Gramercy Park Optical

Experienced Staffers Offer Knowledge to Well-informed Patients of All Ages

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Gramercy Park Optical is named for the lively section of Manhattan’s East side where it is located. Consisting of Dr. Warren Zimmerman’s optometric practice and well-equipped dispensary, the cleanly designed, brightly lit store attracts an eclectic mix of young professionals, families and seniors from the surrounding neighborhood and throughout the city. They come for first-class eyecare, expert optical advice from an experienced dispensing staff and a broad selection of fashion frames.

Arlene Schlesinger, manager of Gramercy Park Optical, said she approaches all customers the same way, regardless of their age. “I don’t think there’s much of a difference between how I would work with a 25 year-old patient compared to a 35 or 55 year-old,” said the veteran optician. “Each patient has different needs and you can’t make assumptions based on their age. That’s true even for products like progressive lenses, which many people think are just for presbyopes. But we get 25-year olds and even children who wear progressives.”

When discussing the latest digital lenses with patients, Schlesinger finds that many patients, especially Baby Boomers, respond well to visual aids. “If I have a 45-year-old who is a first-time wearer, I show them a picture of a diagram of a 1970s living room, with a couch and TV, plus a coffee table that has a remote control and a newspaper. Then I show them a living room today, and the coffee table’s got a cellphone, newspaper and iPad, and TV is the distance. People’s visual needs have changed. It’s an excellent visual that helps people understand.”

Schlesinger noted that many patients now educate themselves about eyeglasses before they visit the dispensary, and reference online information sources when they’re shopping for glasses. “They’ve already read up on things, and it’s almost like they’re testing you,” she said. “That’s very different for me.”

 
 Vincent Salerno and Arlene Schlesinger.
Schlesinger said that patients often cite contradictory information based on reading different people’s opinion of the same products. “I wind up explaining and interpreting what they’ve read. It’s much more time consuming than it used to be.”

As a result, Schlesinger and Gramercy Park’s dispensing staff have to familiarize themselves with the same information their patients have gathered. The information may come not only from social media websites but from manufacturers’ sites as well. “They’re hitting information that I wouldn’t ordinarily bring up. They get to a level of detail that I have to be aware of too. As soon as they mention certain facts or phrases, I know they’ve done their research. Then you’ve got to go through it with them.”

Schlesinger’s younger colleague, optician Vincent Salerno, believes that no matter how much a patient may know—or think they know—his professional opinion still carries weight with them. “Young people come in who spend eight to nine hours a day in front of the computer,” he said. “While they have lots of information at their fingertips, just because they have facts doesn’t mean they have real knowledge. When they hear it from the horse’s mouth, it eases their mind.”

“It’s like going to a pharmacy and getting a medication,” said Salerno. “The pharmacist is a licensed professional, and it’s their word that counts.”

Both Salerno and Schlesinger said they find it challenging to deal with patients who shop for glasses online and then come to Gramercy Park Optical and expect to pay the same prices. Others never intend to purchase products there, but use the store as a showroom. “Some people come in and ask, ‘Do you have any Ray-Bans?’ said Schlesinger. “When I show them our selection, they say, ‘Good, I ordered the right ones and paid $99 instead of $129.’ Then they leave.”

Salerno acknowledged that it’s hard for brick-and-mortar locations to compete with online prices. However, he has developed techniques for engaging online shoppers that sometimes leads to a sale. “I ask them, ‘Do you have vision insurance?’ If they do, I show them products that are covered by their plan.”

Some people can be impulsive when shopping online, and the eyewear they buy isn’t always the best choice for them, observed Salerno. “Sometimes people don’t know much about their prescription, and they might order frames that are too big for that prescription,” he said. “We can demonstrate the lenses and fit the eyewear to their face.”

In-store dispensing has other advantages as well, Salerno pointed out. “I wear glasses too, so I can show them how a certain product looks, like AR coating,” he said. “They can relate to that.”

—Andrew Karp