Vision for Life

by Heather Swick

Bard Optical observes a milestone anniversary with a yearlong program and a sustained focus on community.

As it celebrates its 75th year in business, Bard Optical wants to show that vision is more than an industry; it's a community-wide mission. Since Arthur Bard first opened its doors in downtown Peoria in 1941, Bard Optical has expanded to more than 20 locations throughout the central Illinois region.

When its founder decided to sell the business after 40 years, current president Diana Hall was a general manager at Weisser Jewelry and Optical, where she started as a clerk at age 15. At the height of her career with Weisser, Hall oversaw more than 60 locations.

But in her early thirties, as a single mom in a struggling economy, Hall lost her job. That is when she took a leap of faith. Drawing on her extensive background in the optical industry, she reached out to Dr. Bard upon learning of his plans to sell his business, and in 1981, she purchased the company and took the reins.

Her immediate focus was on growth. Despite the bleak economy of the early 1980s, Bard Optical began to expand throughout the region. Hall oversaw the opening of a new location every year or so; most recently, the company opened its 21st location—a second office in Springfield.

Today, Bard Optical is a $10 million-per-year business, operating out of shopping centers and offices with sleek designs and modern, elegant displays. All the while, Hall has worked to cultivate a commercial-meets-medical feel in each location, where patients can shop for the latest trends in eyewear after an exam or procedure. “You have to keep growing and evolving in business,” she notes. “It has been an exciting journey.”

Hall says she is passionate about Bard Optical’s role in the community, just as the community has supported Bard through the years. That connection helped inspire the company's 2016 anniversary program: 75 Pairs for 75 Years.

A Milestone Anniversary
As a tribute to this milestone anniversary, Bard Optical will donate 75 pairs of eyeglasses to students in each of its communities this year. "Vision—and the ability to read—is a foundation for children's learning," Hall says. "And if you believe that, you need to give back. We need to walk the walk."

Hall says 75 Pairs was inspired by World Sight Day, where the entire industry comes together to focus attention on blindness and vision impairment. In central Illinois, the program is Bard Optical's response to that initiative. "It's good for the community and for our staff to be involved in these programs because that's our mission," she explains. "Everything we do is for the patient."

Through the 75 Pairs program, eyeglasses, eye care and exams are donated free of charge to in-need public school students in all of the communities in Bard’s service area. School districts are provided vouchers for students to use to obtain the free eyeglasses. "The school districts have been very helpful with our program," Hall adds. "It feels good to give back, and that's what it should be about."

Growth and Accolades
Behind the scenes, there's another reason to celebrate year 75: Bard Optical has landed its own exclusive digital lens surfacing equipment, the Da Vinci Lens Series, from a prominent German manufacturer. The new line includes progressive bifocals, high-definition lenses, computer lenses, driving lenses and more. Each is intended for a specific life stage and need—customized for prescription, frame, fit and visual priority—and is part of the company's investment in long-term growth and development.

Continuous evolution while maintaining a dedication to community is important to Hall. In addition to the opening of 20 new offices under her leadership, Bard Optical has enhanced business-to-business plans with vision care insurance, an expanded safety eyewear program and numerous savings initiatives. The company continues to grow steadily—something Hall says she doesn’t intend to limit. Rather, she seizes upon opportunities as they arise.

Over the years, Bard Optical has seen accolades ranging from the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award to being named among the Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers by Vision Monday, a leading source of news in the ophthalmic industry. In addition, Hall has been recognized on numerous occasions for her individual leadership, having received the 25 Women in Leadership Award and the Athena Award for professional excellence, as well as being named among the 50 Most Influential Women in Optical by Vision Monday, among other honors.

A Community Vision
Hall says Bard Optical's core philosophy is centered on giving back to the community. "We are actively involved in the chambers of commerce and community events,” she notes, “because it's important that we are supportive.” The company’s motto, "Vision for Life," is meant to be a statement on how clients should be treated. Its offices are designed to treat patients from toddlers to senior citizens, with the intention of developing lifelong relationships. "I always say I want our patients to be treated like they're my own mother," Hall says. "'Community' is about the people within that community. We have to live what we say."

Connectivity is what makes our neighborhoods thrive, Hall continues, and part of Bard Optical's mission is to help strengthen the foundation of the community. "Our team members are encouraged to be active in their communities because this is where we live and work," she says. "And that is why we try to celebrate our anniversaries by giving back to a charity. It's what we all should be doing." iBi

For more information, visit bardoptical.com.

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