Managing an eye-care business appealed to Matt Matthews. So when he decided to form an investor group in 1990, buy the original Crown Vision Center in Alton, IL, and expand to St. Louis, he knew just what to do.
"We opened offices in neighborhoods," said Matthews, president of the company and a Clayton resident, during an interview at the .
This year, Crown Vision is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Matthews now oversees 25 eye centers, 23 of which are in the St. Louis metro area.
The Alton store had been a single-location group practice with four doctors. It had been in business for 30 years before its original owner retired.
Matthews decided to maintain the center's focus on low prices and savings while expanding Crown Vision's offerings. Today, the company provides help in the area of medical eye care, and it owns a surgery center and a diagnostic center. Those facilities allow staff to treat patients with glaucoma and retinal problems.
Matthews grew up in southeast Missouri, though he's been in St. Louis for 30 years.
He describes eye care as somewhat recession resistant and increasingly relevant for aging baby boomers such as himself. What's more, people like to deal locally. Crown Vision has aligned itself with that notion by, for example, opening branches in community retail strips as opposed to malls.
"It's a people business," Matthews said. "You're directly serving individuals, their families."
In honor of its anniversary, Crown Vision has been holding a series of patient-appreciation events featuring giveaways, such as tickets to St. Louis Cardinals games, an iPad and Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Matthews said the company is now serving second, third and fourth-generation clients.
His daughter, JJ Matthews, joined the company in June and is working to expand its outreach to underprivileged students in the St. Louis area. Previously, she taught at in Chesterfield.
Between late September and early April, 5,560 students in kindergarten through sixth grade had been screened as part of the program. Of those students, 1,600 failed their eye screenings. Crown Vision has partnered with ARCHS, a grant-management organization, to form the Healthy Vision Network 4 Kids, a news release from the public relations firm Lents and Associates states.
The Essilor Vision Foundation provides frames and lenses as part of the project, and the University of Missouri, St. Louis provides optometry students and its mobile clinic, the release states.
While the program has primarily been focused on elementary students in the St. Louis Public Schools, the company is looking to expand its reach to schools in St. Louis and St. Charles counties and to high school students.
The program began as an effort to provide eyewear to displaced people and relief workers in and around Alton, during the floods of 1993 and 1995.
Instead of expecting students to get screened and then come into Crown Vision to get eyewear, JJ Matthews said, the company is working to reach out.
"It's easier and more successful to focus this effort at the school," she said.
In the next five to 10 years, Matt Matthews said, the company will continue its focus on the Internet. JJ Matthews introduced him to Groupon, and the businesses have formed a successful partnership.
Crown Vision also offers web-based kiosks at 30 Schnucks stores in the St. Louis area. The kiosks allow users to get their vision screened to determine whether they pass or fail. About 20 to 25 percent of patients book appointments through the company's website, and some use it to order contacts and glasses.
"What makes it fun is you deal with people," Matt Matthews said of the business.
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