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Growth
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 3 months ago

Reading accessories company sees big expansion

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What started as a man’s post-retirement hobby has grown — with the help of his daughter — into a business that helps people see clearly. The next vision: global expansion.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

Phil Meyer doesn’t like to be bored.

“He can’t just hang out and do nothing,” says Denise Foster, his daughter.

She would know. She’s in business with him.

Meyer, 87, founded reading glasses company 2020 Vision USA in Sarasota in 1996 after noticing more people wearing them. Reading glasses are non-prescription lenses that magnify text on a page. 

“It was kind of a fun hobby,” says Foster, 61. Her father had come down to Sarasota to retire after a career in sales and owning a factory in New Jersey.

But what started as a hobby, over time, grew into something much more. With Foster’s help, 2020 Vision has grown sales at least 20% each year. Even more growth: the company’s retail sales have quadrupled in the last year. 

Now 2020 Vision braces for more growth, including expanding sales internationally. Managing the next phase, the executives realize, will require hard work, more employees and the discipline to know when you can't do everything on your own. 

Father-daughter team Phil Meyer and Denise Foster run Sarasota-based 2020 Vision USA.

In 2008, Foster, who worked in fashion and customer service in New York, visited her father in Sarasota. That's when she decided to join the business. “I went to his house and saw his shelves were full of boxes,” she says. “I wanted to be part of building this.”

He had already built a base of local clients. “I sort of wanted to pick up the pace with style and fashion,” Foster says. “He said, ‘Okay, you do it.’”

A home-based business at the time, Foster saw the need to expand. One day she told her dad, “Let’s take a ride,” and surprised him with an office and 2,500 square feet of warehouse space.

Today, Meyer works on business strategy. Foster is the president and artistic director.

She’s grown the business largely through word of mouth. “Little by little we’ve just taken off,” Foster says. She declines to disclose specific revenues, but says, “When I tell my dad, ‘This is what we’ve done this year,’ he’s all smiles, ear to ear.”

The company sells wholesale to retail stores, and its products are in boutiques and independent bookstores across the country — at least one store in every state. “Bookstores are a big part of our business,” Foster says.

Trade shows have also keyed 2020 Vision getting exposure and leads. Foster regularly attends boutique, gift and book shows. Her upcoming schedule includes a stop in San Francisco. “I’m constantly on the run," she says. "Building our brand has become key for us.”

The company also has 35 sales representatives, independent contractors who operate from California to Texas to New York.

The company is expanding into other countries, too. Its glasses are sold in Chile, Costa Rica and Guatemala, and Foster wants to increase that list.

'We welcome competition. It keeps us on our toes.” — Denise Foster, 2020 Vision USA

Website sales weren’t a focus for 2020 Vision until last year, but people kept saying they couldn’t find certain glasses in stores. “I was spending too much time talking to individual customers," Foster says, "and guiding the product to specific stores.”

The company sells 40 glasses designs as well as sun readers. “Glasses have really become an accessory,” Foster says. “People who wear reading glasses have them all over the house. They want it to express who they are and match outfits.”

That concept has played out in the company’s online orders. “People don’t really buy one pair,” she says. “It’s two, three or four. I think it’s because of the styling and price point.”

The glasses retail for $20. “There will always be people who are more and less expensive,” she says. “We welcome competition. It keeps us on our toes.”

Foster does the day-to-day work of the company with help from an employee based in Baltimore. She also designs the glasses. Her inspiration comes from everywhere — the color of the water, a room or the clothing someone wears. “Customer service is No. 1,” she says. “It sets us apart — as well as style.”

The biggest challenge ahead, Foster says, is adding at least two more employees to manage the workload. “I can’t stay up until 2 a.m.,” she says. But there’s a Catch-22: she hasn’t had time to hire help. That’s going to change, though — and soon. “I’m really holding the reigns on this,” she says. “Once I have people in the office who can help out, we’ll branch out.”

That’s the plan for 2020 Vision: grow and keep growing. Foster says, “It’s really important to me to continue this legacy and build it. We’re just getting started.”

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