Imagine starting from scratch a business that comes with 42 years of history. That’s what Shopko Optical faced when it was spun off last year by a new owner from the bankrupt Shopko and turned into a separate company. The business confronted several challenges, from finding new locations to making sure customers knew where they were, says Shopko Optical CEO Russ Steinhorst.“We have loyal patients, employees and opticians,” he says. “There was a lot of awareness about the Shopko bankruptcy, and some people weren’t sure that Shopko Optical would be around.”
Some optical stores initially remained open inside otherwise-vacant stores while new space was secured for the stand-alone clinics.
“The new locations are bright with outside light, but we still have the same service and quality our customers are used to,” Steinhorst says. “Being in these locations is a better experience than operating inside a big box. We can have consistent hours and don’t need to follow what the retailer is doing.”
In its initial year, Shopko Optical opened 81 clinics — 80 of which were conversions from in-store locations. Most new clinics are near the former Shopko stores, so it’s easier for customers to find them, Steinhorst says. Shopko Optical still has all of its patient records, so it can send out reminders with the clinic’s new location to customers when it’s time for their annual eye check.
Headquartered in Green Bay with an optical lab in De Pere, Shopko Optical has approximately 750 employees, which will grow as the business expands into new markets, Steinhorst says. Shopko Optical had 140 clinics at one time. Steinhorst says the business is now going back to locations it originally decided not to put in clinics following Shopko’s bankruptcy. This year, the company looks to add 35 new clinics in locations where the Shopko name is familiar.
“We originally added a new clinic in the Green Bay area since we felt the need and now we are looking to the Madison area,” he says. “We are also looking at locations that previously had a Shopko Optical but no longer have one. We want to build from our strong base and serve customers so they don’t need to drive so far to have their eyes checked and to get new glasses.”After watching Shopko fall into bankruptcy last year, it’s nice to see the optical business spun off into a new, successful company that retained most of its employees.