Wildwood Vision Specialists, LLC – Wildwood

Q & A: Creating a job versus finding a job

two young women in front of a building with a sign saying Wildwood Vision Specialists

Drs. Christy Hayes (left) and Kim Folwarski at the grand opening of their optometry practice, Wildwood Vision Specialists in Wildwood, Mo.

St. Louis natives Drs. Kim Folwarski and Christy Hayes, aged 27 and 29 respectively, didn’t grow up together. They attended different high schools and graduated from colleges more than 300 miles apart, Folwarski from Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology; Hayes from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, earning a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts.

Once they started attending the Saint Louis College of Optometry, however, they put their entrepreneurial destiny into motion.

Both Hayes and Folwarski had exposure in the field. Hayes worked over summers and Christmas breaks at an ophthalmology practice, and Folwarski’s parents were pharmacists. Folwarski decided that optometry gave her the most flexibility in juggling work and family. When Hayes and Folwarski met, they clicked almost immediately. Both recognized the fire and drive in each other, realizing their skills and personalities were complementary. They found good jobs at the same eye care emporium in St. Louis after graduation.

curved reception desk

The lovely reception area at Wildwood Vision Specialists.

Just one year later, on Aug. 30, 2012, the young optometrists proudly presided over the grand opening of Wildwood Vision Specialists, LLC, in Wildwood, Mo., thanks in no small part to Greg Tucker, business specialist with the St. Louis regional SBTDC.

Tucker gives presentations around the area, and had spoken to an optometry class on practice management. It was a presentation the far-sighted friends didn’t even attend.

But what they heard from classmates was enough to get their entrepreneurial motors revving.

“From my perspective, one cool point is that they attended the college of optometry when I wasn’t even offering the course,” said Tucker. “They took my materials and developed a very thorough business plan then called me to help tune it up and work on the financials. What they accomplished with their plan was pretty amazing. They didn’t contact me until they’d already written a very detailed plan.”

Making optometry fun

Q: How do you make optometry fun?
A: Through social media.

“Social media is huge right now,” says Kim. “Keeping our fans and website followers interested is one of our main goals. To get people talking about us, telling their friends something they learned from our website, will hopefully bring in new customers.”

Here are just a few examples from their website wildwoodvision.com:

  • UV rays can damage your eyes just as they do your skin. A single lengthy exposure can burn your corneas.
  • No more air puff! The most despised test during an eye examination is the “Air Puff.” Trust us — Drs. Folwarski and Hayes hate it as much as you do.
  • It is said that blue-eyed people do better at slow-paced sports like golf.
  • A study done with pre-school students showed blue-eyed male children were more socially wary than brown-eyed ones.
  • Thursday, August 30 — GRAND OPENING!! Stop by for refreshments, snacks and a trunk show. Discounted prices on glasses and exams! Enter a drawing to win a complete pair of sunglasses!
  • Horned toads squirt blood out of their eyes when they’re angry.
  • An ostrich’s eye is bigger that its brain.
  • The most common injury to the eye caused by cosmetics is by a mascara wand.

So why did two young optometrists make the huge decision to take a crack at a specialty market in today’s iffy economy?

Q: Tell me a little about yourselves.
Christy: I am 29 years old, from north St. Louis. I have a wonderful mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and niece.
Kim: I am 27 years old, born and raised in St. Louis. I have three sisters and awesome parents who are willing to do anything to support my dreams. Without them, our practice could have never happened.

Q: Why did you decide to go into business together?
Christy: Kim and I always joked about opening a practice after school since we were both from St. Louis and were good friends. But when it got to our last year of optometry school and it was time to make a decision on whether to find or make a job, we confirmed that we were serious about opening a practice cold. From there we started working on a business plan and here we are now, about two years after writing the business plan, planning our grand opening. I think we both knew we would end up here someday, but I am still surprised we were gutsy enough to jump right into it after school.
Kim: I agree!

Q: Christy, from graphic design to optometry; that’s quite a leap.
Christy: I fell into the graphic arts as an undergrad because I really hadn’t found my passion yet (she found optometry her junior year). The way it has helped me most is gaining an amazing group of friends with many talents who have helped Kim and me along the way, with everything from photos displayed as our art in our practice, training our staff on Apple computers, designing our logo and even acting as our interior designer during the buildout. I have been saying ever since that to open your own business you first need talented friends!

Q: Who is your target demographic?
Kim: We have a very diverse target demographic. I think that sets us apart from the optometry offices in the area. Christy won the GP Clinical Excellence Award at graduation and I was awarded the Excellence in Pediatric Vision Award. Christy likes working with those hard-to-fit specialty contact lenses. I prefer working with children and vision therapy. These are two niches not currently being served in this community.

vision exam equipment in exam room

One of the exam rooms and state-of-the-art equipment at Wildwood Vision Specialists.

Q: What are your short- and long-term goals for Wildwood Vision?
Kim: Our short-term goal in the next four years is to be able to leave our part-time jobs and be able to take a real salary from the office. Long term, we hope to have a thriving practice and be able to start our own families.

Q: Would you recommend the SBTDC to other new or established entrepreneurs?
Kim: Oh yes. While optometry school taught us a lot about how to be excellent doctors, we were somewhat clueless in the process of starting our practice. Greg taught a class called practice management to the optometry school during our third year. So naturally during fourth year, Greg was who we went to when we wanted to get started. He led us through the loan process, helped us with loan negotiations, lease negotiations and many problems along the way. He was there many times when we thought we hit brick walls. We wouldn’t be here without Greg and the SBTDC.

How to secure a quarter million dollar loan from the SBA

Q: How do you secure $250,000 in SBA loans?
A: Through patience, details, diligence, persistence and SBTDC know-how.

Folwarski and Hayes had some seed capital but not nearly enough to start their own practice.

So they turned to Tucker to help with their financials.

Tucker guided the young optometrists through three-year financial statements covering all operating expenses and annual revenue projections.

They then presented to a bank. The bank balked. A sticking point was collateral and the roughly $9,000 in equipment Folwarski and Hayes had accumulated over the course of their education. Tucker helped them revise the presentation, and they tried again.

The bank came through with the SBA-backed loan in December 2011. Wildwood Vision Specialists, LLC, opened eight months later selling such high-end frame brands as Coach, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Dior. But they are also dedicated philanthropists and participate in InfantSEE, a public health initiative sponsored by the American Optometric Association providing free eye assessment for infants’ first year of life.

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