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Multi-Unit Retail Franchise Owner at 40 Pearle Visions and Counting

Learn how broad business experience helped Bill Noble become one of the largest, fastest-growing Pearle Vision retail franchise owners

Pearle Vision Licensed Operator Bill Noble became a franchisee after a rewarding career as an executive with one of Pearle Vision’s sister brands. He used that experience, along with skills and relationships developed during his prior military career, to become one of our most successful Pearle Vision multi-unit retail franchise owners. He has opened 40 stores so far and is well on his way to making his goal of 50 in three years. Read on below to learn how he found such success in the business, even without a medical background.

Pearle Vision franchise-owner Bill Noble

Multi-unit Pearle Vision Licensed Operator Bill Noble

You have a really impressive career that led you through a lot of different major companies as an executive. How did you wind up getting involved with Luxottica and how did you make the decision to acquire a Pearle Vision franchise?

I was recruited to Luxottica by Mark Weikel, who at that time was the president of one of our sister brands, LensCrafters, and quite frankly I fell in love with the industry. It was retail, which is where I cut my teeth, but there was also the medical and healthcare element. I really enjoyed my tenure at LensCrafters.

When I left the brand, Tammy Reaves, the head of development for Pearle Vision at the time, approached me about the possibility of becoming a Licensed Operator. The 10 corporate-owned stores in Ohio were up for sale. I was excited about the prospect of becoming a Licensed Operator on that multi-unit scale, along with the chance to be my own boss in an industry that I loved.

My parents were both entrepreneurs, so I think I had always harbored the desire to be one. My dad was a florist and also opened a jazz nightclub. My mother was a college professor and in her late 30s, decided to open a childcare center. She has two locations in my hometown of Albany, Georgia. I just hadn’t been at a point in life where I felt it was worth the risk. As my kids got older, it was just a culmination of being in the right place at the right time and being able to use the relationships that I had built through LensCrafters.

Do you have any partners involved in running the business with you?

My investor group — which are all West Point football teammates of mine — have been great partners and support. My wife, Lauralee, actually works within the company as well, as Director of Administrative Services.

What made you fall in love with the industry?

I enjoy all the different aspects of retail, like leadership, sales and interpersonal skills, and in the optical industry, we are truly changing people’s lives. How do you put a value on being able to see clearly? We are changing people’s lives for the better. Annual eye exams are wonderful predictors of overall health. We have countless examples where our doctors have uncovered serious medical issues through our optical exams and imaging. We are doing well and doing good at the same time, and that is a great combination.

In addition to having a great mission that really helps people, what would you say about the business opportunity within the optical space?

It is a really good business opportunity, provided you know what you are doing. There are challenges with a retail franchise, like ensuring you picked a great location and getting the right staff. If you have a strong business acumen and the courage and fortitude to take some risks, it can be a very lucrative business.

What are some of the ways Pearle is positioning itself for where the industry is heading?

Pearle Vision has done a great job with helping us get access to managed vision care panels. That is probably one of the most important things that the brand can provide to a Licensed Operator; the more insurance plans and vision plans that we are in-network for, the better off we are going to be as a business. Pearle Vision understands that they have a responsibility to help us get patients in our exam chairs through relationships with insurers.

Pearle Vision optometrist assisting patient

Pearle Vision’s brand recognition makes us a trusted name that patients can count on.

How did you get into the retail industry?

I was actually recruited by a West Point classmate of mine who was in executive recruiting at Limited Brands. If you look at what we do day in and day out, we are leading people and organizing teams to accomplish daily goals and objectives. Now with more than 40 locations, our business is all about leadership. It’s all about selling, motivating employees and building camaraderie and a spirit of service. I love that stuff, and it speaks to a lot of the things I had developed in the military at West Point, like leadership, drive, commitment, courage and risk-taking. I think retail is a great industry for that.

Why should an optometrist or optician consider Pearle Vision versus being an independent?

It’s the power of the brand that Stanley Pearle started more than 55 years ago. Pearle Vision has a tremendous amount of brand awareness, and that is a great start for a business. You can capitalize on that and take it from brand awareness to brand relevance through your efforts and through neighborhood and community outreach events that Pearle Vision helps sponsor.

We have a little slogan that I think epitomizes who we are. When we first started the business, our slogan was “Dare to be Great,” and that’s when we had aspirations and dreams to grow to 50 stores in three years. We are up to 40 now, so we are on track. This year, we changed our slogan to “The Dream is Free, the Hustle is Sold Separately.” It just really applies to who we are as a company right now, and it is all about the hustle. You can layer and surround that with hustle and efforts to build that brand awareness and relevance, and you are going to be very successful. That’s what Pearle Vision provides. You can’t go out and buy that kind of brand recognition as an independent. You’d have to spend years building a reputation as an independent practice, whereas Pearle Vision gives you that instant credibility that you can capitalize on.

You have a much higher number of locations than the average franchisee. How have you managed to grow so quickly as a multi-unit franchise owner?

Courage and access to capital. Not a lot of people are comfortable taking risks. I’m very competitive, and I truly believe in the sayings “Go big or go home” and “Be bold, be daring or be gone.”

We saw a tremendous opportunity to build a great business where others may not have wanted to take the risk. I am still just as bullish on this brand and this opportunity as I was when we started with our first purchase of 10. We will hopefully get to our 50-store goal by the end of 2017, and we will keep going.

How big do you see yourself ultimately growing your business?

We don’t necessarily place limits on our Pearle Vision growth or expansion. Right now, we’ve set an aggressive goal of 50 locations in three years, but once we get there we can’t rest, we can’t stop. You have to keep going, and that is what we will do. We feel good about what we have done, and we have done this because we have great people.

Our store managers own 5% of our business. You hear so many people in retail management say that you have to treat a store like you’re the owner. We took it a step further and we made them owners, so we can say it and back it up by giving equity. When we have men and women that are outstanding individuals leading their stores, they give you the courage to keep going. If I had mediocre people working for me, I couldn’t grow this fast. We have been very deliberate in ensuring that we bring in great people and let them do what they do.

Going back to the experience that I had running a large organization at LensCrafters, I am comfortable with scale, whereas an individual optometrist may not have had that experience. There is a learning curve associated with that.

Do you see the business consultants as being a valuable arm of support, especially for optometrists or opticians without prior business experience?

For your average optometrist without practical business experience, these consultants provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise and experience in the industry. That is a valuable resource. With somebody that has a ton of practical business experience, the way they help is more through facilitating and sharing of best practices. That is how they’re able to provide valuable assistance to me.

What do you think is the genius of the brand? What do you think Pearle Vision does better than the competitors in the industry?

A brand name like Pearle Vision’s is hard to replicate. That brand recognition from patients is a competitive advantage. This is not a very complicated business. It is pretty straightforward, and there are plenty of independent optometrists that are doing very well and making money. For Pearle Vision, that brand awareness still allows us to stand out.

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