Business Building

BRICK & MORTAR
My experience with frame reps, working as an optician in OD offices for 20+ years, was varied. Some were pushy, late, totally oblivious to the busy office they had just walked into and tackily discussed wholesale prices with patients in ear-shot. I always tried to be polite because I know they were doing their job, but sometimes felt mildly (or greatly) annoyed at having my workday interrupted. Queue opening my own business mid-pandemic. Vision Expos were cancelled, reps weren’t traveling, I had eyewear lines in mind but no way of seeing them in person. I started with lots of phone calls, emails and social media messages.

Everyone was working remotely, any phone calls to frame companies usually included a dog barking or child whining in the background…on my end or theirs. Our home environments became a part of our work persona. Because I was home, and so were they. It humanized us. We were all facing the challenge of adapting to a less than ideal situation. I was a brand new business and it seemed like I needed to prove myself. I wanted to carry only independent lines, and exclusivity was appreciated. Some required I send photos, business plans, my website was still under construction – my shop was a dusty mess as we redid the flooring, painted, changed out electrical etc. It felt like I was being interviewed to have the honor of selling their product. Suddenly, the tables felt turned. I was at their door asking to be considered…asking them to trust my vision and my experience. I planned on opening an optical in a small town, I saw the need for unique eyewear but I needed the frame companies to see my vision too.

Some companies never returned my emails or calls. A lot did, and I requested samples to be sent to me so I could touch and feel the frames before investing in the line. Some never followed through with this, and my confidence in their ability to communicate and stand behind their product dropped. However, this is a pandemic. Leeway granted. A few reps offered to travel hours to meet me in person, masked up for COVID, saw my shop space in construction and encouraged me, trusting my goals. Other reps generously sent me samples, spent time with me on the phone or email, explaining their products and what made their companies stand out.

I selected about 8 frame companies to start. The reps that I worked with gave me advice and input that didn’t feel salesy or high pressure to overbuy their line. They recommended other reps or lines that they thought would do well in my space and demographic. I was so grateful for the input and support. Reps have traveled this path before me, they have seen what lines do well and where there is a need or demand. My highest end line was not something that was on my radar, it was suggested by a rep and the investment scared me to death, but I was already leaping so I decided to leap all the way. That line has been one of my best-sellers.

My perception and appreciation of reps has certainly shifted, as a business owner, and I’m forever grateful for those that took the time to invest their energy and encouraged me to reach my goals. Each company I’m working with is a partnership. I love being confident in suggesting a frame to a client, and as they try it on, being able to explain why I carry it and what makes it unique. Eye care is a small world, and you never know when the rep walking in your door will be someone who will help you out when you need it. We all need each other. I am so excited to be building a foundation and relationships with reps and frame companies that have the same passion for eyewear and customer service as I do.

Article written by: Kyla Skinner, ABOC

Find her here: Specs by Kyla | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

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