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Eyes have it Entrepreneurs use Lens Crafters' formula for business Memphis Business Journal - December 26, 2003 by Michael Sheffield

Variety and personal service have been key to the success of the Eyewear Gallery, a privately owned optical care facility that has taken the "glasses in an hour" concept favored by chains like Lens Crafters and made it their own.

Warren Johnson, co-owner of the business along with his wife, Kay, says the concept for the Eyewear Gallery actually came from the Lens Crafters business model. Johnson used to work for Lens Crafters and ran the company's largest location in the Mall of Memphis. It was through Lens Crafters that Johnson met his lab manager, John Carter.

"I was the sixth doctor they picked when they were getting started and we happened to be in Memphis," Johnson says. "The Memphis location was the largest location in the country and it was one of the few million-dollar optometrist's offices."

After nine years with Lens Crafters, Johnson and Carter decided they could take the concept of having patients' glasses in an hour on their own, which they did, to the shock of a lot of their peers.

Johnson says people thought they were crazy for leaving a thriving practice, but the decision coincided with the beginning of the decline of the Mall of Memphis, and there was also an added incentive to branch out. The original leases Lens Crafters signed with doctors allowed the doctors to keep their patients' records if they left. Because of that, Johnson says they were able to take their patients, who were willing to follow if the level of service was the same.

They had to invest in the equipment to make glasses on site and with Carter's experience, they were able to carry the concept to the Eyewear Gallery. Johnson says the company is one of only 5% of private practices in the country that have facilities on site to make glasses.

"We'd come from an environment that had the lab and we knew that if we didn't take that risk on the front end, we'd lose a lot of our patients who were used to it," Johnson says. "That service would and did keep us alive during the transition."

The Eyewear Gallery offers a wide range of designer frames from brands such as Oakley to hand-made frames from Japan. While some patients may not know the difference, the more savvy patients appreciate being able to get frames that were previously available in Atlanta and New York.

"We didn't intend to be a high-end shop, and people may not know the names of some of these designers, but they know what they like," Johnson says.

Carter says patients, not a corporate office, dictate the available selection.