Lili Liang, OD, MPH, was walking through the Gastown district of Vancouver, an older, artsy part of this British Columbia town. She and an optometrist friend stopped in at Durant Sessions, an optical shop that had such a unique vibe and cool staff that Dr. Liang approached the owner and asked if she could open an optometry office in the back. “I wanted to be at a place where the culture was focused more on catering to customers than simply selling,” she says.
With enough space to equip one exam lane, Dr. Liang started out slowly and continues to work just one day a week since the opening in June 2017. She's solidified her partnership, and they will be opening another location together where she will be a shareholder of the retail and in charge of optometric exams as an independent business. The goal is to create a network of Durant Sessions where ODs can have the option to be shareholders, even as new graduates. “We want to promote the culture and the model where everyone is an owner, opticians or optometrists,” she says. That will mean reducing her hours in the four other locations where she works as a part-time associate. “That’s fairly typical for how optometrists here work, putting together a number of part-time jobs. Eventually, you may settle into one or build your own,” she says.
The vision she had for her own space was almost exactly what she found. “If I were to create any kind of retail space, this would be it. I love what they have and where they are in this smaller community filled with artists and startups and businesses that support each other,” she says.
The optical opened in 2016, so it had already begun to build its client base. That certainly helped Dr. Liang, who said her early growth beat her projections. “I think it helps them that there’s an OD here now, and I know it helps me because so many people know about the shop.”
She’s fully on board with the creative marketing that the location does. “Whenever there’s a new product line, the shop will host an after-hours event. One local painter created a piece inspired by a new product launch, and when they brought in a Japanese brand, the shop hired a local sushi chef for the evening,” she says.