GLCO Lab Concept

Garrett Leight’s Eyewear Stores Get Technical

Style, fashion appeal, and a healthy dose of California sunshine feeling helped GARRETT LEIGHT CALIFORNIA OPTICAL – better known under the acronym GLCO – stake its own claim on the international eyewear scene. The quintessential formula remains unchanged, but the design-driven brand is now adding technical gadgetry and optical equipment to its GLCO retail stores. It’s all part of the journey for the company started by LA-based designer Garrett Leight five years ago. True to the company motto, “The details are not the details; they make the product,” everything at GLCO matches the brand’s carefully curated vibe. And that also includes all retail stores. Initially, GLCO stores such as the flagship location on high-profile Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California, resembled boutiques rather than somber optical shops. Boring equipment, geeky gadgetry – all that was left in the backroom until now.

Fast-forward to summer 2017 and the times have changed. Technology has gone from ugly necessity to center-stage attraction. Athletic apparel, designer fashion – a host of industries are creating value propositions around visibly technical products. Tech has also become cool again in the eyewear industry and for final proof of this building trend, GLCO is putting pro-grade optical equipment at the center of its retail locations. Customers can now choose from a full range of optician services such as custom lens tinting and frame configuration, performed on-site at GLCO stores in full view of the patronage as a major attraction. It’s the optical industry’s equivalent to “front cooking” at restaurants, and customers are enjoying the spectacle.

Starting things off, the brand is rolling out its GLCO Lab Concept where everything began a few years ago: the Abbot Kinney flagship store. “I see our labs as full service in a technical way, but also in a personal way. Our Abbot Kinney store started out as a neighborhood optician. We wanted to expand that customer service and the sense of fun experimentation we had in Venice to all of our stores,” said Garret Leight, before diving deeper into the new service offering and how it fits into the evolution of his brand in our SPECTR Label Update.


Your GLCO stores were always reminiscent of boutiques and rather style-driven. What was the motivation to include these technical services into your retail experience?

Everyone who works at GLCO is a total eyewear and design nerd. It sounds cheesy, but the way we talk about our materials on our website is exactly how we talk about them in our office. We train every team member on the different components of design, the quality of materials, even how to adjust frames.

But why did you decide to make the technical aspect a centerpiece of the store experience by moving it to the front where customers can see it?

Labs in optical stores are not revolutionary. Most have them, but usually they are hidden in a back room or basement. I wanted to bring this experience to the front lines and allow our customers to see the craftsmanship that goes into the final product. We pride ourselves on the high quality frames and service we offer, and we felt that labs visually connected to the retail experience not only contributes to customers’ experiences but also helps educate them about their new frames.


Speaking of education, let us know what kind of equipment the state of art optical lab offering consists of?

We’ve got standard tools for adjusting and reworking frames: hot air frame warmers, an ultrasonic cleaner, a UV bath, a set of hand adjusting tools. For filling prescriptions we use a lensometer, which finds the optical center of a lens and verifies prescriptions, and a custom hand edger, which we use to refine safety bevels before we pop finished lenses into frames. For custom lenses we use a Phantom, which is an automatic lens tinting machine that applies an even gradient to your lenses. But the piece of equipment we’re most excited about is our Santinelli, a state of the art lens edging station with a custom vintage-inspired salmon finish. It comes with a matching frame tracer, which uses an automated metal needle to outline the inner rim of a frame.

What optical services will be available to customers on-site?

Our opticians are able to cut prescriptions, tint lenses, matte new frames or restore old ones. We’re happy to perform these services on GLCO frames or any other brands, and we can do most of these jobs in a single hour. If you can imagine it, we’ll try our best to make it happen.


Aside from bringing the lab out the back room and into the store, how are you offering this service with a GLCO twist? 

At GLCO we pride ourselves on operating at the intersection of art, craft and technology. The opticians in our labs embody those values fully. They’re our best representatives. An eyewear wonk could walk into one of our labs and start talking about aberration, chromatic dispersion, and color theory and our opticians wouldn’t bat an eye. But they’re also trained in fit and style, which is what a lot of our customers are looking for when they come in.

Will you be offering new GLCO product concepts tied in with the new GLCO Labs initiative?

Definitely. We’ve always offered basic customization services, but it’s become a much larger brand initiative for us and the addition of labs in each store allows us to do so on-site. Everything from custom lens tinting to matching a bowtie for a formal event to filling a prescription in under an hour can now be done in every one of our stores.


So it’s a clash between style and technology?

As a mono-brand store with a very prominent brand lifestyle, we certainly are not neglecting the style-driven side of the retail experience. I like to think of our retail staff as stylists as much as they are technically trained employees. The decision to purchase something that you wear on your face is important, and we train our staff to fit customers based on personal style as much as your standard variables like face shape and coloring. In my opinion, eyewear is the single most transformative accessory – it can completely change the way people are perceived, or how they perceive themselves.

Thanks for the interview, Garrett.

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