BUSINESS: Retailers Word of Mouth Multiplied: Readers' 'Best of' Votes Speak Volumes By Catherine Wolinski Thursday, October 17, 2013 10:00 AM After searching coast to coast for the second lineup of Vision Monday’s ‘Best of Optical Shops,’ a truth has emerged: Readers’ vote contests are here to stay and are continuing to serve as useful tools for independent optical shops throughout North America. With common results including increased patient engagement, uptick in “self-referrals” and more motivated staff, the public-sourced survey is being described by optical retail owners the continent over as important, and even integral, to their business’ success. VM has highlighted another round of the “best” sources for eyewear and eyecare, as chosen by each region’s readers. ■ email@example.com SONOMA EYEWORKS SANTA ROSA, CALIF. Best of the North Bay – Best Optical Best of Sonoma County - Best Place to Buy Eyeglasses Left: Sonoma Eyeworks has used award logos in both print and digital marketing materials. Right: Sonoma Eyeworks owners Cindy Harmon and Michael Harmon, OD.Claim to Fame: California’s Northern Bay community, consisting of Marin, Sonoma and Napa, is steadfast in their decision of where to find the best eyecare in town. Sonoma Eyeworks has been voted Best Optical in the North Bay Bohemian weekly newspaper for 13 years running and Best Place to Buy Eyeglasses since the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s contest inception in 2012. Word of Mouth: This one-stop-shop is repeatedly rewarded for its service to patients, but that doesn’t stop owners Cindy Harmon and Michael Harmon, OD from finding new ways to grow their practice. The team has constantly reshaped its advertising efforts, whether targeting specific pages in the region’s periodicals or ditching print listings for demographically targeted online ads and e-mail subscriptions, always looking for ways to better reach their audience. A driving force throughout has been the insight that voter surveys provide. Why it Works: “It’s very important to have feedback from the local community, and readers’ polls allow us to see how we are doing and how we stack up to our competitors,” said Cindy Harmon. The contest wins have attracted new patients, enhanced the practice’s reputation with vendors and suppliers and added to the business’ prestige. “Plus, they are fun! URBAN OPTICS SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF. Best of SLO County - Best Eyewear Best of Santa Barbara - Best Optometrist Top: Dave Schultz, OD rewarded Urban Optics’ staff with a California wine tour. Bottom: Urban Optics flexes it creativity in both its interior design and curated frame selections. Claim to Fame: Owner of Urban Optics, Dave Schultz, OD was chosen as Best Optometrist by the San Luis Obispo (SLO) community in the Santa Barbara Independent for three consecutive years and in 2013 was voted by readers of the local New Times Weekly for having the Best Eyewear in the region, thanks to his adherence to independent-only products that can’t be found for miles around. Word of Mouth: ‘Best of’ polls are popular in the area, where small-town pride is contagious. Despite SLO’s largely agricultural climate, the store sits in a trendy strip of small businesses in the college town surrounding California Polytechnic, where many students and professors come from larger-city life and head to Urban Optics for their frame fashion kicks. Since being designated the “best,” the store has used the stamp on “young-oriented” ads in the local paper read by students, but finds that much of the retail’s exposure comes from Facebook, Google and Yelp. Why it Works: “Polls like the best of SLO are big. One of the reasons winning is beneficial is that people know what you’re about—it’s a good way to get people aware of what we carry and how we’re different,” Schultz said. BREVIER OPTICAL EXCELSIOR, MINN. Best of Lake Minnetonka – Best Optical Services Top: Brevier Optical strives to create a “unique experience.” Bottom: Brevier thanked its customers—and targeted new ones—with this ad in a local magazine. Claim to Fame: This optical has been designated as having the Best Optical Services in the Lake Minnetonka region for two years running. According to owner Jason Trucano, Brevier has the “right products and right people,” and having been pinpointed as the “best” has helped reinforce high quality service to the staff as well as the community. Word of Mouth: Shoppers in this region typically range from age 40 to 60 and are interested in top product. Because of this, Brevier Optical primarily advertises in print, targeting “higher income, glossy type magazines” and “coffee table” publications, Trucano said. The Sun Reader, which is published both in print and online, runs a “Best” issue each year through third-party electronic questionnaire site MinnLocal.com, a source Trucano and Excelsior residents have found to be a trustworthy source for competitive businesses. Trucano has used his retail’s contest wins to his advantage by incorporating the award logo in office mailings, event literature and on the company website. Why it Works: “‘Best of’ wins are becoming more and more important to our messaging mix,” Trucano said. “It draws a lot of interest and inquiries. It definitely plays a significant role in getting new customers, validates us with existing customers and confirms that we’re on the right path here.” SPECTACLE TORONTO, ONT., CANADA Best of Toronto - Best Optical Store Top: Jag Dhillon, owner of Spectacle in Toronto, Canada. Bottom: Spectacle is likened to a “SoHo boutique,” said Dhillon. Claim to Fame: Spectacle has been known to receive awards in both community choice and editors’ pick contests, but the significance of reader surveys like Now Magazine’s Readers’ Poll, for which the store was recently awarded Best Optical, is paramount, said owner Jag Dhillon. Word of Mouth: The shop’s three locations are collectively recognized as trendy, fashionable hotspots of the Toronto area and have continually received recognitions over Dhillon’s 14 years in the business. In addition to offering the latest indie brands and SoHo-like ambiance, Dhillon said, the boutique has its own finishing lab to ensure “peoples’ products are handled A to Z in our environment and get the best possible care.” Spectacle spreads the word through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but finds that the company blog, spectaclelovesyou.blogspot.com, is the best way to keep clients aware of new products and events. Why it Works: “What these accolades do is strongly create a buyer confidence so clients will feel strongly about doing business with you. The benefits are incredible. It really impacts you early in business when you’re trying to establish yourself, and when you get it repeatedly, that has resonance. It’s kind of like the ultimate recommendation,” Dhillon said. MARGOT & CAMILLE PHILADELPHIA, PA. Best of Philly – Best Eyewear Margot & Camille owner Valerie Vittu assists a patient.Claim to Fame: This optical boutique seems to continuously regain its 15 minutes of fame. Since being awarded the Best of Philly in Philadelphia Magazine (2006), the shop has made appearances on the Philly Hot List for Best Eyewear (winner 2009, runner up 2011 and 2012) and has been featured as a “best” shopping destination in articles on SpoiledPretty.com (2008) and Philly.com (2013). Word of Mouth: Margot & Camille has stepped into various spotlights and isn’t afraid to share its success. The boutique has used online exposure to its advantage through expert navigation of social networks, consistently reinforcing a praiseworthy sense of style and connecting to the fashion conscious glasses wearers of Philadelphia. Why it Works: “Contests are a great opportunity for customers to share their experience and enthusiasm with the unknown, future customers. Plus, these comments stay online and rank you up on search engines, making your business easier to find,” said Valerie Vittu, owner. TERRI OPTICS DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. Best of Westchester - Best Optical Store Terri Optics owner Teresa Gelsi (c) and “team players” Marianna Covello (r) and Selvana Nilaj (l) show off their Best of Westchester plaque. Claim to Fame: Terri Optics was voted 2013’s Best of Westchester in Westchester Magazine. The store also took part in the Best of Westchester event and party where their products and services were showcased alongside the New York county’s most admired businesses. Word of Mouth: Located in the Greater Metropolitan Area of New York, N.Y., Terri Optics is commended for being independently owned and for offering quality service and an opportunity to support local business. According to owner Teresa Gelsi, the most common feedback, “in various words, comes down to the experience; the verbiage funnels down to ‘I always feel good when I come here.’” After receiving the award, Gelsi and her staff jumped on the opportunity to make their status known with a marketing push which, in addition to digital marketing efforts like Facebook and website posts, has included using the Best of Westchester logo on new business cards, a new “VIP card” customers can attain for special offers and on “every single piece of mail.” Why it Works: “I’ve been wanting to win this thing for years, but I was only one person,” said Gelsi. “Now I have a great team in place, and we have a good rapport with each other. Patients pick up on that. There has been an uptick in business—it’s a cause and effect.” ■ More 'Best of Optical Shops' in Loved Most From Coast to Coast.