The Eye Gallery
City, State:
Atlanta, Ga.
Number of Locations: 9
Key executive: Ivan Samuels, founder/president
Year Founded: 1991

ATLANTA--Veteran optical retailer Ivan Samuels has always been a computer buff, so when he opened the first The Eye Gallery location in Sandy Springs, Ga., in February 1991, he was already looking for ways to harness technology to streamline his business.

As The Eye Gallery expanded, Samuels tried various software systems for inventory control, patient-record storage and other tasks, but never quite found one comprehensive program that offered everything he needed, and in real time to boot. So finally he decided to take matters into his own hands and develop his own system.

When upscale retailer Ivan Samuels couldn’t find a computer program to fill his needs, he developed his own.

The result was an Internet-based retail system Samuels calls “Project Sizzle,” launched in The Eye Gallery’s stores about two years ago. Today, with nine locations--the newest opened last November in the upscale Atlantic Station residential/business complex here--the chain is fully automated, and Samuels has instant information about each store’s operations right at his fingertips.

“We have records for 150,000 patients in our data base, with one-second access to anything about them,” he told VM. “And if a customer who has previously made a purchase or had an exam at one of our stores visits another location, that person’s records, purchasing history and prescription are instantly accessible.”

Rather than require each store to install software to operate the program, communication is all done over the Internet; the system can handle virtually an unlimited number of stores, Samuels said.

“For an owner who wants ready access to all the details of his or her business in real time, this is ideal,” he noted. “For example, every hour the system sends me an email reporting sales numbers for each store--I can see what products are selling, and at what prices, and how each dispenser is performing on an individual basis. If I spot any sales anomalies at any location, I can immediately check in with that store and see what’s going on.”

Samuels has also granted selected key vendors “guest access” to parts of the system, so they can log on to look at the sales performance of only their own products. “That way they have real sell-through information, and can see on a day-to-day basis which of their frames or sunglasses are actually selling in our various locations,” he explained.

When it comes to buying, which Samuels personally oversees, this tech maven does as much as possible online--which means most of the chain’s purchasing. He uses the system for automatic online reordering, as well: as soon as a frame or pair of sunglasses is sold in any store, the program sends a replacement order for that store to the vendor.

In addition to using the system in his own nine stores, Samuels recently began leasing it to other optical retailers. “As our business grows and changes, we continue to evolve and improve the program,” he noted. “This is a system developed by a retailer who knows what a retailer needs.”

     --Cathy Ciccolella