A Real Alternative

By JoAnne Sommers

It’s probably no coincidence that Paul Storace chose the name Alternative Eyewear for the optical company he launched in 2008. Storace, president and CEO of Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear, sees his companies as real alternatives to what he decries as the “homogenization” of the global optical industry.

“All the big brands have been taken up and that trend has homogenized the business,” he explains. “At one time, an optical shop was an eclectic mix of eyewear that the owner felt would best suit his or her clientele. Today, many stores look the same with identical offerings. They are competing with the big companies while buying from them at the same time and that does not make sense to me.”

Fortunately, dispensers who want to differentiate themselves can look to Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear for distinctive optical frames, sunglasses and magnetic clips-ons that combine excellent quality with original styling.

Storace, who designs his own collections and does all of the creative work and marketing for Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear, takes pride in launching 150 to 200 new styles annually.

He gets his greatest satisfaction from seeing people wear his frames – “I love making people feel happy and beautiful,” he says – as well as from knowing that the opticians and optometrists who sell his products are showing the best he has to offer.

“We’re frame designers, not licensors,” he explains. “Our focus is on the needs of independent opticians and optometrists and we’re well-positioned to help optical stores offer an eclectic product mix. We pride ourselves on always having something new and on it being in stock. It’s not easy but we maintain an extremely high order fill rate.”

Storace’s understanding of the needs of opticians and optometrists stems from his three decades of experience in the optical business, starting in eastern Ontario with Lunette Cartier in 1985.

“I began working as a sales rep and immediately fell in love with the business,” he says. “I was fascinated that I was actually being paid to go around and interact with so many interesting people. The optical bug bit me hard.”

Storace’s success led to his promotion to regional sales manager; he managed Lunette Cartier’s Ontario staff of 15 before leaving in 1995 to join Northern Eyes as a shareholder and partner. He operated that company until 2001 when he sold his share and opened Elite Eyewear Canada, a division of the eponymous U.S.-based firm. In 2006, Storace launched Plan “B” Eyewear, “because I wanted to have my own business.” Two years later, he assumed the assets of Elite Eyewear Canada, forming Alternative Eyewear.

The two sister companies essentially serve the same client base, says Storace, although Alternative Eyewear caters to a broader, more conservative market, while Plan “B” is more eclectic, with a younger product offering.

Between them they offer nine eyewear collections, including Grace, Gridiron, Glacée, Headlines and Ice Cream. The 2008 Canadian launch of the Ice Cream line for Plan “B” was an important milestone, Storace notes.

“The launch was timed very well and it filled a void in an otherwise uncoloured market which, at that time, was very hesitant to take any risks. I decided to mix neon purple with neon lime green and begin offering really crazy colour options that looked good enough to eat but also flattered the woman who was willing to step out of her comfort zone.

When they sold out quickly, Storace knew he was on to something. “That gave me the confidence and the breathing room to work on more designs and more collections.”

Another significant milestone was the creation of the One Sun line in 2009. This high-quality, value-based line, which is completely Rx-able, filled a market void by making it possible to put prescription lenses in sunglasses.

“When we introduced One Sun, there were other low-price, Rx-able offerings but the quality was poor. The industry was trying to catch the market leaders but I knew I couldn’t do that so I played to my strengths: fashion, quality, and problem solving.

“People wanted prescription sunglasses that were reliable and looked great; I delivered that by offering over 150 sku’s of Rx-able sunwear with polarized lenses of reasonable quality, at any one time.”

Proudly Canadian and fiercely independent, Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear distribute to all of North America from their head office in Ajax, just east of Toronto. The companies’ 30 sales reps and 12 office staff are a major part of its success. Many of them have been with Storace since his time with Northern Eyes and he freely admits he would be lost without them.

In a market dominated by large eyewear companies, many of which are owned or operated by insurance firms, Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear stand apart.

“We’re not large,” says Storace. “This is a grassroots business and I’m very much a hands-on operator. We haven’t caved in and gone for pseudo-brand names and, unlike many of our larger competitors, who focus on the bottom line, we’re focused on the needs of the end user.”

Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear made a foray into social media this year with the launch of their Facebook page and the results have been impressive, says Storace.

“We have had a lot of Facebook activity to date – the page is well liked and gets lots of visits. We then used it as a springboard to our very successful OMFG (Oh My Fabulous Glasses) campaign, for which we got a tremendous number of entries.”

The companies’ social media presence has been expanded to include Pinterest and Twitter, thereby fostering a stronger online presence for the company, Storace notes.

“Social media by itself won’t make a business grow but it’s important to have a presence,” he says. “There’s a cost involved in setting it up and managing it but the impact is immediate and it gives you control over the content.”

Alternative and Plan “B” Eyewear made a successful return to Vision Expo East in New York last spring and you can find them at Vision Expo West in Las Vegas this September; they will showing the Glacée line, as well as premiering a new men’s collection in the Galleria.

“Our goal is to continue growing and expanding our business among eyecare professionals and to expand our sales network across North America,” Storace says. “I really believe that the future of our company will be built on the solid foundation we have established, the people we surround ourselves with and the products we deliver.”