An eye for success: ten years with DI's optimistic optometrist
It’s awesome being at the front of the line. Unless what they’re giving away is sliced jalapeno, not iced cappuccino like you thought.
And how lucky can you be to find yourself first in the queue for local concert tickets? Until you realize you’ll be traveling to Charleston, West Virginia to see said concert.
And being a trendsetter is totally rad. Unless the recent popularity of rompers and jumpsuits makes you act on an unfortunate hunch about adult onesies. (Yes, with the snaps.)
The point is, if you’re going to be at the forefront of something, it’s really only fantastic if you do it right: with attention to detail, spot-on execution, and some solid intuition.
Just ask Dr. Charles Turner, who ten years ago started Island Eye Care in a quiet, sparse little town called Daniel Island. His business was not only the sole office of optometry in the developing annex of Charleston; it was one of the first businesses of any kind on the island that is still thriving today.
Dialing back a decade
Dr. Turner grew up in South Bend, Indiana, where at the age of seven he was fitted for his first pair of glasses. After graduating with a B.S. in Biology from Virginia Tech, he went on to earn a Doctor of Optometry degree from Indiana University. His subsequent internship path reads like a tour of duty: Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi; Montrose Veterans Hospital in Montrose, New York; Huntington Veterans Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia; and Indiana University School of Optometry in Bloomington. After that, the doctor set up shop.
In 2005, Island Eye Care became the first tenant at Suite A of 250 Seven Farms, and the address has always been home to Dr. Turner’s practice. “I was specifically looking for a live/work community,” he relates. “I loved the idea of the shortest commute possible.” The vision outfit is among what are considered the commercial “pioneers” of Daniel Island, as the town center looked very different a decade ago. Across the street from the office was a pile of dirt; the 245 Seven Farms building would not go vertical for another year. “I remember getting coffee at Potts of Coffee (now Sermet’s) quite a bit. Chatting with other business owners was pretty easy, as most of us were not completely busy,” Dr. Turner shares. “We used to be open on Saturday mornings, and I would recall counting the few cars that would go by on a Saturday morning.”
Establishing a business in the infant stages of a master-planned community takes some vision and a plan for growth, but it also takes some patience and intestinal fortitude. “We didn’t have a robust marketing budget,” Dr. Turner recalls, “so I started by meeting the other (island) business owners, and being a customer in their businesses.” He also reached out to every community resource he could think of, and participated in anything happening on the island, from the annual Park Day to regular school vision screenings. He notes that he tried to do the same thing in a few pocket communities outside of Daniel Island, but the efforts close to home always proved the most effective. It wasn’t until 2011 that Island Eye Care started seeing more “off-island” patients than residents of Daniel Island, and it was this shift that delivered the confidence to expand the office.
“It seems when you are contemplating expanding, it’s almost impossible to time it perfectly,” he concedes. “With the expected growth of the island, and Charleston, I felt the community we were in allowed for growth.” So Island Eye Care added space, expanded its product offerings, and increased efficiency. Surely the ultimate success his business has enjoyed is the result of more than home sales and the foot traffic of fellow commerce. And, Dr. Turner recognizes that, while his practice may be novel on the island, greater Charleston is one of the most saturated markets for eye care in the south. Still, he shares what he figures was and has been his winning formula. “I think success in Daniel Island is probably very similar to anywhere else in Charleston,” he observes, “focusing on a few features in your business that give people a reason to come; in essence, the recipe for a referral.”
It’s a recipe that the doctor feels best works for just about any DI business: great service and products, and exceeding expectations.
The practice’s people make perfect
As the practice grew, it became apparent that another doctor would need to be brought on board in order to accommodate client schedules and still offer top customer service. Optometrist Baley Petersen seemed fortuitously fated to fill that need. The northwest Iowa native (and self-proclaimed farm girl from a town of 272 people) completed her undergrad at Iowa State University, then attended optometry school at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. During that time, she completed externships in Memphis, Dallas, and Mount Pleasant, and fell head over heels for the Lowcountry, inwardly vowing to someday throw new roots in the Charleston area. After graduating and completing an additional year of primary care and ocular disease training through her residency at the Memphis Veteran’s Affairs and Medical Center, she made good on that promise and was soon after hired on at Island Eye Care. “I interviewed quite a few doctors prior to inviting Dr. Baley to join us,” Dr. Turner shares, adding, “she’s been fantastic.”
The practice’s entire crew is one that seems to have been assembled with great care. The proud first face you’ll meet just inside the office doors is that of office manager Greg Turner. And if you think that welcome bears a hint of resemblance to the doctor, you don’t need your eyes checked; he is Dr. Turner’s father. Following a career in international sales, marketing, and finance, Greg joined his son’s practice to offer his signature warm and professional customer service to the front desk. He does everything from manage schedules to guide patients through the insurance process and, as a wearer of glasses since the fifth grade, is well-equipped to assist patients with frame and lens selection.
Rounding out the Island Eye Care team are creative director and eyewear consultant Courtney Gaff, lens specialist and board-certified optician Ann Lauren Thomson, and optical technicians Shaya Montgomery and Tonya Owings.
Hallmarks of island optometry
Never forgetting his own early experience with corrective vision, Dr. Turner always aimed to put an emphasis on children’s eye care in his professional service. He is a member of InfantSEE, which provides free eye exams for children under the age of one, and routinely performs eye screenings at local academies and elementary schools. Dr. Turner has been a part of the “Adopt a Teacher” program at Daniel Island School since its inception, and teaches eye dissection to three eighth grade science classes each year. Of course, his commitment to adult vision care is just as keen, and Dr. Turner has also served patients at local nursing homes, rendering care for those unable to travel to an optometrist.
With a lover of lenses at the helm, it was perhaps no surprise that after just six years, Island Eye Care had South Carolina’s largest contact lens inventory. Dr. Turner’s contact lens patient base continues to grow, and he receives referrals from up and down the Carolina coastline. His passion for, and expertise with, contact lenses landed Dr. Turner an invitation to serve as a professional speaker for Johnson & Johnson’s contact lens division in 2011. Island Eye Care offers one of the largest lens recycling programs in the state. When daily lens wearers return a year’s worth of their blister packs in the practice-provided recyclable bag, they are awarded with a ticket to a Charleston Battery soccer game.
Island Eye Care also happens to be one of very few offices in Charleston with digital measuring systems. In less than one minute, the Optikam system and Visioffice gather six precise measurements for a perfect fit and faster delivery.
Looking ahead... but still enjoying looking back
The doctor, his wife Erin, and their 14 month-old daughter Lucy remain residents of Daniel Island. They are regular fixtures on the running/cycling circuit of pathways and trails, with a buggy in tow, of course. Today, Dr. Turner sees many of the families that were among his inaugural patrons, though few, if any, are wearing the same frames.
“In 2005, everything in the glasses world was about small,” he recollects. “Today, it’s the exact opposite; glasses keep getting bigger.” And though the human eyeball has not necessarily changed in the last decade, technology has. “Medications change, equipment changes, contact lenses change, and outcomes are improving,” Dr. Turner states. “I’m excited for the next ten years.”
Looking back evokes the same level of positive emotions. Reminiscing about some of the more humorous client anecdotes, without getting himself into hot water, Dr. Turner rattles off a few that leap to mind. “Many types of animals have accompanied their owners (including some interesting bird owners), a few patients have taken off shirts to show off new tattoos, and there are hundreds of conversations that put a smile on my face just thinking about them. While an eye exam is very similar for most interactions, the differences in people are what keep us fascinated every day.”