An Eye for Quality
Discerning Eye in Iowa City is uncompromising when it comes to quality, but never lets an opportunity pass it by. Schrup got her start in the optical business in the early 1980s as an optometric assistant working for her neighbor, an optometrist. She later worked in corporate optical, for other ODs and for opticians, dreaming all the while of having her own business. “Opening my own store seemed the next logical step. I only wish I had done it earlier in my career,” she says. Discerning Eye’s specific origins lie in a long-ago homework assignment. Schrup was helping her son develop a business plan for a college class, when they realized they were onto something. In the summer of 2005 they took it to the bank. Discerning Eye opened in downtown Iowa City before the year was out. She began with one full-time employee, an optometrist who worked one day a week and her two adult children, both college students, helping part time. In October 2016 the store relocated to its present space, a sleek, bright and welcoming optical with industrial and neo-classical touches. The store is characterized by a sophisticated branding that is consistently applied – including across the store’s elegant online presence – but discreet enough to keep the focus on some stunning eyewear (Lindberg, Anne et Valentin and Salt Optics are among her top sellers). A former art gallery, Schrup knew it would be perfect for showing off her carefully curated collections. It was also large enough to accommodate a growing staff, including a full-time contracted optometrist, Dr. Dan Wolfe. One thing that has remained constant is an uncompromising focus on quality in terms of both eyewear and service. “From the beginning, we focused on bringing premier products to the area with top-notch customer service to ensure that our customers would have an enjoyable and fun experience choosing eyewear. We only sell eyewear from independent optical companies, which allows us to focus on quality and sell only what we truly love.” This is a business that knows and feels comfortable with its target market. “We sell luxury eyewear and we don’t apologize for our prices,” Schrup says. She likes to keep collections together, allowing each to stand on its own and tell its individual story.
“We have found that grouping sunglasses in one area but still by collection is a very successful strategy,” Schrup says. “We utilize a large center table for seasonal displays or highlighting a brand or color palette. We have a lot of fun switching out merchandise on this table.”
Being located in the heart of a college town doesn’t have to mean catering solely to starving students. The University of Iowa campus literally surrounds downtown, so foot traffic includes professors, administrators, students and local professionals. “Our clientele is a well-educated and well-traveled group. They often continue to purchase from us even after moving away,” Schrup says. In an echo of that fateful homework session a decade earlier, when it came time to work out how to tap the city’s impossible-to-ignore student market, Schrup did what she does best: She came up with a plan. The result is FOCUS by Discerning Eye, a store within a store that targets the student demographic. (See ‘Fine Story.’)
Ultimately Schrup’s undeniable success seems to boil down to some pretty simple — even homespun — wisdom. “Treat people the way you would want them to treat you,” she says, adding after a moment, “...or your Mom!”