Loved Most From Coast to Coast: Statuses Rise With Contest Wins

By Catherine Wolinski: Assistant Editor

Today’s customers don’t keep their opinions to themselves. They are constantly sharing, reviewing and rating their experiences with businesses, and as a result, consumers’ trust and interest in products are becoming more dependent on publicized opinions.

The 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey, a study from Third Door Media’s news and information site,, found that 72 percent of consumers surveyed trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Further, 52 percent said that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business.

According to a 2013 Forrester Research study, How Research Touchpoints Affect Consumer Spending, online consumer recommendations have become one of the most trusted sources of brand advertising, with 83 percent of consumers saying user reviews “often or sometimes” impact their buying decisions, and 80 percent reporting they have changed their mind about purchasing a product after reading a negative online review.

The Forrester study also found, though, that the most influential source of information used by consumers when making purchasing decisions is still visiting a store itself. A business’ organic ability to connect with its customers plays a large role in customer reviews, be they online or word-of-mouth, and many business owners are not taking advantage of their power to generate positive feedback.

An often overlooked yet effective way to create interest and excitement around a small business is to take advantage of community-driven contests. Local periodicals, regional publications and television programs often host friendly competitions to designate the “best” businesses in their areas, initiating feedback on community favorites and encouraging support in the local economy.

Far more than flattery, these polls and contests are venues for positive attention and give local businesses an opportunity to leverage a “best of” status. When done well, retailers can increase foot traffic and customer satisfaction, in turn improving their visibility and reputation among review-dependent shoppers.

VM rounded up a cross section of optical retailers across the U.S. whose excellent service not only inspired community readers to spread the word, but earned the stores the “best of” title in their regions—a title which, for these five independents, has proven to be a lucrative business tool and a reliable source of customer approval.


Loved by Many


Judy Ayers (l) and 4 Your Eyes Only staff are proud members of their community.


 4 Your Eyes Only’s award for Best Eyewear was publicized on a local television station.
Contrary to its name, 4 Your Eyes Only achieves a mass appeal. This small business has won the affection of its community time and time again since setting up shop in Wallingford Center, a converted elementary school building in Seattle, Wash. that dates back to the early 1900s and now hosts predominately small, local, women-owned businesses. In recent years, the shop has been designated the best optical shop in Seattle Magazine’s Best of: Readers’ Choice (2010 and 2011) and was voted for Best Eyewear in King 5 television’s Evening Magazine Best of Western Washington, taking first place in both 2010 and 2011 and second place in 2012.

Store owner Judy Ayers said that although the boutique has received repeated nominations and awards, winning is no easy feat—contests have become increasingly competitive as more boutiques and practices appear in the area.

“It’s not easy, by any means. You have to let people know you’re in it, let them know you’d like to win and you have to encourage them,” Ayers said. “Especially in a small business. We don’t have a doctor on site, we’re simply a women’s eyewear boutique, so we have to get a little creative and savvy.”

Ayers relies on social media, e-mail blasts and personal conversation to get the word out—but is sure not to overload customers with self-promotion. “We do some fun Facebook posts, and send an e-mail maybe twice per campaign. I don’t want to spam my customers; if we’re doing a trunk show, I’ll include a note saying ‘if you love us and think we deserve this, vote for us.’”

Ayers is willing to show off “a little bit,” she said, after winning the award, through the store’s website, e-mail marketing campaigns or print ads. “I took out a couple of paid ads in local papers when they were doing their best of issues.”

Although Ayers may apply a concerted effort into her “best of” titles, she believes her reputation is more a result of her community involvement than of her award winnings. A member of Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce, Good Business Organization and various grassroots efforts, Ayers believes supporting local businesses is key.

“Being part of a group seems to yield more benefit as a whole,” she said. “Get involved. Give your best. Do what you can. Create happy customers. It is their good will and word of mouth that makes winning possible.”

ART OF Optiks
Super Service

 Art of Optiks has received several public vote awards in recent years.

 A recent award from Angie’s List has increased Art of Optiks’ customer base.

Another optical star, Art of Optiks in Wayzata, Minn., has achieved local news notoriety as 2012’s Best Optical in online local news site, Minnetonka Patch, several wins as Best Place to Have an Eye Exam in Lakeshore Weekly, the local print newspaper, and a recent nomination for Lake Minnetonka Magazine’s Best of Lake Minnetonka and Southwest Metro 2013, results of which will be drawn in May.

The store’s most significant feat, according to owner Stephanie Haenes, is winning the Angie’s List Super Service Award for 2012, an accomplishment that has had a direct impact on the store’s client base. Though Art of Optiks typically attracts high end earners, Haenes said, a higher percentage of customers are now coming in after seeing the store’s awards.

“People really look to [Angie’s List] to determine where they’re going to go, so we’ve gotten quite a lot of business from that,” Haenes said, explaining the award’s ability to attract a favorable type of shopper. “It’s a well-educated customer, and somebody that is not looking so much for insurance as they are looking for a more personal experience, the best experience. People that know what they’re doing.”

Though Haenes and her husband, Art of Optiks’ on-site optometrist, Tim Haupert, OD did not fuel the voting process—“we are so not awards people,” she joked—the team did make an effort to advertise the Super Service Award. “We put it on Facebook, it’s our cover photo,” she said, noting, “we have a very active Facebook following—we post every day.”

The secret to recognition, Haenes said, is having a personal touch. “We have a lot of customers, but tend to know them by name,” she said. “There are a lot of things that will get people to come back, but customer service is definitely number one. You can have great frames and a great doctor, but if your staff isn’t friendly, people aren’t going to come back, no matter how great everything else is. It’s something we learned over the years. You really need to treat people very, very well—they respect that and they’ll come back time and time again.”

Good Fortune and Fame


 Image Optical often attracts celebrity customers to its glamorous events.


 Mello Thompson (l), owner of Image Optical, and her daughter, Erin.
Much further south in Nashville, Tenn., Image Optical reigns as a happening, celebrity-frequented optical shop consistently on the radar for its various events. “[There are] always new displays, trunk shows, high teas, cake, lighting, visual displays and window creations typical of fashion retail stores and in-store events,” said the store owner, Mello Thompson. Additionally, the dispensary has repeatedly earned a place in The Scene’s Best of Nashville readers’ poll, winning first place “every year for 10 years,” she said, and for the past three years, placing in the top three.

Thompson attributes the store’s success to a lack of luxury eyewear in the area. “When we first opened, we didn’t have many interesting, high end glasses—maybe 400—now, we have a very large selection of frames, over 2,000. Most people don’t do that.”

She also referred to a number of styling collaborations she and her staff have participated in. “We do music videos, movies, TV shows, album covers. We help make Nashville’s community even more beautiful than they already are.”

Typical customers, she said, though not so typical, are country stars like Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Faith Hill and Brad Paisley, along with area celebs like Nicole Kidman. “But everyone should be treated like a celebrity, no matter who they are,” she said.

Despite the glamour and excitement of a rockstar-studded clientele, Thompson believes the primary reason Image Optical has received such notoriety is simple—“We have a really good relationship with our customers,” she said. “People shop here because we’re the best place to shop.”

Visualize Variety

 The Vizio Optic interior has proven to be a favorite browsing area for Boston eyewear buyers.

 Vizio Optic has won five Best of Boston awards in various optical categories.

Right outside of Boston in Brookline, Mass., Vizio Optic rises to the top repeatedly as Boston’s best. Since opening in 2004, the designer eyeglass shop and online retailer has been voted Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston five times, in the categories of Best Eyeglasses (2006 and 2007), Best Eyewear (2009), Best Optical Shop (2010) and Best Sunglasses (2012). The store was also voted #1 Optical Shop in Wicked Local and Brookline TAB’s Readers’ Choice Award in 2012, and has received mention in the Boston Globe’s Best of the New contest and the Globe 100 Best of Massachusetts Business.

The store emerged as a top shop with a clear goal: to encourage variety and help customers find styles that match their personality and mood. “Glasses are one of the most important things you wear,” Vizio Optic owner Galina Rabkin, OD, told the Brookline TAB. “People have 10 pairs of shoes but only one pair of glasses…[they] should have just as many glasses.”

By fitting patients in unique styles from independent lines, Rabkin elevates style as well as sight. “I love helping people see better and look better,” she said.

R&R: Relaxation and Recognition

 Todd Rogers Berberian, store owner and eyewear designer, attracts customers by being casual yet refined.

 Andover Eye Care most recently earned this BONS gold medal for Best Eyeglasses.

About 30 miles north in Andover, Mass., Andover Eye Care owner and Todd Rogers eyewear designer Todd Berberian has won the Best of the Andovers community survey 10 years in a row and North Shore magazine’s Best of the North Shore: Best Eyeglasses for the last three, “going on the fourth,” he told VM.

Andover Eye Care’s overall philosophy, Berberian said, is being relaxed, friendly and fun. “Showing eyewear isn’t boring,” he said, explaining the store’s ability to balance a luxury selection with a casual atmosphere. “We do high end, but I come to work in jeans and a hoodie.”

The multi-function dispensary has survived on its good reputation, which, he said, often crosses state borders. “We get really wild people coming in, from areas we wouldn’t expect—New Hampshire, Southern Massachusetts. I’ll ask, ‘how did you hear about us?’, and they’ll say, ‘I read an article,’ or ‘I saw your best of’—they drive long distances to get here.”

Berberian plans on publicizing his awards with a North Shore full-page spread, print ads and possibly, someday, a television commercial. “The recognition of seeing you win over and over again definitely brings people in,” he said. The most essential route to his audience, though, is the outgoing nature of his and his staff’s customer service.

“When someone comes in, we don’t leave them alone. We introduce ourselves, chat them up, find out what it is they’re looking for. And we educate. Education is the most important.”