Miklitarian’s brand Tarian. I’m carrying the sons’ lines of the original designers, and I’m still working,” he laughs.
After all this time, he still manages to make eyewear feel exciting to both himself and his patients. “I like to pick color patterns that are exciting,” he says. “I love l.a.Eyeworks, I love the colors. When they make something unusual—I buy it. I display things that are potentially unsellable but are an attention getter (he mentions they always eventually do sell). I like colors and styles that most practices would think are unsellable. The excitement is when people come in and say, ‘God, I’ve never seen anything like these frames before.’” The funky frame displays pay off. “Being on a corner of the main downtown shopping area obviously invites walk-in customers and being located next door to the most popular SLO restaurant also helps,” he says. “We are continually complimented on our frame selection.”
Urban Optics’ customer base is heavily made up of college students and professors. The community is based around Cal Poly State University, which has kept the downtown area near the store vibrant, refurbished and up to date. It’s also a vacation destination near the Pacific Ocean, so Urban Optics gets its fair share of tourists who come to the coast every summer. Schultz mentions he has a patient from the Bay Area who just stopped in with her daughters. “I saw her as a student here, and now she’s 50, but she still comes to town every year to see me.”
Schultz and his staff continue to make Urban Optics a destination in and of itself—and it’s a fun one. Known for the over-the-top parties they have thrown in the past, the store invites their entire patient base to let loose for a themed night out. “For our 1950s party, we had a hula hoop contest, a popcorn machine, photo booth and a DJ playing ’50s music,” he remembers fondly. To keep things interesting, they also host trunk shows for their customers. Francis Klein recently sent its entire line of over 250 frames for his clients to peruse through and try on. These trunk shows can last anywhere from seven to 10 days, which offers Schultz’s staff time to display and advertise the sale on social media while getting as many customers as possible in the door.
Urban Optics utilizes their social media presence in a way that keeps their business fresh and current. Open their Instagram (@urbanopticsslo), and you can see the fun Schultz and his staff have creating videos in the store. His advice would be pick one or two social media formats to use and embrace. If you aren’t into it, have a younger staff member that you can assign to it. Urban Optics asks every patient when dispatched if they can take their picture to post on social media, and almost everyone says yes. “I honestly believe I have no competition,” he says. “I don’t think anybody’s competition to me. It’s because I’m not competing—I’m doing what I do. But every once in a while, I’ll go on other people’s websites, and I’ll see they haven’t posted anything on Facebook in 18 months or so. Why even have it?”
“It takes time to establish your personal identity, but my best advice is to be yourself and stick to it,” says Schultz. “We are well known across the Central Coast for the product and style we deliver. Our dedication to style and independent frame lines sets us apart from others. It is all encapsulated in our tag line, ‘Where Vision and Style Collide.’” He doesn’t let the threats of online sales, big box stores and optical chains looming in the back of many independent retailers’ minds get to him. “Give people something that’s better or different than what they can get online,” he explains. “I try to offer products that are unavailable online. It doesn’t scare me.”
“They can’t get the service we offer them—that’s for sure,” says Schultz. “People will buy here just because they like me and my staff, and we provide them with a service they can’t get anywhere. When customers come to pick up their frames, it is packaged in a bag, and every single one has a thank you card handwritten from the staff member who sold them their eyewear. Just be different and embrace that, and then offer something that people can’t get anywhere else.”
Once nicknamed the “Happiest Place in America,” San Luis Obispo is a true gem on California’s coast. It’s clear that Schultz and his team manage to bring both delight and the cool factor to this laid-back city. The next time you’re planning a trip out west, make Urban Optics your destination for quality eyewear, service and of course a good time. ■