Emerging Leaders Class helps Empire Optical see clearly
Preparing for growth with the SBA’s help allowed Empire Optical to open a new retail space in Tulsa.
“This is a place you just want to come hang out and have more of an experience”, said Empire Optical owner Christian Hargrove. “We like to become long-term friends with our customers.”
Hargrove, who developed a Growth Plan as part of SBA’s Emerging Leader class, credits the class with helping to chart a new path for his family business that culminated in the renovation of a building adjacent to his previous location.
“Emerging Leaders convinced me that we needed to continually network with people who have creative ideas in retail,” he said. “We can’t get stale – if customers are moving in different directions we need to know it.”
“We’re on to new plans now. The first three years of working the Growth Plan were essential for retiring debt, for getting ourselves in a financial position to take this on, and knowing that we were headed in a different trajectory overall.”
The new location is not your parent’s optical store, instead it’s an interactive experience complete with the requisite coffee bar that encourages you to stay awhile and come back often. You can even watch glasses being made through large windows giving you a glimpse of the state of the art free-form processing equipment. The renovated 1930’s building evokes nostalgia while highlighting the unique technology that allows Empire Optical to make almost anything a customer needs or wants.
“When my grandfather started this business he came from wholesale lens grinding before opening his own store. This has always been a part of our identity,” Hargrove said.
Christian and Brooke Hargrove are the third generation to own the business begun by his grandfather. His parents and his children work at the store.
“Technically, five generations have worked in this business because my great-grandmother worked in the business and now my kids are working here.”
“It’s one of the coolest parts of my day when I get to see my son work with my dad. They have their own relationship and it’s very rewarding.”