In just a little over a year, Labrabbit Optics has become one of Chicago’s top eyewear stores. Labrabbit’s owner, Coyote DeGroot, talks to us about rapid success, eyewear style, and parental ultimatums.
“It’s a continuous treasure hunt on my end,” explains DeGroot about his process for finding the eyewear he sells. “Not always easy.” The glasses he sells fall into two categories: new eyewear and deadstock eyewear. The former is pretty self-explanatory, even if the labels he carries aren’t common. The latter, deadstock eyewear, consists of frames that have been out of production for years or decades. These aren’t used glasses, just frames that for whatever reason, were never sold. Perhaps they were just a little ahead of their time.As good as DeGroot, 30, is at plucking unique frames from obscurity, his gift wasn’t always so apparent. He admits to getting kicked out of college years ago, and then moving back home with his “ less-than-elated parents” parents. At that point, he entered the eyewear business out of necessity.“My mom told me to get a job in two weeks or she was going to kick me out of the house. I’ve always been attracted to medical and technical trades, so I randomly got a job working in an optical lab.”The optical lab work gave DeGroot the knowledge to become a certified optician, which might not be as crucial to his business as his ability to locate glasses with both a cool and quirk factor, but it allows him to run his shop almost autonomously. There’s no outsourcing lenses to be cut or re-sized.
But perhaps what his customers appreciate more than DeGrott’s inventory of glasses, or ability to cut frames onsite, is the attention they receive from him inside his store. DeGroot doesn’t have a massive staff. On most days its just him in his store, working one-on-one with his customers and making sure they find the right set of frames. And he never stops being attentive. When we visited with during Labrabbit’s one-year anniversary party in late September, he was asking customers in attendance how their glasses have been holding up, and even performing maintenance on a pair of lenses.
DeGroot is understandably a busy man these days — he says he usually works in around 70 hours per week — but fortunately for us, he took the time to discuss eyewear style, running a small business, and the future of Labrabbit Optics. Below is a short Q&A we conducted with him in September:
Man Up Chicago: When did you start wearing glasses? What was the first pair that you can remember wearing?
Coyote DeGroot: Around the age of 8 or 9. It was a large metal navigator frame with a double bridge, suspiciously similar to what I’m now wearing in my 30’s. My Dad also wears the same shape, so it must be genetic.
MUCh: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself or about business after owning a company for a year?
MUCh: Do you have any plans for expansion?
CD:Yes, the five-year plan includes opening a second location on the East coast.MUCh: What’s the biggest mistake that men make when picking out a pair of glasses?
MUCh: I know head shape and size can determine what type of eyewear looks best on someone, but do you ever try to get a read on the person’s personality to make sure it matches what they want?
MUCh: For the guy who wants to wear something very rare and bold, what three sets of glasses from your store do you recommend?