Prescription for Growth

An online eyewear retailer makes its move into the physical space
Posted April 20, 2020

VSP Global (Rancho Cordova, Calif.), a not-for-profit provider of vision benefits, has gone the clicks-to-bricks route, launching a pair of prototype stores for its online Eyeconic retail brand in Chicago. But that move goes beyond a simple brand extension.

VSP says it has a strategic bottom-line reason for launching physical branches in Chi-town: it was seeing higher out-of-network claims by its members there, who were going to optical chains or mass retailers around the city instead of shopping for frames or contact lenses through its online arm.

Having its own stores is a way to help reduce such “leakage,” the company says, by offering what VSP Retail President Bill Vaughan describes as “a differentiated eye care and eyewear experience.”

Tasked to create that space was the branded environments team of Perkins and Will’s Chicago studio, helmed by Eileen Jones, Practice Leader, and Brian Weatherford, Associate Principal. The locations the designers worked in are in two bustling neighborhoods: Fulton Market and Bucktown. (For purposes of this article, the focus is on the latter space, which was the first to open.) Housed in a first-level space on North Damen Avenue, a major business thoroughfare, the rectangular-shaped store has about 1400 square feet of space. The shop is divided into a main room and a series of exam, staff and support-services rooms line a central corridor.

To let customers know this isn’t a ho-hum eyeglass-store experience, its façade features a frosted-white eyeglass frame – the Eyeconic logo – spread across floor-to-ceiling glass doors. And just inside is the real show-stopper: a white sculpture of a stylized eye that provides the space with what Jones describes as “Insta-bait.”

“The eye sculpture was designed to give the store some added buzz by making it easy for customers and passersby to post pictures on social media as they walk by,” she explains.

Flanking that sculpture are flexible shelving systems for eyeglasses along the walls. (There are also merchandise displays directly behind the eyeglass sculpture.) To create an informal, let’s-hang vibe, one corner of the front room is devoted to a lounge with soft seating, and to help engender a warmer, more textured overall feel than is typically found in an eyeglass emporium, the store’s materials palette includes maple veneer plywood and unfinished aluminum.

Though VSP is eying (pun intended) additional markets for the prototype design, Vaughan declined to provide specifics at this point. “Right now, we’re 100 percent focused on the continued success of our first stores,” he says. “As we explore the options for additional locations in 2020, we’ll be taking into account learnings [from the existing ones] so we can meet the changing needs of our consumers.”

[Photography: Tom Harris Architectural Photography, Chicago]