Gay retailer competes with the mall chains

Service, style and a little bit of avant-garde translate into success for this Oak Lawn eyeglass retailer

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

FASHION FORWARD  |  Morgan Metcalf transformed a failing discounter into the No. 1 fashion eyewear store in the Metroplex. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
FASHION FORWARD  | Morgan Metcalf transformed a failing discounter into the No. 1 fashion eyewear store in the Metroplex. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Over the past few years, Fashion Optical has gone from discount store to high fashion boutique, becoming the highest-volume optical shop in Dallas/Fort Worth.

When Morgan Metcalf bought Fashion Optical, located on Oak Lawn Avenue at Lemmon, several years ago, he thought he could increase the store’s volume. But, he said, sales have increased beyond his wildest dreams.

Within his first year as owner, business tripled. Today, he’s more than doubled that total again and plans to open a second store.

And all that success happened while the country was in the throes of a deep recession.

A high-profile location is important, Metcalf said. But the location didn’t sustain the previous owner, who had sold discount eyewear there for 15 years.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf’s background was in employment placement, so he said when he came into the optical business he looked at it with a fresh eye.

He upgraded lines and dropped the word “discount” from the name. He remodeled. He upgraded the service and did runway fashion shows.

“We serve champagne on Saturdays,” he said.

Looking for a way to compete with the mall stores, Metcalf recently added $55,000 in equipment that trumps all of his competitors.

“I’m spoiling all of my customers with a 24-hour turnaround time,” he said.

He can actually produce lenses faster in an emergency when customers lose or break their glasses and are relying on him for a quick replacement.

“We’re the only store within a 300-mile radius that can produce progressive lenses with all the coatings in as little as two hours,” he said.

Mall stores usually promise them in a week. That’s because stores that used to do the work on-premises now send the work out to central locations.

Metcalf has even increased his sales volume by servicing other small optical stores, offering them the same quick turnaround time.

When Metcalf first bought Fashion Optical, he said the store was in need of remodeling. He planned to do stained concrete floors. But when they stripped the floor, they uncovered 75-year-old terrazzo tile. Although the facade of the strip center is new, the building dates from the 1930s.

HI TECH  |  Fashion Optical is the only store within 300 miles with this equipment to produce progressive lenses themselves. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
HI TECH | Fashion Optical is the only store within 300 miles with this equipment to produce progressive lenses themselves. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Metcalf said his taste runs to the avant-garde. But when he was choosing new lines for his Oak Lawn store, he didn’t want to be too way-out for Texas. The lines he picked up included Gucci, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani.

While some vendors were hesitant to place their upscale products in a store that had only recently removed “discount” from its name, Metcalf has become the No. 1 retailer in the state for those and other fashion lines. Currently, he’s working on his own line of glasses that he hopes to debut later this year.

The store has become a destination and has attracted a celebrity clientele. He counts Jeff Bridges and Troy Aikman among his clientele. Many customers drive from outside the immediate area and even from out of state to shop with him regularly.

Metcalf has been active in the community and his lenses will be included in the Black Tie Dinner auction. Among others, he’s supported the Turtle Creek Chorale and Resource Center Dallas at their fundraisers.

While this store keeps Metcalf busy six days a week, he plans to get busier as he launches his new line and opens a second location.

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BRIEFS

After 10 years on Cedar Springs, Zen Salon moved to the Centrum where owner Paul Kraft had his first business. Mark Reavis, Isabel Munguia, and Kraft offer cuts, color, highlights, facial and body waxing, award-winning sunless airbrush tanning, and Pearlbrite teeth whitening in their new facility. … Lula B’s moved from its Lower Greenville Avenue location to 2639 Main St. in Deep Ellum. Their second store is on Riverfront (Industrial) Boulevard and features 80 vendors selling funky, kitschy and collectible, vintage and pimpadelic items.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Target flap helps inspire ‘GroupOn for the gays’

Cooper Smith Koch, the local entrepreneur whose Gay List Daily e-mail service has 10,000 subscribers for its Dallas edition alone, has launched an offshoot called Gay List Deals, which is just what it sounds like. The current deal, for example, is $10 to spend at Urban Dog Coffee for the price of $5, available for purchase directly on the site:

“We launched the Deals initiative to help support our community by encouraging our readers to buy from local gay-owned or gay-friendly local businesses,” Koch wrote to Instant Tea. “We’re highlighting these businesses at no upfront cost to them and allowing them exposure to our nearly 10,000 Dallas edition readers. … Some folks are jokingly calling us GroupOn for the gays. That’s a great compliment if you ask me!”

Koch added that his team is taking it slow with the launch, posting only one or two deals per week initially until they can work out the kinks. He said surveys and research showed people wanted something like Gay List Deals but didn’t want to receive a second e-mail about it.

He also said the new site was inspired in part by the recent Target controversy:

“This is really part of a bigger crusade for me, if you will,” he wrote. “As the owner of two businesses myself, I know the struggles that small businesses face, especially with this recession that just won’t seem to end. Many of us who have survived this long are coming out of it bruised and bloodied, and we need to band together to help each other get through the Great Recession’s final throes. It’s definitely more convenient to pop into Barnes & Noble or to have Bank of America ATMs on every corner, but at what cost to local businesses? And now that Target has shown its true stripes, the biggest companies aren’t much more supportive of us than some conservative small businesses.”

Koch said he eventually plans to expand Gay List Deals to other cities where Gay List Daily is well established.

“We’d been tinkering with it since early this year, but what happened at Target really pushed it forward more quickly,” he said of Gay List Deals.

UPDATE: If you’d like to give Koch some in-person feedback, Gay List Daily’s August Mixer is Wednesday night at the Brick.

—  John Wright