Crown Vision Builds Business With New Retail Format and 'Center of Excellence' Hub


President of Crown Vision Center, Charles "Matt" Matthews has been running the regional optical chain for more than two decades.

ALTON, Ill.—Location, location, location, the three most important factors to consider when buying real estate are also among the reasons for Crown Vision Center's success. All but three of its 29 locations are within a ten to fifteen mile radius in the densely populated St. Louis metropolitan area. The locations are also within a short drive from the regional optical chain's "Center of Excellence," where patients from the 29 full service optometric centers are referred for further medical treatment such as cataracts and Lasik.

Company president Matt Matthews observed that the area is "not impacted too much by economic cycles. The St. Louis economy doesn't really boom or bust," he said. So, while much of the country was still suffering from sluggish business, Crown added two locations in 2012 and one so far in 2013. The typical size of each store is between 1,600 and 1,800 square feet.

About a year ago, Crown began testing a new retail format in locations that are more visible than those where it had previously opened stores. In areas with plenty of younger office workers and featuring a sun center, the updated store designs are doing well in at least two of the three locations, according to Matthews. "We're seeing people we don't normally see, different traffic patterns, not just existing customers," he said.

In addition to a more contemporary, open look and feel, the new store designs include practical features as well, such as easily replaced carpet tiles instead of broadloom carpet and video cameras in case of theft.

Offering three forms of vision correction—eyeglasses, contact lenses and Lasik—Crown Vision places signs in its full service optometric centers referring Lasik candidates to its surgery center.

"Some customers are coming back more frequently than their annual visit," Matthews told dba, "and younger people are buying just plano sunwear." Each new sun center has its own identity independent of the store itself. Its separate physical space, different lighting, and different separator colors highlight a minimum of 350 skus.

With both diagnostic and dispensing in all locations, all records are paperless using Eyefinity's certified electronic health records (EHR) software. "We were able to participate in Meaningful Use Stage 1, and we're going into Stage 2," said Matthews, referring to the incentive payments practitioners can receive for implementing EHR as a result of the HITECH Act.

The latest technology is also found at the company's own optical lab where it surfaces lenses and finishes eyeglasses for all of its locations. Using Schneider generators, about 60 percent of its progressive addition lenses are digitally surfaced high definition and sold under the private label Masterpiece HD. "We're very happy with the results, and our patients are as well," said Matthews. "It's nice when you can give the patient a WOW! factor they can perceive."

Support is a two-way street, and giving back to the communities in which Crown Vision's stores are located is a basic tenet of the company's philosophy. Crown sponsors Kids Vision for Life to provide free vision screenings, free eye exams, and free eyeglasses to children in the St. Louis Public School system. Together, they work with The Essilor Vision Foundation and the College of Optometry at The University of Missouri—St. Louis to help with the program. They partner with Safilo for the frames. The chart below shows the impact the program has had over the four years it's been in service to the area.

With additional stores featuring a new retail format and sun centers being placed in carefully selected locations with traffic patterns of young professionals passing by, Crown Vision Center's 29 full service optometric centers are strategically placed in an economically stable region within a short drive of Crown's Center of Excellence surgery center. In the case of Crown Vision Center, location, location, location, has proven just as successful to optical as it has to real estate.

Crown Vision's 29 full service optometric centers refer patients to its centrally located 'Center of Excellence' for further medical treatment.

Floating eyewear displays replace chests of drawers in Crown Vision Center's new open look and feel retail format.


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