The Real Story of How Bad Customer Service Triggered the Founding of LensCrafters

Butler is shown in an article from the early days of his career when he envisioned the convenient one-stop-shopping experience of LensCrafters.

By Edward Dean Butler

June 7, 2023

At LensCrafters, the most important precept has always been to “Create enthusiastically satisfied customers all the time.”

This precept was more important than anything else in the huge success of LensCrafters, which I founded 40 years ago.

The story starts when I was a marketing executive at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. I helped a good friend, John Cutrer, start Eye Masters in Baton Rouge, La., the first true one-hour service optical retailer in the U.S. (single vision and multifocals). I was doing the marketing for John and traveled from Cincinnati to Baton Rouge from time to time to film TV commercials. On one trip my wife traveled with me. She found a frame she loved, but the store was closed, so she could not have the frame glazed at the time.

We returned to Cincinnati, where my wife decided to update her eyeglasses prescription. She made an appointment with a Kenwood, Ohio, optometrist. Upon arrival for her appointment, she was told the optometrist was busy, so it would be useful to choose a frame first. My wife responded by saying she came only for an eye exam and was not going to purchase glasses.

Soon the optometrist emerged and told my wife that he provided eye exams only for people intending to purchase eyeglasses. He refused to perform an eye exam for my wife.

My wife was so irritated she complained in writing to the Ohio State Board of Optometry. A couple weeks later, she received a reply from the Ohio Board saying the situation was not within their jurisdiction “because no optometric services were provided.”

One-Hour Service + Outstanding Customer Service
Now I became the person most irritated. I had experienced the potential of one-hour service and came to the conclusion I should introduce one-hour service to the Cincinnati area. I admit that part of the motivation was to “teach the Kenwood optometrist a lesson”

When we opened the first LensCrafters stores, in Cincinnati, our focus from day one was on superior customer service – to create enthusiastically satisfied customers all the time. There is no doubt that this customer service orientation was critical to LensCrafters growing into the world’s number one optical retailer within four years.

I learned quickly that approximately one-in-five optical customers returns with a problem. Usually the problems are minor to us, but not to the customer – such as a temple needing adjustment. We soon realized these returning customers were a huge opportunity to generate word-of-mouth advertising. In fact, I am certain, 40 years later, the most enthusiastic customers were those for whom we solved problems. There is no better practice builder.

Creating Enthusiastically Satisfied Customers
How do you create enthusiastically satisfied customers all time? Actually, this is easy.

Firstly, treat customers as customers, not “patients.” Use of the term “patients” risks treating people as though they are sick and that we have some sort of superiority over them. Most of our customers are not sick and should not be treated as such.

We should treat customers in the same manner we all expect to be treated in just about any retail environment.

Be sure to empower all your staff to “make decisions in the customer’s favor.” It should be rare for your staff to have to ask for permission to do something in a customer’s favor.

Use welcoming signage. For example, install a sign that says “walk-ins welcome.” This helps set the tone for a positive experience.

In my stores these days we also have signs saying “free PD measurements.” Why would we do this? It is a great business builder – provides a very real opportunity for a sale. Refusing or charging for PD measurements does the opposite.

It all boils down to attitude and presentation. Why not?

Edward Dean Butler was a marketing executive at Procter & Gamble for 14 years before helping a colleague found what is now Visionworks. He then founded LensCrafters, with the famous “glasses in about an hour” slogan. After five years at LensCrafters Mr. Butler left to found Vision Express in the UK and Australia. Today he serves on several Boards of Directors, including Neurolenses in the USA and Eyoto (ophthalmic instruments) in the UK. To contact him:

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