Many would concur that Detroit has had more than its share of obstacles, setbacks and defeats. And for those that are able to look beyond the current status quo, there‘s a glimmer of hope that resonates “you can’t keep a good city down.”
There are good things happening in Detroit, and good people that stand behind a quality product that’s manufactured in the city, all while creating leadership and employment opportunities for its residents.
It takes vision and some “skin in the game” to rebuild, reemerge and reconnect a business to its rightful community. Meet Robert Evangelista, the president of the New Co/Op Optical and WCE LLC, which now owns and operates the eight Co/Op Optical retail locations. On October 12, 2012, WCE LLC acquired all assets from Cooperative Optical Services, Inc, in U.S bankruptcy court.
Within a six-month time frame, the New Co/Op Optical has gained momentum. Its sales have increased by 39 percent; the owner has hired from a talent pool of seasoned optometrists and opticians; company moral has increased — and as a commitment to the 50 men and women that endured the storm with the former company — a promise was made (and kept) by Evangelista to keep the original staff on board and at their original rate of pay — with extensive training and repositioning.
For over a half century, the former company serviced customers for vision health and eyewear at Co/Op Optical locations across the state. But during the 2000s, the company’s financial position began to suffer as a result of questionable moves and internal turmoil. The “Michigan depression” was the final storm that sealed the company’s fate. Recognizing the potential impact on customers in late 2011, the company’s leadership transferred its administrative component of insurance benefits to Davis Vision, an American-based company that shared both values and union roots. This move ensured that regardless of the outcome, the 140,000 members with Co/Op insurance benefits would never be impacted.
The economic collapse could have meant the end of Co/Op Optical stores. However, in a response to adversity, the employees and leadership refused to quit. Like the auto companies that went down a similar path, they were in need of a creative solution, a little compassion and a whole lot of luck.
“Someone has to believe that Detroit still builds the best,” said Evangelista, internationally renowned business consultant. “I was told by many that I should run from the Co-Op deal, that I was crazy for taking the financial risk. Perhaps I was a little crazy in this economy to take a risk. But I saw the bigger picture and a group of people with a spirit that lifted me up. That bigger picture is to rebuild and restore a sense of great customer service, and provide top-of-the-line products in the city of Detroit.”
As with any success stor, it’s typically accomplished by a team of professionals who are forward thinking, resilient and able to manage multiple moving parts. At the New Co-Op Optical, its leadership team is emerging with leading women in the marketplace. The team includes Evangelista’s wife, Susan, who is CFO; Miquel Smith-Coleman, director of Customer Experience; Dr. LaKeisha Parker and Nina Scott, store managers at the 8 Mile/Dequindre location; Tracy Woodward-Hannah, store manager at the Eastpointe location; Sharon Phillips, store manager at the Livonia location; Kelcey Smothers, store manager for the Dearborn location; and Dr. Jennifer Claudio, CMM, Professional Affairs, WCE, LLC.
Each member of the leadership team has been given full reign to plan and execute operational and marketing strategies that best serve their target audience. There’s also the personal touch as each manager knows her customers. For many of the women, who are primarily African American, the leadership roles afford them the opportunity to emerge as stakeholders in the community.
The New Co/Op Optical has underscored a long commitment to the Detroit and African American community. The company is headquartered in Detroit and operates the largest eyeglass manufacturing lab in the city. Their intent is to bring respect and dignity to each customer interaction, beginning with providing the lowest prices on designer brand frames from current 2013 collections.
“People in the community want gorgeous, designer brand frames at affordable prices,” said Smith-Coleman, “and they know the difference between current styles and out-of-date models.”
Smith-Coleman has been in the optics arena for 17 years, and is part of a group recruited from the former D.O.C.
“I may oversee it, but all of us are involved in setting the tone of the store for each customer experience,” she said. “Our whole team is involved in every phase, from the frame selection, to the layout of the store, display merchandising, training and customer service, all to ensure a completely satisfying customer experience.”
Each of the eight Co-Op Optical locations have been stocked with over 1,000 new frames from 2013 collections, including Gucci, Versace, Coach, Polo, Harley Davidson, Guess, Ralph Lauren, Helium, DKNY, Candies, Giorgio Armani, and many more. And the prices are the lowest in Southeast Michigan, and no coupons are needed. All eyeglasses are manufactured in the Detroit lab at 8 Mile in Dequindre, thus heightening visibility as the fasting growing eye lab in the city.
One of Smith-Coleman’s key initiatives includes creating awareness on the importance of an annual eye exam and protecting the health of customer’s eyes.
“Our customers are very brand savvy, but not savvy about vision health. Therefore, it’s imperative that along with helping to select designer frames, we also educate on eye health and optical/preventive health care.”
For more information on the New Co-Op Optical, please visit, http://coopoptical.com.