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I was born in Chicago to immigrant parents from Mexico and Puerto Rico. My parents owned a Mexican bakery in Chicago, and they got burnt out My father had properties [in Puerto Rico] and we moved there. I graduated from optometry school in 1998, and the year after I stopped by the school and saw this gorgeous man doing his residency-that’s where I met my husband. He’s from Idaho. When he finished his residency, he left to live in Idaho and invited me over. He was working for a group practice, and we noticed a lot of Spanish-speaking people there who were underserved. He had signed a non-compete clause with a 100-mile radius, so we packed our bags and moved to Chicago. That was in 2001.
My passion for fashion. That’s why I was so excited about designing eyewear.
Latinos have wider faces, higher cheekbones, and flatter noses-I noticed that every single frame did not fit right, feel right, or look right. Many frames are very European-style designed, and it was getting frustrating. I spoke to manufacturers at Vision Expo. I used Google Translate, and it wasn’t very good at all. One time I wanted to carve a heart on the end of the temple of the eyewear, and Google translated that as, “Can you carve your heart out and take it to the temple.” [Laughs] So, they looked at me like I had two heads! Little by little I created connections, and I found a wonderful mom-and-pop manufacturer. They sent me samples of acetate, plastics, and metals, and I started designing. People come from Indiana and Wisconsin just to try on the styles because they fit well. The people we cater to are looking for a value line, and it’s worked beautifully for us.
When we moved to Chicago, we already knew we wanted to open our own practice, and we knew we wanted to do it for mid to lower income. I decided it was nice to buy properties and I would tell my husband I like to buy properties instead of shoes. [Laughs] In 2000, we started buying real estate to rent, and we saw that it was pretty profitable. So, I opened a property management company. I totally delegated that. I rent to my brick and mortar, which is Buena Vista Optical. Our property management is called Bella Vista Realty, and we started the Wink and Save company, my frame company. I also consult for small businesses. I’ve made so many mistakes that I know what not to do. [Laughs]. I have the experience.
When we first started, we did really well; 10 months later we saw that there was a “ginormous” demand for us in the neighborhood and we were overbooked for two to three months. So, we opened seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and we just burned out. The money was great, but it wasn’t healthy for our family or for our business. So, we decided to laser focus on who our ideal patients were. You should know who you want to service and who are your ideal patients because when you’re trying to service everyone, you’re servicing no one.
When we first started, we would just hire a body. We learned the hard way because we had a chain of theft-you need to hire people who have your core values. We have 13 core values, and we make sure that the people we hire are congruent with those before they get their first interview. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it because my turnaround for crew is minimal-I have people who have been with me since I first started 12 years ago.
Make sure they feel comfortable. Obviously number one is speak the language. For a lot of doctors who don’t speak Spanish, it’s important to hire someone who does. Latinos love to be educated, they love to know their options. One of the biggest things when we opened was people telling us, “Nobody told me I could get a thinner lens. Nobody told me there’s this thing called anti-reflective coating to help me see clear.” I know it’s a communications issue. Find an excellent bilingual optician or stylist who will make your Spanish-speaking patients feel comfortable because when they can create a rapport, amazing things happen. Once they trust you, they’re very loyal. They’re with you forever, and they bring their family-usually they have a lot of family. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It’s my style. The Wink and Save frame collection is very retro, vintage, pin-up, like rockabilly. Not everyone loves it, but we’ve done surveys with our patients to ask them what they like. Every day, people say, “Who does the decorations and who does the marketing?” It’s me because I put on there what I love.
From a private practice point of view, dig in to who you want to service. We need a unique value proposition, otherwise people are going to go online. I started Wink and Save because we were getting a lot of people walking in, trying on frames, taking pictures, and then buying online. This is a problem. If we have our own proprietary brand of eyewear, they can take all the pictures they want. We even tell them to tag Wink and Save and Buena Vista Optical. When they try to find it online, they can’t because we’re the only practice that carries it. That’s what I would change about optometry: Don’t get mad about online sales of glasses disturbing the optical industry. Do something positive about it. Use that as your competitive advantage.
I have to say chocolate. [Laughs] Chocolate is so yummy. It has so much sugar, but I love it. Chocolate is so good. Chocolate anything.
Everything happens for a reason. I have this mantra, “I’m positively expecting great results no matter what I see in front of me, like the universe is rearranging itself for my best interest right now.” My biggest regret is not designing the Wink and Save brand sooner because we’ve had such a huge demand for them. Now we have a frame that fits every face for every patient. The manufacturer was like, “Are you sure you want this? You might not like it when it’s done, and you’re ordering 3,000 pieces.” [Laughs] When we received it, I almost cried because I couldn’t believe I didn’t do this sooner. It was one of the best moments of my life to see how beautiful the frames came out and how well they fit.
Move to Idaho not knowing what the heck I was doing. Big culture shock for me because my culture was from Puerto Rico. Idaho is very different, the weather, the scenery, the culture. The second one was opening cold because we didn’t know what the heck we were doing.