Differentiate Your Optical By Featuring Only Independent-Brand Frames

By Maria Higgins, OD


Set your optical apart from the competition with independent-brand frames and unique design touches.


ANALYZE COST & BENEFIT. Independent frame lines can be more expensive than corporate-owned brands, but they command high margins.

KEY INVENTORY TO PATIENT BASE. Evaluate local demographics to see if patients appreciate the character of off-the-beaten path frame lines and adjust.

TRAIN STAFF TO SELL. Teach staff to tell stories about independent frame companies and what makes them unique.

I am a small independent business, and I strive to support other small independent businesses. I wanted my practice, Unique Optique, to be different than the big box stores that carry the same big-name frame brands as everyone else. So, I decided to only sell frames from independent manufacturers. I define “independent” as owned by someone I can call and talk to, not a faceless corporation. The lines I sell are owned by a person or a few people. We specifically do not carry lines that are carried in any chain store.

Unique Optique

Frederick, MD

Maria Higgins, OD

Optometry school: PCO, Salus University, 1997

Year practice history: Started cold in 2011

Number of locations: 1

Number of ODs: 1

Number of support staff: 2

Comprehensive exams: <400 annually
Frames Inventory: 500 frames at any time

Per-Patient Revenue: $700
Annual revenues: <$280,000

Gauge Cost & Benefit of Independent Frame Lines

Frames purchased from independent manufacturers are more costly than purchasing corporate-owned frame lines. In addition, many of the larger frame lines will be discounted by buying groups. Corporate-owned frame lines also tend to be more generous with their return and exchange policies. However, the return on investment for me is the practice differentiation that these unique lines offer my practice. It is worth the added cost when patients visit us because they can’t get the frames we sell at any other optical in our area. Independent-brand frame lines also command higher profit margins. Selling these unique brands has helped me generate a per-patient revenue of $700.

Practice Demographics: Are Independent Lines Worthwhile?

Not all practices have patient bases that will necessarily appreciate the unique qualities of independently produced frame lines. For my patients, however, it’s a perfect fit. I’ve found my patients to be independent-thinking people with a unique personal style and often a creative outlook on the world. My average patient is 40ish, cares about fashion, the environment and karma. They value frame lines that are recycled or are charitable. Some may have to save up for the glasses they want, others may buy five pairs in a sitting, but they both value personal service, kindness and quality.

Add Unique Touches–Like a Photo Booth & Art Gallery

Unique Optique has a photo booth that prints out strips of four photos. It started as a way to have fun at our grand opening party, but then grew to be a significant tool in helping people choose their glasses. Patients can compare four pairs, one in each picture, and see what they look like from outside of their own head. It helps that, in viewing the photo with their current Rx, they can clearly see how the frames look on them.

The photo booth cost $8,000, and has a footprint of 2 feet by 4 feet approximately. I chose a computerized booth over a vintage booth, which was originally my preference, because of the chemical smell. It costs about $200 annually to service. Keeping the photo booth well maintained is easy. It has a vintage look, but its inner workings are entirely modern with a computer inside. Patients can even post pictures taken with the photo booth to their Facebook page.
Unique Optique also has an art gallery. We change out the art every two months and feature local artists. We have a gallery opening on our downtown’s First Saturday community event, giving us an excuse to have a party. First Saturday is every first Saturday of the month. It is a downtown celebration where the Downtown Frederick Partnership has music on the streets and activities. Approximately 11,000 people come downtown during these events.
Take Active Role Designing Your Optical
I did the design and displays myself. Everything in the office is re-purposed and recycled. The furniture is composed of antique pieces, the floor is hardwood, the ceiling is tin and the wall is brick. The aesthetics are textural and very urban industrial.

Train & Get Staff On Board With Individualized Optical

My staff knows all the stories of each frame vendor. For example, ic! berlin prints the owner’s cell phone number on the inside of each frame. A Portland, Ore.-based company, 141 Eyewear, names its frames for streets in Portland that have meaning to its espoused owners. Another frame company, Dita, features off-the-hook quality that celebrities cherish.

My staff is well versed in all the best lens options and how to determine if the patient actually needs them or not. We will not sell someone something they do not need or something that does not look fabulous. Our service and products are not inexpensive, and we want our patients to know exactly for what they are paying. Also, we allow an hour for each office visit (exam and optical time included), so the patient has our undivided attention. My staff knows that the most important thing we have to offer is kindness and service.

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Maria Higgins, OD, is the owner of Unique Optique in Frederick, MD. To contact:

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