An Eye for Inner Space

Thomas Wentz discusses how a new interior layout for Eyemart Express will expand stores’ merchandising capacity without forfeiting floor space

Few eyeglass retailers can grind and fit a new pair of lenses, then get you out the door on the same day—often in as little as 30 minutes. Nevertheless, that’s the premise behind Texas-based Eyemart Express, the nation’s eighth largest optical brand, which operates 162 stores across 34 states. The company also places a premium on affordability.

“Our everyday prices are outstanding in the industry,” says Thomas Wentz, the company’s senior vice president of design and construction. “From the traditional plastic to wire and wireless frames from multiple designer and private labels, the selection casts a wide net.”

That net will soon grow even wider, Wentz says, thanks to the roll-out of a sleek 2017 store design that expands merchandising capacity without increasing the size of the prototypical 3,200-square-foot stores.

“We wanted a way to enhance customer experience without adding to the footprint,” Wentz says. “You always hope to increase revenue, but the main thing was listening to our store managers, who wanted a larger selection of frames across the entire line.”

From an interior design standpoint, finding more room for frames meant getting rid of bulky wall fixtures. The new design replaces vertically stacked shelves with cleanly finished panels that extend from the wall, adding surface area without compromising floor space.

The reconfigured look also captures extra inches high and low. Cantilevered base cabinets eliminate 18 inches of understock, resulting in the appearance of floating displays. This also adds room for concealed LED floor lighting underneath the cabinets. In place of the formerly uniform, 10-foot-high ceiling is a two-tiered approach that includes a 10-foot-high soffit in addition to a 12-foot-high acoustic cutout.

“It’s a contemporary design for us,” Wentz says. “We used to be more traditional. We wanted to go in a new direction, without losing our good, warm feel.”

Then there are the finishing touches: lighting and color, which, according to Wentz, help draw attention to the glasses. Gone are the recessed fluorescent tubes and track lights stores used to feature. Instead, stark white 4,000-Kelvin LEDs throughout the space accentuate the frames’ color variations while also projecting bright, consistent light to the write-up and dispensing areas. Sherwin Williams “Simple White” paint, set against a charcoal-gray Interface carpet tile, updates a more traditional blue-gray palette. Dark, thin-striped walnut accents by Wilsonart complete the look. Wentz says that even though Eyemart Express has always aspired to an upscale feel in a low-cost market, the new store design is a bold step.

“Someone from IT who hadn’t seen the prototype came in to see the opening of our Farmer’s Branch location, and the first word out of his mouth was, ‘Sexy,’” he says. “We knew we were on the right track.”

Of all the changes, Wentz says the first thing customers are likely to notice is an entirely new graphics package, developed through collaboration between merchandising, store operations, and the marketing team. Now, 80-inch digital signage located behind each cash wrap features messages supplied by the home office—warranty information, sales incentives, and point-of-sale details among them—replaces an inert textual collage.

“I spend a lot of time looking at competition—not just in optical, but all retailers—keeping an eye on what’s the next big thing,” Wentz says. “A lot of it is the customer experience, using social media or digital displays to attract customers, monitoring what trends, and rearranging displays or accessories to match the trends.”

Research is only a part of Wentz’s job. His days include all manner of tasks: drafting preliminary floor plans and elevations in CAD, attending design and production meetings, and making site visits. He and his colleagues, including construction manager Tammy Smith, construction coordinator Ola Merrick, and facilities maintenance manager Jeanne Timko, handle all construction management and maintenance needs of the entire chain.

Wentz’s background also provides him with the proper tools for his current role. Even before leaving high school, Wentz went to work at a cabinet shop in Arlington, Texas. From there, it was on to a variety of construction and design/engineering roles—at MEDCO Construction in Dallas; Tarrant Interiors in Fort Worth; Enstrom Studio; and The Bombay Company. He even worked a stint as a project manager for EG&G Intertech, working on the superconducting super collider for the Department of Energy, and building research labs in support of the cancelled superconducting, super collider, particle-accelerator project that spanned a 54-mile ring south of Dallas.

“Through all the positions I’ve had, what I’ve taken away is that you’re always learning,” Wentz says. “Even today, as senior VP, I’m learning from my team and field.”

This will likely continue. The first newly designed Eyemart Express retail store opened at company headquarters in Farmers Branch, Texas, in September 2016. At press time, the next location was on schedule to open in Yuma, Arizona, in January 2017, and new locations will continue to be added as opportunities arise.

What’s New in the 2017 Eyemart Express design 

Two-tiered ceiling
Stores feature a 10-foot-high boom and 12-foot-high acoustic ceiling

Refreshed eyeglass displays
Cleanly finished wall panels replace stacked shelves to increase merchandising capacity

“Floating” base cabinets
Cantilevered design removes 18 inches of understock and adds room for concealed floor lighting

LED lighting
Stark white 4,000-Kelvin canned LED lighting in acoustic ceilings; LED strip fixtures beneath base cabinets

Sharp color contrast
Sherwin Williams “Simple White” walls against charcoal-colored Interface carpet tiles