Article

We Love Kids

Dana Cohen thought he'd given up his dream of working with kids when he ended his career path toward becoming a pediatrician and entered the optical industry. That is, until he found his true calling in serving kids' eyewear needs

We Love Kids

Dana Cohen thought he'd given up his dream of working with kids when he ended his career path toward becoming a pediatrician and entered the optical industry. That is, until he found his true calling in serving kids' eyewear needs

By Lindsey Aspinall Getz

Despite a desire to become a pediatrician, in 1976 Dana Cohen followed in his optometrist-dad's footsteps and started Medford Optical, in Medford, Mass. After five years in the industry, he began to realize that no one in optical was reaching out to kids. Ignoring criticism that he was wasting his time focusing on the kids' market, he went ahead and remodeled. "I had a huge mural put on the wall that said 'We Love Kids,'" says Cohen. "It's been my motto ever since."

Today, Medford Optical is a thriving kid-based practice. His success inspired Cohen to take on another unique venture—opening a dispensary inside a children's hospital. One of the first things he points out at his newest location is an updated mural which reads, "We Love Kids."

NEW DIGS

Medford Optical at Waltham is the newly opened dispensary located in the ophthalmology wing of Children's Hospital Boston at Waltham. Cohen was one of several optical shops to respond to a request for proposals for dispensers issued by the hospital.

Dana Cohen stands beneath the We Love Kids mural—a slogan that's been important to him since the start of his optical career more than 30 years ago

The hospital was impressed by Cohen's plans. "It was clear that Dana had the experience, so we went ahead and invested in the space," recalls David G. Hunter, MD, PhD, chief of ophthalmology at Children's Hospital Boston.

The dispensary carries around 600 pediatric frames (ranging in target age from infant to teen), and although it's a full-service optical shop, Cohen says 75 percent of his patients are kids. Many of the adults they've seen are parents who request a fitting or hospital staff.

The store's unique style is helping to draw crowds

A LONG ROAD

Cohen admits that arriving at his current level of success wasn't always easy. In order to find young patients, Cohen first reached out to other practices. "I marketed to the ophthalmology community," he explains. "I sent out brochures and notices to the community to let them know I was a specialist in pediatric eyewear."

After several years of working to build up his patient base, Cohen began seeing results from his many efforts. "As word-of-mouth spread, I started seeing more and more kids," he adds.

As his latest practice continues to build, Cohen is still relying on word-of-mouth to do the work. Already, in just a few months, Cohen is seeing a lot of new faces at the dispensary.

From All Angles
We spoke with a staffer, the department chief, and a patient and asked them all what makes Medford Optical at Waltham work.
Read on to learn what you can do to boost your own success.
The Chief Says:
"We're now the biggest department of pediatric ophthalmology in the country," says David G. Hunter, MD, PhD, chief of ophthalmology at Children's Hospital Boston. "With our experience we've found that we can take all our care to give a good pair of glasses, but if they don't fit right, they'll end up in the trash. A kid won't say, 'It's pulling on my ear.' They just hide the glasses or get rid of them. That's why we wanted a good dispensary right here. Correcting vision properly for kids is often time-sensitive. For a child, the brain is still learning how to see. If children go six months with no glasses, they can literally damage their sight. Kids need a knowledgeable, good optician because fitting is most crucial for them."
The Staffer Says:
"We like to say, 'We love kids,' but it's not just a slogan, it's a way of life," says Chandra Richardson, optician. "We get to work with children of all backgrounds and we often get a lot of special cases. We really believe in what we do. While we mostly treat kids, we'll often end up captivating the parents and treating them too."
The Patient Says:
"Dana always showed interest in our case," says Terese Wallace of Framingham, Mass. "It was really important that my daughter get the right glasses, and when she put them on, even as an infant, you could see the difference. She was reacting so much more to things. Dana was approachable, but also so knowledgeable. When you are looking for something for your kids, you want to feel comfortable that the person you are talking to really knows what he's talking about, and he provided that."
One Child's Story
Thirteen years ago, Terese Wallace of Framingham, Mass., attended a seminar at the Perkin's School for the Blind. Her daughter was just an infant and she'd already been to handfuls of dispensaries trying to find frames. "I can remember waiting in the line for the restroom at the seminar and I saw all these young children with glasses. I pleaded with the mothers, 'Where did you get those?'" says Wallace. "I was desperate and at my wit's end. When it's your child, you'll do anything to help." Wallace says about six mothers whipped out business cards for the same place, Medford Optical.
As she got older, Wallace's daughter's eyesight problems, including BPES syndrome, started to affect her social life. "Because she was unable to properly open and close her eyes, she couldn't play outside. Even the slightest wind would blow debris in her eyes," Wallace explains. "Back then, safety goggles weren't a big thing. But I remember my husband watching a basketball game and seeing a player wear these huge goggles. I just thought, if only she could have those, she might actually be able to play outside."
Dana Cohen, owner of Medford Optical, searched everywhere for a smaller goggle. "He went out of his way," Wallace says. "He was not only knowledgeable, but inventive. He found a way to make the safety goggles work, and my child was able to play outside again."
Over time, Wallace lost touch with Cohen, but recently stumbled upon his new location at the Children's Hospital Boston. "You always see those people on "Oprah" who get a chance to thank someone they should have thanked a long time ago," she says. "This was my chance. I had never truly thanked him for how much he helped us. By fitting her, he improved her social life, and it changed our lives so much more than he could have realized."

The store's unique style is one aspect helping to draw crowds. Working with the architect who designed the hospital's entire ophthalmology wing, Cohen added his own special touches to the new locale. With a whimsical ceiling design, lots of bright colors, unique toys, and cartoons always playing in the waiting room, the dispensary is very kid-friendly.

A PASSION FOR THE PRACTICE

It is not unusual for patients to tell Cohen they've driven hours to see him. Word of his special practice often travels far and parents are willing to make the trip.

"Many years ago I had a partner that told me, 'It's not the steak you sell, it's the sizzle,'" says Cohen. "People can get glasses for their kids anywhere; but when they come to us, we take our time. We are passionate about what we do and we make it a fun experience."

James Halligan (l) and Chandra Richardson, are the two additional opticians who work at the hospital dispensary

One thing that Cohen says sets the practice apart from others is that they often spend more time talking to the child than the parent. While it is ultimately the parents' decision what is purchased, it's important that the child actually likes his or her eyewear and will wear it at home. Parents appreciate someone taking their child's needs so seriously. "We involve the child in the process and spend much of our day on our hands and knees on the floor so that we can be at the child's level," says Cohen.

Cohen says he works with a large number of children who have had cataract surgery, and helping those special cases is often the best part of his job. He notes: "I especially enjoy fitting aphakic children. I get such a rewarding feeling because the infant or child often breaks into a huge smile after I put the glasses on. For some, it's the first time in their lives they've really seen. That's what keeps me going." EB