Independent optician carving out niche by stressing fast service

November 22, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

In a world where most eyeglasses are dispensed either by doctors' offices or large optical shops like Wal-Mart, Joel Langham has carved out a niche in Danville as an independent optician.

He doesn't have a lot of costly overhead at his Optical Boutique. He's the only employee, except for occasional help from his wife and his father, a retired optician. That enables him to keep the cost of eyeglasses low.

Besides being the only independent optician in town, he's the only one who can make a pair of glasses in an hour or while you wait if he's not too busy. He does his own lab work and carries thousands of lenses in stock.

"The independent optician is a vanishing species," he said. "It's not a real easy road to go down. We have to stock thousands and thousands of blanks (lenses)."


Langham, 50, has been in the optical business for 30 years. He's worked for doctors and had his own store in California before moving to Danville 2 1/2 years ago. He came to this area to be near other family members who moved to Kentucky about 30 years ago.

"Basically, we moved our office across country to Danville," Langham said. "The town seemed to have a need for somebody who did lab work."

To compete with the doctors' office and larger shops, Langham said he has stressed service, savings and selection.

"A lot of the work we've done is to try to build a name, confidence," he said. "People want to know that if there's a problem they can come back and I'll fix it. I want to give them a good price and want them to know they can come back if there's a problem."

Fixing "catastrophes"

Because he can make glasses on the spot, Langham said, he works with a lot of "catastrophes."

"It does become kind of an emergency ..." he said. "If the dog chews up your glasses, I can re-edge the lenses and put them in another frame.

"People realize they are well cared for and can still get glasses without taking out another mortgage on the house."

Because he has a small shop, is new in town and believes in the Biblical adage to "love your neighbor," Langham stresses giving a high level of service to his customers.

"When people on welfare come in, I just have them sit in the shop and get them a cup of coffee" while he makes their glasses, he said.

"I just liking helping people. If I have the means to do it, why not help somebody out?"

For example, there was the case of a girl who broke her glasses playing volleyball and her father had put her frames back together with duct tape.

"It was not my fault and not her fault either, but I had the means to replace her frame and keep her as a customer.

"Just give her a frame and she'll remember you and mention you to her family and friends. My whole mentality of business is to just to do the right thing."

Lot of customers on fixed income

Langham said a lot of customers are elderly people who are on a fixed income and "really have to sharpen the pencil" to stay within their budget.

A typical customer would be "a farm guy who comes in and says 'the third one from the bottom looks like my old glasses,'" Langham said. "He throws me a Visa card and I give him a price. He just wants to get out of here and get back to work."

Langham, who has a photography business on the side, recently noticed that some women with really bad eyesight have difficulty picking a frame because they can't tell what they look like in them. He started taking their picture on a digital camera and giving them a print so they could see how they looked.

"It's been extremely successful, and I've just been doing it for a short time," Langham said.

Langham said he is thankful for the support he has received from the people of Danville and Harrodsburg since moving to the area from California.

"To have a friend, you've got to be a friend," he said. "I've got people who I've dispensed glasses to who are bringing in their dads and moms. That's just the greatest honor to me."

Optical Boutique is located at 905 Hustonville Road, Suite 1. Phone: (859) 238-9448.

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