NEW YORK—Many ECPs find that independence comes with a lot of space for creativity and freedom, and just as many say that this space is what allows them to stand out amongst competition, to make their practices entirely their own. Along with fun and creative names, signs, and promotions, some ECPs have taken an additional step in their independence: creating their own eyewear collections. To get a grasp on what it’s like to create your own eyewear collection, The Independent Eye reached out to three independent ODs who created their collections with Your Brand, which works directly with ECPs to create unique, private label brands. The company works with a small, boutique factory in China, producing eyewear solely for independent ECPs, and turns product around within 14 to 20days, COO Mark Graham told VM

Here, Adam Palo, OD (The Eye Institute, three locations in North Carolina) Michelle Yee (Lumen Optometric, Sierra Madre, California), and Edward Paul, OD (Paul Vision Institute, Wilmington, North Carolina) talk about life as an independent, creating their own eyewear, and what they see for the future of optical dispensaries.

Vision Monday: What is the background on your practice, and your road to independence?

Adam Palo, OD, of The Eye Institute in North Carolina created an eyewear collection called Red Bird. Image courtesy of Dr. Palo.

Adam Palo, OD: The Eye Institute OD, PA is modeled to offer thorough comprehensive examinations of the ocular system while also investing in independent eyewear brands that complement the populations we care for.  We are operated by doctors and that is our core: quality, integrity and community.
Michelle Yee:
My husband and I opened Lumen Optometric cold in 2017 in Sierra Madre, California. He's an optometrist and my background is in design and branding. He wanted to open his own practice because he wanted to change the way he practiced and build something that was his own. His focus is ortho-k and sclerals, which he is so passionate about. My passion in the office is our optical. I do extensive research on each brand that we carry and I make sure our selection is carefully curated.

Edward Paul, OD: Paul Vision Institute is one of the few remaining independent, locally owned optometry practices in our community. I’ve been approached by multiple private equity groups interested in acquiring my practice but I’m not remotely close to retirement and have no interest in giving up autonomy.

VM: How do you approach this business as an independent, and make your practice stand out? Are there things you think independents have more freedom with?

Dr. Palo: As an independent business I am limited only by the imagination. When I look at what an optometric practice should look like the first thought that comes to my mind is our training.  Optometrists are trained to be the primary care providers for the eyes, so the practice needs to be medically based at its foundation. From this we can build something special that doesn't look or feel like any other practice. Too much to either side and you look like everyone else. There is a balance to look medically professional but also fashionably exciting. This is where an independent optometrist can start to separate themselves from others, however, while the look and feel of the practice is important, the heartbeat of any practice is the professional service.

Yee: The way Lumen stands out is our attention to detail. My husband and I obsess over the details, it shows in his exams, and when he fits ortho-k and sclerals he makes his lens completely bespoke. There aren't many doctors that do this, but he loves being able to provide the latest technology to his patients, so for him it's worth it. I am obsessed with the aesthetics of our practice—we hired an architecture firm to design our space and we are really proud of it. I carry this passion into the optical brands that we carry and our frame selection. Our patients notice the difference too and they love us for it.

Dr. Paul: In addition to providing world-class eyecare, we focus on the patient’s experience. Our staff is trained weekly on culture and how to improve customer/patient service. Much of this is based on my training from the Disney Institute and quarterly full-day trainings where we close the office and bring in outside consultants that focus solely on personalized patient care.

VM: What made you want to work with Your Brand to create your own eyewear collection?

Michelle Yee, of Lumen Optometric in Sierra Madre, California, named her collection Artius. Image courtesy of Michelle Yee.
Lumen Optometric is an independent practice located in California. Michelle designed the practice herself. Image courtesy of Michelle Yee. 

Dr. Palo: In the effort to further separate our practice from others we wanted another outlet to share our story and our passion. Designing your own frame line is part of that. You name it and you tell the story. While I looked at many options for our collection, ultimately, it was the quality of YourBrand that made me choose their product.

Yee: I wanted to find a frame line with more soul and our goal is always to support independent frame companies. We were referred to Your Brand by another colleague who really couldn't say enough good things about Mark and his company. I gave them a call, and Mark made it so easy to do business with him. He is a frame designer by trade and when he created Your Brand he really had a great vision. I am forever thankful because you can truly tell he is trying to help the independent practice. That's his niche. Eric and I had plans to create our own in-house frame line and Mark was able to make that happen.

Dr. Paul: Last year, we made the decision to work with as many independent vendors as possible. We work with North Carolina based Independent Optical Lab for our lenses and have now made Your Brand Eyewear our #1 frame vendor. Subsequently we’re able to offer our patients inspirational frame designs at a fraction of the cost of name brand designs. The quality of Your Brand Eyewear exceeds and surpasses most frame vendors in the marketplace today.

VM: How did the process work for you?

Dr. Palo:
I wanted a name that told a story. The Red Bird line tells a personal story for me and also reaches many in our state. There were many names before I decided on Red Bird but they all just sounded cool, they didn't have any meaning. Once the name was decided upon, I worked closely with Mark to pick the designs I felt would reach our market. I even got to give my input on future designs which showed me this company cares about differentiating themselves from their competition as much as I do. 

Yee: The process was easy. Mark sent over a PDF of his catalog, I picked the frames we wanted, and then we named the frames after the streets in Sierra Madre and our opticians. I created the logo and sent it over to Mark. He got us a sample of the frame with our logo on it and we were so impressed by the quality!

Dr. Paul: We worked with chief creative officer Mark Graham, an industry veteran, and our sales rep Sean McDougall to create the “Harbor Island” collection, a coastal inspired frame line. They were phenomenal in assisting us in choosing the bestselling designs based on our demographics. They provided complete turnkey logo design and we had samples in hand for approval within 4 weeks of conception. Patients today are less interested in brand name eyewear and more interested in style, quality and value. Your Brand Eyewear allows independent eyecare providers to compete on a more level playing field.

Dr. Paul practices at the Paul Vision Institute in Wilmington, North Carolina. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul.

Dr. Paul shows the process of creating his Harbor Island collection. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul.

Edward Paul, OD, created an eyewear collection called Harbor Island. Image courtesy of Dr. Paul.

VM: Finally, do you have any thoughts on the changing roles of optical dispensaries now, and how things might change as we move forward and begin to reopen practices?

Dr. Palo
: Sanitation while always important is going to be hyper-focused now. It will not be enough to keep your area clean but to let the patient see that you are keeping it clean. There will likely be more of a push for opticals to have some sort of e-commerce option as well.
Yee: I think more now than ever service is what matters the most. We really take care of our patients in everything we do and when a patient purchases a frame from us, they get peace of mind. An example of this is when a patient damages or loses a frame, we go out of our way to see how we can minimize the cost for the patient. If I can pull a favor from a rep and replace it under warranty (so that it's at no cost to our patient) I will happily do so. It's all about helping each other out the best way we can. The same can't be said for online eyewear.

Dr. Paul: For independents to compete in today’s environment we need to increase profit margin. As we reopen post COVID-19, patients are looking for better value without compromising style and quality. Your Brand Eyewear allows us to do just that.