Transforming the Norm

Opticians Reinvent Themselves and the Eyecare Experience

By
By Catherine Wolinski: Assistant Editor

 
VM
has begun tracking the “Grand Openings” of opticianries and optometry practices throughout the U.S. and Canada in an effort to spotlight some of the more intriguing and exciting entrepreneurial ventures that are underway this year. For the first installment, we showcase two dispensaries that are alike in spirit yet unique in style—one in Saskatchewan, Canada, which turned an abandoned golf store into an industrial optical lounge, and one in North Dakota which translated the charm and history of an antique store into an eyewear haven, equally balanced with familiarity and frill. Each dispensary is spearheaded by experienced opticians who applied their know-how to create unique business plans—and who turned blueprints into distinctive retail environments where they dispense by their own rules.




Widening the Spectrum

 
 The Spectrum’s ample seating includes lounge-style couches, meant to give a nightclub vibe.
 The newly renovated space employs modern touches like this glass elevator.
The Spectrum by Vison Centre Direct located in Regina, Canada, planted itself in an up and coming side of town and threw preconceived notions of optical out the window.

Rich with optometric technology and indie frame fashion, the store is a continuation of an older location of the same name housed in the south side of the region. While the original location boasts a “warm, cozy office people are accustomed to,” said Ryan Horne, an optician of 17 years and co-partner of the new practice, the opportunity for a new location demanded a complete makeover.

“I thought, ‘if you can do anything, what would you do and how would you do it?’ [The Spectrum] has always been known as one of the most high tech opticals in Canada, but we never had the place to display or present it. Now, we have all that and more—it’s a whole experience when people walk in the door,” Horne said.

 
 According to Horne, the expansive size of the store was necessary to accommodate the vast amount of designer frames.
Through those doors, which officially opened at the end of March, patients are welcomed into an environment that they would perhaps not expect when scheduling an eye exam. The practice, Horne said, has an industrial look with high ceilings and abundant space, and includes lounge-style couches, a bar and even a glass elevator patients can use to ascend to the second floor showroom.

“We like to be different and unique, and thought it could be a ground breaking eye clinic,” referring to himself and one of his partners, Bryan Robertson, OD. “No one is used to this.”

While certainly using the space to exude luxury and present a modernized method of eyecare to patients—even the OD’s exam room displays 50-inch television screens where patients “can see what’s going on with their eyes”—the new location, Horne said, is meant to educate and meet the needs of any customer.

“My main philosophy is that we can get whoever walks in the door fitted in something that fits in their budget,” Horne said. “Quite a common thing is when the doctor brings a patient out to me, and they’ll say, ‘no one ever explained things to me like that before.’ Once they feel what a good frame is like, and good lenses, people feel like they are getting something much better than they can get elsewhere.” ■



In the Blink of an Eye

 
Blink Eyewear is becoming a popular destination for a pair of frames—or a chat and a cup of coffee.
Blink Eyewear is a contemporary comfort zone fueled by frame fashion, optical expertise, Facebook—and coffee.

After working in different optometry practices for 16 years, Kelley Dockter decided last fall that it was time to open her own shop. Soon after, the veteran optician began making plans to open what would soon become Blink Eyewear, an eyeglass boutique in Bismarck, N.D.

“I started thinking about it October, and by November was talking to different people,” said Dockter. A local nonprofit, Score, helped guide the nascent entrepreneur in financial planning.

“I had a retired businessman as a mentor,” said Dockter. The support, she said, was greatly appreciated, and not uncommon in her neighborhood. “People are so willing to help someone start a small business in our town,” she said. “I can’t say enough about how much help I got.”

In addition to assistance from her mentor, a retired accountant, Dockter enlisted the help of her brother, a contractor, and her goddaughter, Jess Gendreau, who took the reins of social media guruing to get the word out.

“Facebook has been huge,” said Gendreau. “People have been coming in here because they found it there. [Dockter] has a clientele that have followed her, but half of the people who have come in have been new and said, ‘oh, we saw it on Facebook,’ or ‘one of our friends liked your page and we checked it out.’ Around here, Facebook is so big—it really draws people in right away.”

 
 Once an antique store, the new frame shop features a “funky pink wall” and a contemporary feel, said owner Kelley Dockter.
 Kelley Dockter and goddaughter Jess Gendreau (l) are pleased with the shop’s design.
After a few months of chronicling the construction and upcoming plans for the new store, with drawings, pictures and other updates posted once or twice a day, the store has emerged successfully as both optical shop and social hangout, Gendreau and Dockter said.

“I just want people to be comfortable,” said Dockter, a Bismarck native. “I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve got a table and coffee on site…People come to say hello.”

At Blink, Dockter is sure to offer a balance between popular products like Gucci and Kate Spade, and the artistic flare she desires from brands like Salt Optics, Stella McCartney, l.a. Eyeworks and Barton Perreira.

“I wanted to have a variety,” Dockter said, alluding to a lack of options in the neighborhood. “I’ve had lots of patients for years and years. I didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t come in and find something.”