This week one of my business heroes passed away, Dr. Stanley Pearle. Dr. Pearle was the founder and original owner and lifetime inspiration for the optical retail chain: Pearle Vision.
I started to work for Pearle Vision in 1987 when the only optical discount was in August for “Family Eyecare Month.” We didn’t have computers in the store and one hour glasses were just on the horizon. In fact, in the next couple years people would come into Pearle and say “don’t make my glasses in an hour…I want them right.”
Over the years when I would mention Dr. Pearle people would be surprised “You mean there really IS a Dr. Pearle?” Yep and I was lucky enough to be his “date” at many company events towards the end of my career with Pearle. The company would change hands and so did leadership over the almost 20 years that I worked for the company but he and I never changed and I was lucky enough to get to “hang” with him at the annual meetings and pick his business brain.
When he first founded the company in the 60s he brought a new approach to a previously viewed medical product. He was the first to start the breakage guarantee. Industry leaders thought he was crazy but he knew better. He knew that you needed to understand your customers and give them something of value.
I will never forget my first year with the company. I was hired as a manager for the Colerain Ave, Cincinnati location and as a sales person, was to manage a medical location in a licensed state without any optical background. It was unheard of. My peers openly criticized the fact that I wasn’t ABO certified but rather brought a customer focused approach to sales. The mere fact that I referred to the patients as customers was outrageous. (By the way – I doubled sales that first year and was promoted to regional manager – who says a customer-first approach doesn’t work?)
I attended training in Dallas – our headquarters at the time – and met Dr. Pearle for the first time. We had a brief conversation and I was suitably awed by his presence. Three months later at a regional meeting I met Dr. Pearle again and he remembered my name.
I was blown away. We had hundreds of locations and he remembered me and my background and my location. He was all about building relationships, making people feel valued and treating them as he wanted to be treated. Years later he visited my New England territory and I took him to visit five locations. People lined up to meet him, shake his hand and have him autograph the life-sized, cardboard cutout of him in their store lobby.
Dr. Pearle understood just how important the people in a company are; executives, hourly employees, franchise owners, lab workers, he greeted them all with warmth and a sincere desire to hear their perspective on the industry. He listened and engaged people. Where ever he went, he built relationships.
I will miss him greatly. And all that he stood for. He put the customer first, whether the customer was the end user, a corporate employee, franchise owner or vendor. Thank you, Dr. Pearle, for all you taught me. Thank you for everything.
For the complete news story of Dr. Pearle passing, click here.