Licensed Optician Tom Renfrow started working at SouthPark Optical Center—located in SouthPark Mall—in 1979 and became the owner in 1994. As an owner/operator, he’s personally involved in every aspect of the business. Along with offering a beautiful array of glasses, you’ll find the highest level of personalized service, all in a welcoming environment. Despite the ever-changing retail landscape, including a variety of stores that have come and gone at the mall over the years, SouthPark Optical has continued to flourish.
Ever wonder how people get into their line of work? Let’s get to know Tom’s story!
How did you get interested in the optical industry?
My dad was an optical wholesaler who owned a lab that made optical lenses. I had a lot of tutelage under him. I noticed that when I was training and working with him that I was able to absorb a lot. They say when you’re interested in something, it sinks in more. I think this is true because I seemed to have a natural ability to absorb the information.
Did you ever consider joining your dad’s business?
Not really. It was an invaluable experience, but I knew that I wasn’t cut out for that type of assembly line work. I’m more of a people person, so I went into optical retail.
Do you have good memories of working with your dad?
It’s funny because I was just thinking about him this morning. He died two years ago. And I was thinking about a good memory of him. In 1999, Southpark Optical moved locations within the mall. It was a major undertaking. My dad was 72 at the time, and he helped me move until 2:30 a.m. It was special that we did that together.
Do you have a lot of loyal customers that return over the years?
We do, and that’s really our bread and butter. Our success isn’t from one-time sales—it’s from repeat business. You know, I’m actually now helping 40-year-olds that I started helping when they were in high school. The interaction with long standing customers is very meaningful to me. As a small business, we don’t have a lot of money for advertising. What we rely on is treating people the right way, selling a quality product, and giving people a fair price. And people seem to value that.
You have very skilled staff. Tell us about them.
My staff have years of experience in the industry and are great about helping patients make educated decisions about the products. Just as I do, they want what’s in the best interest of the patient, not what’s in our best interest. My staff helps people to find the right glasses based on the shape of their face, their prescription, and their budget. Using our knowledge to our advantage would mean taking advantage of customers, and that’s not how we operate. I pride myself on the fact that my staff has been with me for years.
Tell us about your range of products.
Altogether we have about 3,000 frames, including sunglasses. We may be a little more expensive than online retailers but we give attention and service they can't get online. It surprises many people to find we are 15-20% less than their doctor's office for the exact same premium product only offered by eye care professionals. Our frames are excellent quality and are made in the United States, Japan, Italy, France, and Germany, among others.
What is your price range?
At the low end of our options we have brands like Kate Spade and similar brands. They start at around $150 for frames and go up from there. Then we have what I call fashion designer frames, such as Gucci, Dior, and Fendi. At the high end are our luxury brands, such as Cartier, Fred, and Gold & Wood.
You’ve lived in Charlotte for a long time. What do you like about our city?
I love how almost everything you need is pretty much within ten minutes, including my work. If I have an issue, I can be at the store in less than 10 minutes. Charlotte’s been a great place to build my business and to have a family. It’s where my wife and I raised our son, who is now 23.
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