Saturday, April 28, 2007
Interview with Vision Monday
San Francisco Retailer Introduces a Whole New World of Sunwear
SAN FRANSISCO—They may come from several different continents but if there is one thing Dimitri F., manager, optician and frame buyer for the San Francisco-based optical shop, Spectacles for Humans, can guarantee it is that all of his customers are, in fact, earthbound.
Dimitri F. of Spectacles for Humans.
Dimitri, who operates the shop with his wife, has been in the optical business for 15 years and in February 2006 they opened Spectacles for Humans, an eyewear boutique specializing in advanced European eyewear, sunglasses and accessories, in the historic Noe Valley area of San Francisco, because they had outgrown their previous optical business and it no longer reflected who they were.
“We wanted to be different. We didn’t want to do what everybody else does,” said Dimitri. “We liked smaller lines that feature quality and attention to detail. Our customers are independent, they value their time and their money, and they want the best they can find. They don’t want to be on the bus with five other people wearing the same frame as them.”
And it has been a strategy that has been successful for the year-old shop. “They carry brands no one has ever heard of and import stuff from everywhere in the world—France, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, what have you. I am picky when it comes to eyeglasses and hate cookie cutter shops that peddle the same designer styles. Most of their eyeglasses are exclusive imports and I find it very refreshing,” said Richard A., a customer who recently purchased two pairs.
So what is Dimitri’s strategy for keeping his customers coming back and his selection fresh and original? “The origin of a frame is important. We like frames from Germany, Denmark, Japan and France. We only carry one line out of Italy, Alek Paul. It also needs to be something that grabs you when you walk by. Sunwear is about 30 percent of our business and our selection is very eclectic. But we have absolutely no logos. We don’t stock any frames that have big logos on the temples. Our customers don’t want to walk around with a big “C” or a big “G” on their face. I think San Francisco is like that in general, people here aren’t big into brands.”
“We carry a lot of Mykita, Dita, and Thakoon. We like to go deep in the lines to represent the whole collection, to see the designer’s vision. You can’t do that if you only pick out one or two styles. We carry a lot of styles in several colors. The average retail price of our sunglasses is $400, so it’s pretty reasonable. It is all about the style and the look, not the price. Eyewear can tell a lot about a person and our customers know that. Mykita, Oliver Goldsmith, Ksubi (formally Tsubi) do a good sun business for us, and Deromebrenner Paris, a really great French line of handmade acetate with 18 or 20 layers of lamination that’s retro and futuristic and modern at the same time. It was one of our first finds when we first opened the store,” added Dimitri.
Another perk to offering more obscure and lesser known brands is that exclusivity arrangements aren’t an issue. “Exclusivity isn’t a concern for us because we are already carrying lines no one else in the area carries. We don’t have to worry about what other people are doing because we are so far ahead of the curve.”
Donna A., a Spectacles customer agreed. “Hands down, this is the coolest eyewear shop ever! They have an unbelievable array of sunglasses that you won't find anywhere else. If you're a sunglass lover or are just having a hard time finding the perfect pair, you're guaranteed to find them here.”
But there is a practical side to carrying a unique selection of sunwear, not the least of which is making sure your customers can still fit them with a prescription, but Spectacles for Humans has that covered as well. “We might carry one or two styles in a collection that are not Rx-able but making sure our sun offerings are Rx-able is a consideration for us since we are foremost an optical shop. It can definitely be a challenge,” conceded Dimitri.
An interior shot of Spectacles for Humans in San Francisco.
And Spectacles’ originality doesn’t end with their selection of eyewear or the artistic design of their store; they even make their own merchandising materials. “We use very little company generated POP. We prefer to do our own photo shoots. With digital cameras and photo printers today it is so easy to do your own and have something that no one else has.”
Still, they do rely on a couple of very old-fashioned methods of generating business. “We did an Orgreen trunk show a few months ago that was a tremendous success. We found them last year at Silmo and it was our big find of the year. In fact, we were so swamped for that trunk show, that for the next one for Oliver Goldsmith and Mykita we will have to do it by appointment only to keep it under control,” said Dimitri. “And we don’t do any advertising. We’re a neighborhood shop and do a lot of local business. We rely on word of mouth but we also get a lot of referrals. We have people calling and emailing from Ireland, Australia, Japan and Vancouver.”
And with customer referrals like this one from Cyrus B., it is easy to understand why. “Hands down, it’s the best optical and sunglass store in the Bay Area. If you're tired of wearing the same specs on your face that everybody else has, go to Spectacles for Humans and discover a whole new world of brands and designs.”
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