Optician Franchise Becomes Family Business: Q&A with Paul Hans
In 40 years with Pearle Vision, Licensed Operator Paul Hans has seen generations of patients at his optician franchise
Licensed Operator Paul Hans knows Pearle Vision inside out thanks to 40 years in the business. He started a store manager and district manager, developed a personal friendship with the late Dr. Stanley Pearle, and jumped at the chance to own his own location when we first began franchising in the 1980s. Now he owns seven locations in the New York City area.
He recently shared his journey with us, and his excitement at having two sons join him in the business.
Paul Hans was interviewed for this article in 2016.
How long have you been a licensed operator?
I have been a licensed operator since 1982, when I bought my first location. Prior to that I was a licensed optician in the state of New York and I became a store manager and then a district manager with Pearle Vision. This year is actually 40 years with Pearle Vision for me. When franchising was coming on board, it was something I felt I really wanted to do.
How many stores do you have? Do you have any partners or anyone in your family involved in the business?
I have seven locations on Long Island in New York, and I have two sons that are in the business with me now. Michael is an optometrist and Daniel is an attorney, but he is becoming an optician and is working on operations, advertising, scheduling and other things. Michael covers one location, but goes out to the others and is our optometrical coordinator for the group. I also have another son who is an attorney in Manhattan who is not in the business.
I have been married to my wife, Marsha, for more than 40 years now and without her support, cooperation and understanding as to what this business has required from me, it would never have been successful. She is a huge source of support for me. A lot of people in the franchise community know her. She is a licensed optician and at one time was more directly involved than she is now, but with Michael and Daniel here she is more involved in taking care of our four grandchildren.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a licensed operator with Pearle Vision versus running an independent optical business?
For me, it was just a natural progression. I was going to wind up being in business for myself either on the independent side or the Pearle Vision side. When Pearle Vision started the optician franchise program, I saw much more potential for personal growth and financial growth being part of a larger system.
Marketing is a very good avenue of support. When I was a district manager, I supplied support to people when needed. I saw it as a very good sort of a hybrid where you could make use of the support when needed or do your own thing.
How does Pearle Vision help with managing regulations and insurance?
That is a big aspect where Pearle Vision can help. We have access to some of the largest vision care providers in the country. EyeMed has brought a lot of people through our doors. The industry has changed over the past few years. Insurance, managed care and medical billing has become a big factor in our industry, and Pearle Vision certainly gives us good support in that area.
How much has that changed since you got started?
From the 1980’s to now, it is completely night and day. It is a different industry and a different business now. You have to be part of managed care systems and insurance. In the 80’s, maybe 2% or 3% of our business was insurance. Now, it’s around 35% to 40%.
Why do customers like Pearle Vision? What makes you stand out as an eye care provider?
We provide personalized, professional service under the umbrella of a national brand. We have generations that come to us. We have seen customers since the 80’s; we have seen their children and now we are seeing their grandchildren. They have a strong brand loyalty to Pearle Vision. Our selection of frames and level of service are beyond that of an independent and we provide a national presence. If someone moves from Florida to New York, that customer can still walk into a Pearle Vision for replacements, adjustments and new purchases.
How do you feel about the direction of the brand?
I feel that we are moving to more of a growth mode. The people that are in place making the decisions now are looking to grow the brand, its presence, its force and power within the industry.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am in the stores nearly every day and there are days that I work with my sons on marketing strategy, scheduling for multiple locations, and operational things that need to get done. We are very hands-on operators.
Running a business when you have several stores can be very demanding. What is it like running it as a family business?
It brings a whole new dimension to our relationship. We are very open with ideas, recommendations and changes to make. I include my sons in all of our leasing, lease renewals, franchise renewals and all of our HR issues. Since we have grown, we have had to become a little more attentive to those issues.
Is there help available from Pearle Vision with negotiating leases or constructing a new store?
We do all of our own negotiations on leasing, but I do go to Pearle for support with remodels and refreshes. When you have multiple locations they tend to come at you pretty quickly, so we stay on top of that. Whether it is a lease renewal, refresh or remodel, there is always something taking place in that arena.
If you were starting over today and thinking about starting a business, would you still start a Pearle Vision?
Yes, I would. I don’t know that I would go to any other franchisor in this industry. Originally, the other district manager and I were on the verge of buying an optician franchise in a different company, but when we heard that Pearle Vision was going to franchise we stopped in our tracks. We know this brand and we are comfortable here. I was very fortunate and had a very good, personal relationship with Dr. Pearle.
Tell us about Dr. Pearle.
Dr. Pearle was an extraordinary man. He was, of course, an astute businessman that literally changed retail in the optical industry. He had a very warm, personal side to him and he genuinely cared about people. He was just an extraordinary man. He attended some family functions of ours when he was in New York. I was very fortunate to have that kind of relationship with him.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to get started with Pearle Vision?
I have always been very hands-on. This is my business and this is what I do. I would advise someone to be prepared to be deeply involved in the business when they first start. You also have to find good people to work with you and you have to let these people feel empowered. I often ask them, “If this was your business, what would you do? Tell me, what am I not doing that I should be doing?” I have been very fortunate to find good people.
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