Gary Black is the Founder and President of Black Optical, a passionate and curated eyewear retailer that is deeply rooted in building a community around its founding belief that great design can exist anywhere. Established in Tulsa in 2007, the company distinguished itself as a leading tastemaker in the eyewear industry and now includes two other successful locations, in Oklahoma City and Dallas.
To read more about more in the future of retail stores, read the full discussion article that inspired the interview.
AM: Why did you create your highly-curated eyewear brand and retail location, Black Optical?
GARY: I created Black Optical to bring the best selection of emerging and established designer eyewear into the Oklahoma and Texas communities and to use Black Optical as a destination for human connection. From the beginning, Black Optical set out to achieve three things: to curate and retail the best eyewear in the world, to welcome and care for every client like a friend and to create aesthetic environments that inspire.
Industry leaders at InVision Mag and community tastemakers D Magazine, Tulsa People, and Oklahoma Mag have recognized Black Optical for community building and retail excellence. In 2016, the Milan-based MIDO declared Black Optical in Oklahoma City one of “the best optical stores in the world.”
As a tastemaker, Black Optical has collaborated with several leading designers including New Orleans-based Krewe, Los Angeles-based Jacques Marie Mage, Garrett Leight and Ahlem.
AM: How does Black Optical incorporate new tech into its retail experience?
GARY: We are incorporating tech using software that aggregates client’s insurance information, and allows us to be an open-access insurance provider, ensuring our guests can use their insurance on sunglasses and eyeglasses and prescription lenses of their choosing, without the limitations of in-network and out-of-network providers. Prescription lenses at Black Optical are also tech-driven. All prescription lenses at Black Optical are digitally enhanced using the latest lens tech; up to 5 measurements are taken during fittings to ensure sharp, consistent visual acuity.
We see tele-optometry as an accessible way to stay on top of eye health. We would also love to see advancements in facial scanning for truly bespoke custom eyewear.
AM: In contrast, how do you maintain human connection with your customers in a screen-heavy, technology-obsessed world?
GARY: We thrive off the human connection. Personal phone calls, handwritten notes, thoughtful and authentic conversation are all part of Black Optical’s culture. We love eyewear, though we think food, travel, and culture are just as important topics with each of our guests.
AM: With so many options for glasses on the market (and online), how do you keep and retain your client base?
GARY: We are currently enjoying a golden era in eyewear. Never has there been so many options at this many price points and styles. We believe that a rising tide raises all ships, we enjoy how vast the market has become. And in turn, we feel it’s encouraging our team to continue to sharpen our skills, eyewear IQ, continue to strive to be the best version of Black Optical we can be. Plus, there are so many ways to incorporate tech into eyewear in a way that’s impossible with online.
AM: What is the most important thing for a retailer to consider if they want to be on the cutting edge?
GARY: Keeping a localized inventory allows us to cater to those needs/wants while keeping in line with Black Optical’s curation standards and maintaining tight inventory control. This has proven successful to both our bottom line and keeping in line with our personalized service.
Craving to learn more about the future of retail? Check out the discussion article.