My Favorite Entrepreneurs Series: David Ulrich - A Man with Vision
This is the 2nd in a series of articles that tell the stories of some my favorite entrepreneurs. I have had the privilege of interviewing dozens of business owners and learning first hand the passion that has driven their success. I love hearing and telling the stories of business and entrepreneurial vision. I find them inspiring. I hope you will too.
Originally published in HerLife Magazine Twin Cities August 2014
Vintage frames are in! But that’s no surprise to David Ulrich, owner of the four Spectacle Shoppes in the Twin Cities. He knew they’d come back, long before the fashion industry did.
David started collecting vintage frames early in his career as an optician. But, unlike many who create a personal collection of items related to their profession, David went far beyond that. In the 1980s David started traveling to Europe looking for stashes of old eyeglasses in warehouses. He filled suitcases with hundreds of frames to bring home with him. Eventually, his purchases increased to buying entire warehouses filled with vintage frames. He was sure there had to be a market for these wonderful old frames. David’s intuitive vision was right!
Same-day Service Before Its Time
David has always been a trendsetter in the industry. He was the very first optician to begin providing one-hour service for filling an eyeglass prescription. He started providing the service in one of his first jobs as an optician in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“Farmers would come into town and try to get all their appointments done in one day,” David recalls. “They didn’t want to make a second trip into town to pick up their glasses on another day, so I would get them done the same day.”
David continued his one-hour service when he moved to the Twin Cities to become a partner in Shoppers’ City Optical. They were the first optical stores to begin advertising same-day delivery of prescription eyewear. It has been this innovative thinking, always focused on providing better service to his customers, that has propelled David to the level of success he experiences today, 45 years later.
As a partner in Shoppers’ City Optical, David found himself working over a hundred hours a week, handling everything from his optical work to signing paychecks. By the mid-1970s he decided it was time to strike out on his own.
The first Spectacle Shoppe was opened in New Brighton. David signed a 30-year lease on the building in what he describes as “a terrible location” and determined to make it work. That was 1975; almost 40 years later, his leap of faith has more than paid off.
David says a turning point in the business came the day he purchased the colorful, spiraling eyewear graphic design that continues to serve as their logo today; David decided he needed to push the business forward in a way that would fit the new logo.
As always, David’s innovative moves in his business had to do with providing better service to his customers. In 1980, when VCRs were just coming on the market, David invested over $36,000 in a television camera, VCR and television to allow his customers a privilege they couldn’t receive at any other optical store; they could see a video of what they looked like in the different frames they were considering. People started traveling long distances just to have that option available.
1980 is also when David first began showing his eyewear at the Minnesota State Fair. This gave his vintage frames and his own unique frame designs a much wider exposure. There are people who come to his booth at the State Fair each year just to see what he has to offer.
The New Brighton Spectacle Shoppe alone has over 30,000 different frames to choose from. The other three locations offer over 3,000 frame choices, six times what you’ll find in most optical shops. You’ll find exclusive designer name brands, along with Dave’s own frame lines – 8 Below Zero and Studebaker.
Hollywood loves David. If they want a specific type of vintage frames for a movie, they send him photos of what they’re looking for. David always seems to have just what they need. His frames have been used in over twenty movies to date, and there are some prominent names in the entertainment business who buy their eyewear at the Spectacle Shoppe in New Brighton, Minnesota.
Do It First, Do It Different
David is known for doing things differently than his competitors. He’s usually the first to embrace new technology and new products, but that’s not what has made the biggest difference in his success.
“I always have taken time out to talk to salesmen who come into my shops,” David offers. “Many business owners won’t do that. But, just like with my customers, I’ve reaped rewards from taking the time to develop those relationships.”
David has passed on both his knowledge and his unparalleled approach to customer service to all of his staff. He promises that your experience at any one of the four Spectacle Shoppe locations will exceed what you have experienced at any other eyewear shop in Minnesota, and probably even further out than that. For the largest and most unique frame selection, the only place to shop is at the Spectacle Shoppe.
Find them online at SpectacleShoppe.biz or at one of their four Twin City locations: New Brighton, St. Paul, Uptown Minneapolis or Burnsville.
Read more in the My Favorite Entrepreneurs Series