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  May 1, 2013

Customized Design Combined With Empowering Employees Make Stanton a Success

By John Sailer

Being replicated across the country, Stanton Optical's one-story freestanding buildings prominently stand 30 feet tall.

Stanton Optical stocks over 5,000 frames on display in its 4,300-square-foot stores.

PALM SPRINGS, Fla.—From the 30-foot-tall, distinctive white and orange freestanding stores that become landmarks in the cities in which they are built to the private label frame lines named for effective employees, Stanton Optical follows its own unique formula when selling eyeglasses. Since its founding less than 10 years ago, the chain has grown from just a few stores in the Midwest to approaching more than 55 locations by the end of next year.

With 30 locations in operation and 17 currently under construction throughout the United States, Stanton Optical's exponential pace of growth continues unabated. On track to have 47 locations up and running by the end of 2013, the company has expanded significantly since CEO Daniel Stanton opened just a few Midwestern locations in 2006, initially all managed out of his Indianapolis basement with about five employees. "Eight more locations are teed up and in the works for 2014," Stanton told dba. "We've grown 60, 70, 100 percent year over year since our inception in 2006. In the last 10 months alone we've opened 11 stores."

The optical retailer continues rising steadily in the rankings of Vision Monday's annual Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers report, which Stanton acknowledges inspires him. Operating now from more professional offices in Palm Springs, Fla., last year Stanton Optical jumped to 27 locations and $37 million in revenue from 18 locations and $23 million in 2011, according to the annual report. That followed the previous year's expansion to 15 locations and $14 million in 2010 from six locations and $7 million in revenue in 2009.

With stores in 12 states and an exceptionally strong presence in both California and Florida, Stanton Optical operates literally across the country, and will be opening as far afield as Anchorage, Alaska, later this year.

The founder attributes his success to a variety of factors that make his operation unique, including customized store designs both inside and out, focusing on hiring the right talent by partnering with doctors who share his operation's cultural beliefs, displaying over 5,000 frames (some private label) at each location for consumers to choose from, and passionately doing all the marketing himself.

His first principle is forming an affinity with optometrists. "I like to nurture relationships with doctors that allow them to be more of a partner rather than a service provider within our stores," said Stanton. "The doctors in our store create an environment for our employees to thrive. Our strategy is to hire, train, and spend a lot of time and financial resources developing employees to put them in a position to have a long-lasting career."

Naming an ophthalmic frame line for the manager of the top performing store, and a sunglass line for her daughter, is one way the company has honored its employees.

Stanton maintains his own personal focus on the company's marketing as well, with a diverse approach that covers television, radio, print, social media, and more. Broadcast on network television in every market, the company's television ads he describes as "unconventional, featuring frames that bounce and move around."

In addition to marketing, Stanton Optical's standout store designs attract attention as well. Strategically placed in high profile areas that encourage drive-bys, the one-story freestanding buildings stand 30 feet tall and are being replicated across the country. Stanton describes the panels that compose the distinctive white fa├žade as looking like the back of an iPhone.

The company's personal touches are also found throughout the inside of the 4,300-square-foot buildings. Thousands of frames organized by categories such as Women, Men, Unisex, Bendable, Sunglasses and Rimless are displayed on backlit boards. The company even designs and manufactures its own furniture. Finished eyeglasses are dispensed directly from the in-house lab, which Stanton describes as being similar to Walgreens.

The operation's customization is further evidenced by the fact that Stanton Optical even designs and manufactures its own ophthalmic frame lines. Combining this with the desire to motivate employees, every year the company honors its top performer with their own line of eyeglasses. For example, the manager of the number one revenue producing store in 2011, Deborah Richards, general manager of Stanton Optical Augusta, had an ophthalmic frame line named after her. In addition, the Stormi Daze sunglasses line was named after her daughter Stormi. The four designs in the Deborah Richards eyeglasses line retail for $99.95, while the six designs in the Stormi Daze sunglasses line sell for $129.95.

With this combined focus on staff and design, Stanton Optical's expansion continues apace, and the company is poised for even further growth through virtual sales as well. The optical retailer is in the midst of launching an e-commerce business that's scheduled to be up and running in June. "We thrive on growing within our category," said Stanton, who added, "and I don't say that lightly."

The optical retailer sets itself apart by dispensing finished eyeglasses direct from the in-house lab.

Stanton Optical even designs and manufactures its own furniture.

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