What if you wanted to start a business with too much competition? What if the competition was as popular as Starbucks?
There’s a countless number of eyeglass shops in Chicago. It reminds me of The Simpsons episode where Homer is walking through the mall and passes by Starbucks after Starbucks after Starbucks.
On my block alone there are two eyeglass shops. There was a third a couple years ago. Unsurprisingly, it shutdown.
It was interesting to spot the story of LabRabbit Optics, named “Best Eyewear Shop in Chicago” by the Chicago Reader, a popular independent newspaper here.
The first iteration of my business was run out of my apartment. And it started out with me cutting lenses in my bedroom. I started carrying some frames. That took up a small portion of my living room. I got more frames. That took up the entire living room. Eventually it spilled over into my dining room as well. The next thing you know, I’ve got somewhat of an optical speakeasy operating in my apartment. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable buying eyeglasses in some dude’s apartment. So I felt it was time to open a small retail space.
Coyote DeGroot, proprietor of LabRabbit Optics
When most people want to start a business they dream up the biggest thing they can. It’s got an office, at least 50 employees, and things running around the clock. It looks like a mountain.
They never start.
I imagine most people who want to run an eyeglass shop do this. Of course you’ll need the equipment. And a lease for a store in Chicago? Sheesh. Not to mention, you’ll need a receptionist at the front door. Probably a couple other people.
Not Coyote. The guy starts his business in his bedroom. And just keeps pushing those constraints until he can’t push any further into his apartment. He doesn’t try to climb a mountain in one attempt. He takes on a little challenge. Can I sell some glasses from my bedroom? Awesome, I did that, can I do a little more?
He’s also extremely resourceful.
The lense cutting machine I use, her name is Ripley after the lead character in the Alien series of films. She was acquired in an alley in the suburbs of Milwaukee.
I love all the things he’s not. Most people when starting a business plan a list of things they need because everyone else has them. You need to at least reach feature parity with the competition, right?
Here’s Coyote’s take on his online shop.
If you’ve tried to view items in the Online Shop recently, you may have noticed that nothing appears… this is intentional… Long story short, we simply have too many frames in stock to list online; we’d rather devote more time to delivering the excellent face-to-face customer service that Labrabbit has become known for.
His FAQ is similar. “Do you offer eye exams?” No. “Do you repair damaged eyewear?” No. “Do you carry Ray-Ban frames?” No. “Do you accept vision insurance?” No.
He focuses on what makes his business special compared to all the competition: unique frames you can’t find anywhere else, and you get to deal with him directly.
I remember getting my last pair of eyeglasses, which wasn’t at LabRabbit. I dealt with 5 different people. Not to mention, the glasses had to go back to “the lab”. Twice. Wherever that was. My favorite part was when I was told by one person they were open on Sunday. Only to show up on Sunday and no one was there.
If you’re struggling with how hard it will be to start the business you want, there’s a lot to learn from Coyote and his optical speakeasy.
P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.