This month’s spotlight is on Robert Martinez, Owner of Palo Alto Eyeworks, Palo Alto, CA.

Robert Martinez’s aspirations were not always focused on the optical business. In fact, his college major was art. After graduation in 1970, he took a job with a local bank and while he enjoyed it, a friend mentioned he could earn more money working as an optician. Martinez interviewed with Jenkel Davidson, a northern California optical chain, and was given an opticianry trainee position in 1972 where he learned optics, dispensing, eyewear fabrication, contact lenses, etc. Part of that training was to fill prescriptions for local ophthalmologists for two years so he could become licensed in California.

After seven years, he began working for other opticianry offices from San Jose to San Francisco in dispenser and management positions, and even worked for an independent optometrist from 1988 to 1992 while also teaching opticianry part-time at a local trade school. In 1992, he bought an opticianry office called Tera and Sauer from a couple of retiring independent opticians, which he renamed Palo Alto Eyeworks in 1998.


In looking at the financials, Martinez realized the Tera and Sauer business was not making money but felt confident he could turn it around. His first moves were to change the inventory and bring in new frame products. He also did some direct mail and other external marketing along with some internal marketing strategies. To help generate new business, he visited local doctors and asked for their support by referring patients.

In addition, originally located in downtown Palo Alto, Martinez moved the business to the third-busiest shopping area seven miles south of downtown where 80% of the community lives. All of his efforts paid off because in the first year, his business went up 20%.

Since most of Martinez’s patients are aged 40 to 80 and older, his biggest-selling item is progressive lens eyewear. He states that 100% of his progressive lenses are free-form designed and surfaced because he feels it’s a superior product and gets a “wow” factor from patients while making more money for the office.

Martinez used to carry a good number of popular designer and consumer brands but with the recent recession, he’s altered that strategy. Instead, he took in a large quantity of premium fashion eyewear brands that don’t have the designer pedigree and price tag. “When the market dropped, people weren’t coming in so I brought in brands that had quality but not the designer name,” says Martinez. “I needed to maintain my capture rate and I didn’t want people walking out because the designer frames were too expensive. If I can provide them with a quality product at a reduced price, they get a good deal and I make money.” He still stocks a number of lower tier brands and house brands, but the upper and luxury tier has been replaced by premium fashion eyewear products. “This was the right decision for this market and people have responded to it.“

“Through ORBA, I can share my ideas with other optical business owners from all around the country and get their slant on things I’m considering,” says Martinez. ORBA also sends out notices of important industry news and has information in its resource center that helps members learn new things. Participating in ORBA gives me a chance to stay connected to a lot of businesses like mine and that’s value for me.”

Ed De Gennaro is Director, Professional Content of First Vision Media Group and Executive Director of ORBA.


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