John M. Bruening
Our subject this month
is clearly an example of someone with vision. From his
vast experiences in many facets of Opticianry, to his
continuing demand for excellence, John Bruening is
someone we can learn from.
The following are Mr. Bruening’s
Provide the reader with a bit of your personal
background, including your education, training and
I was born in Ohio, and was one of 7 children. My parents
enjoyed taking the family on long car trips, which instilled
in me the desire to travel. Upon graduating from high
school, I joined the Air Force, and upon completion of my
military commitment, I enrolled in the Ophthalmic Dispensing
program at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.
The head of the program at the time was Dr. Norman Ross,
whom I found to be a great educator, as well as a mentor to
many students, including myself. Upon completion of the
program, and passing the Florida Optical Dispensers boards,
I returned to my home in Ohio.
Back in Ohio, I began my career working for chain stores
such as Pearle Vision and Sears, as well as a local chain
named Vision World. Working at chain stores left me
disenfranchised with the optical field, so I applied for,
and was hired as a sales representative for Marchon/Marcolin
This was a great opportunity to see the optical field
from a different vantage point, and gave me invaluable
insight into some of the differences between practices that
were successful, and those that were not. Selling frames not
only allowed me to be a part of my clients’ buying
process, but also made clear to me the consequences of
After 3 years as an independent sales representative, the
frame companies, including the one I was with, began to
break their sales forces into separate divisions to compete
against each other. I decided at that point to take what I
had learned on the road and apply it to my own optical
practice. So I opened in a small town, and as business was
slow the first year, I also started a small frame
distributorship that I named Encore Eyewear. I would sell
frames on the phone, as well as through independent reps,
and ship them from the back office of my optical. I made
many contacts with factories that I still maintain and use
to this day.
All went well and soon I moved to a larger retail
location. In the new location, retail sales quickly outpaced
the wholesale, so I decided to sell Encore Eyewear to a
local lab. As I realized the discounts that could be
obtained by buying high volume, I soon found that in order
to lower my cost of goods, I would have to open another
store to have an outlet for the large quantity of frames I
was purchasing. I added a store every other year, to where I
now own 6 retail locations. Each of the stores has a unique
look, and with the help of local Amish craftsmen, I was able
to do all the build-outs myself.
The offices/stores go by the name “Geauga Vision,”
named after the county in which most of them are located. We
have independent optometrists at each location that work on
a “fee only” basis. We provide all the examination
equipment, as well as the support staff, and marketing, and
they in turn, attract much of our clientele. I like this
arrangement, and let the patients know that the doctors are
independent of our optical, so it is obvious that the doctor
has nothing to gain by what is or isn’t prescribed. Of the
prescriptions that are written, more than 98% choose to
purchase eyewear from out optical.
Describe your practice, and the services provided.
Our optical offices are full service dispensaries that
offer frames, contact lenses, eye examinations, repairs, and
consulting services. Our main office, where the central lab
is located, is in an area that has the 4th largest Amish
population in the world. We offer a shuttle service, as well
as free delivery to their home, schools, and their
workplaces. We also offer a two year, unconditional warranty
on all frames, and a one year unconditional warranty on the
lenses. These policies have become some of our best
Will you please describe your organizational philosophy,
including any mission statement, vision, goals, etc.?
My organizational philosophy is very basic: Hire good
people, and let them do what they do best. Although I own 6
stores, I spend most of my time at the main office. Because
the employees have been empowered to make decisions, and
they usually make good ones, I visit some of the offices
only a few times throughout the year. Our mission statement
is also very basic: “Serve all. Have fun. Make money.”
It doesn’t get any simpler than that, but when it comes
down to it, business doesn’t have to be complicated. Find
something that you like to do, do it well, and charge a fair
price for it. Everything else seems to fall into place.
Do you have a Strategic Plan for your practice?
I don’t have a set strategic plan, other than I try to
stay ahead of the latest trends, without getting too caught
up in them. I have made it a point to study and know my
markets to the point that if the opportunity presents itself
to make a large frame purchase, I’ll have minimized the
risk of getting stuck with a lot of product that won’t
What do you see as your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
My practice’s biggest strength is to attract and retain
patients/customers in difficult markets. I believe our
service is legendary, and our ability to make volume
purchases has allowed us to keep fair prices, while still
offering the warranty, which has become our trademark.
My practice’s biggest weakness is the same weakness of
most relationships -poor communication. While we have made
great strides this past year, there is always room for
improvement when it comes to communication
Are there specific opportunities and threats in your
local marketplace? If so, how do you effectively deal with
Although I don’t think that there is such thing as a
“local” market these days, I do see many threats to the
market place, and in particular the field of Opticianry.
Living in an age of internet commerce, big box retailers,
and new surgical procedures, I don’t have to look far for
something that could pose a threat to my business. I deal
with any new threat as an opportunity to educate. I lay out
the facts, show the options, and let the consumer make the
decision. I don’t lose sleep over losing a customer, so
long as I know I presented them with all the facts.
Where do you see your organization in the next 10 years?
The optical industry?
I think that the next 5 years will bring monumental
changes to our organization, as well as the field of
Opticianry. I feel that the largest threat to our industry
is the increase of third party vision plans, and the
continued decrease in the rate of compensation they are
willing to pay. Consumers are being directed by these plans
to utilize providers that are willing to address the
patients’ vision needs with only the practices’
financial gain in mind. Lower reimbursements by third party
carriers often don’t allow for the best available products
to be utilized. Because of these changing policies, my
organization will most likely step even further away from
such plans that limit our ability to serve our customers to
the best of our ability.
Can you describe your competitive advantage? What do you
think makes patients come to you, and remain in the
When considering any competitive advantage my company
might have, I would have to say it is our ability to make
volume purchases, which allows us to offer the best
warranties in the business. In the area of the country where
our offices are located, it is very rare for an optical to
offer any warranty, let alone one that is in effect for two
years. This has really allowed us to stand apart from any of
Are there tidbits of advice you might share with the
Many optical offices don’t like to refer to themselves
as stores, but I am not embarrassed to refer to myself as a
retailer. After all, how many people go to their podiatrist
office to browse for shoes? I am in the business of
educating, but ultimately, I want to sell eyewear that will
be so pleasing to the customer. When I see other businesses
struggling, I often notice that they spend much of their
resources reacting to what their competition is doing, or
plans to do. I would offer the advice that rather than
looking over your shoulders at the competition, look ahead
and focus on what you do best as a company. Focus on your
strengths and what you are really good at, and highlight
those positive aspects of your business to your customers.
I want to thank Mr. Bruening for his excellent responses.
Please review them, and learn from his experience. He is
surely a benchmark upon which others may measure themselves
and their organizations.
References on request