For Higashi Jewelry & Eyewear owner Susan Fotos, sapphires and spectacles make fantastic bedfellows. Her 1,500-square-foot store in Lemoyne, Pa., not only sells fine jewelry but also includes a full optical shop—complete with on-site ophthalmologist—offering frames from swank eyewear makers including Tom Ford, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Prada, and Tiffany. A lifelong fan of cool specs, Fotos started stocking readers, then sunglasses, about five years ago. The side business, which she calls “crazy fun,” took off quickly. “Glasses can change your look faster than any piece of jewelry,” Fotos adds. “They really communicate who you are.” And the nontraditional product pairing distinguishes Higashi from other jewelry outposts. “I’m competing with a local store that has Rolex and John Hardy,” says the retailer, “so I’ve really concentrated on carrying things that are different and that no one has. That’s my thing.”
How did you get started in the business?
My husband worked at IBM and we lived in Tokyo for five years. While there, I learned about pearls. Then, when we were transferred to Pennsylvania, I started [my business] with a box of pearls. When you’re not a family business, you can do anything you want. There’s no roof. I love to travel, so I’m always going somewhere looking for interesting things to bring back to the store. I love glasses and I wear glasses, so I thought I’d give optical a try. This past September, I finally hired an ophthalmologist, so you can come in and get your glasses and an eye exam in the same place.
Why do you think selling eyewear and jewelry works so well together?
We sell glasses like fashion. People who care about their jewelry also care about their glasses. It’s also a fabulous men’s product. Men don’t generally hang out at jewelry stores, and this gives them a reason to be in the store. The Harrisburg area is a typical capital city where there isn’t a lot of great shopping. As an entrepreneurial person, it makes you crazy because you keep adding things that are missing in the [market]. In our store, we have fun fashion finds that are $50, and we also have bridal and designers like Alex Sepkus and Georg Jensen. I feel like, as an independent jewelry store, there’s no point if everything you have in the store can be bought from a Neiman Marcus. We’re more of a real-life kind of a store.
How is your store laid out?
We have one area that’s optical, then we have a section that’s Alex and Ani and other fun fashion brands, along with these fabulous French hair clips I found when I was in Paris. On the other side is bridal and fine jewelry. I often think of it like a department store. You can buy a little something or something very expensive. It’s very friendly. As a shopper, you can disappear or be helped.
How is selling eyewear different from selling fine jewelry?
It’s such a fun thing because people need glasses. And glasses change everything about the way you look. When you see people who maybe don’t like their glasses try on a pair of glasses they love, it’s exciting to see how happy they are. You feel that you are really helping someone. It’s not nearly as hard as selling jewelry. But I love selling jewelry for a lot of the same reasons; those relationships you [forge] are fun.
Does your sales staff sell both categories?
My eyewear staff also sells fashion jewelry. But fine jewelry is staffed with trained jewelry people.
What advice would you give to jewelers looking to add optical to their mix?
It’s really a different type of selling, but optical is quite profitable. It’s a big investment in inventory—I have over 1,000 frames in stock, and you need a lot of diversity of product. But it’s an easier inventory to manage. The frame companies usually will come and take back frames that are left unsold, and they offer all sorts of deals [such as] buy 10 different frames and they will throw a pair in for free. That doesn’t happen so much with jewelry.