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Berberian at Andover Eye Care

Todd Berberian, the optician-turned-designer and owner of Andover Eye Care, sets himself up for stardom in the eyewear industry.

What does an optician do on his day off? How about design a line of eyewear so popular that his sunglasses will soon be featured in a movie? Such is the case of Todd Berberian, owner of Andover Eye Care, who created his line of Todd Rogers eyeglass frames in 2010.

In a way, Berberian’s story is a modern-day version of The Little Engine That Could. After all, breaking into an industry dominated by famous designers during an economic recession takes-no pun intended-vision. And, as Berberian points out, who understands vision more than an optician?

“I’m a bad artist, but I’ve always liked fashion,” says Berberian, who has been an optician for 20 years. But while his store sold some of the biggest brands in eyewear, he said he was often disappointed in the quality and style of the products. “One of the reasons I did this is that I was tired of buying super-expensive products that, when they arrived, weren’t perfect. They were crooked, or the plastic was of an inferior quality. And keep in mind that these are selling for big bucks.”

He soon found himself working after hours, creating his own designs and teaching himself more advanced techniques in cutting lenses. He learned to customize frames not only to fit his customers better, but also to be more flattering and more fashion forward. Eventually, he began to dream of starting his own fashion line, but was told from the outset by everyone that without money and connections, his chances were slim.

Again, he stuck to his vision. Often, the big-name designers who lend their names to eyewear don’t actually have any direct knowledge or connection to the industry. Berberian, on the other hand, knew his business, knew what customers liked, and knew what looked and felt good on them.

In his mind, the question was not “Why should an optician create designer eyewear?” but “Who else could do it better?” An important step in the process was to find a manufacturer who could not only turn his designs into reality, but do so at an affordable price. The process took four or five years, or as he puts it: “I had to kiss a lot of frogs.”

Berberian took several disappointing trips overseas to meet with potential manufacturers, during which time, he says, “I burned some bridges, and it’s a small industry.” Still, he persevered and finally found a few manufacturers who understood his goals. When his first box of frames arrived at his home, he said he got goose bumps, but even then, he took his time.

“I finally had my samples, and I went through each frame, one by one, for quality control. I showed them to friends. I took pictures of them, and studied them afterward before choosing the ones I wanted.” When the product arrived at his store, Berberian instructed his staff not to direct customers toward the frames or to let on that he was the designer. To his delight, the frames took off. The next step was to create brand awareness.

“Often, when people create a product, they just slap a name on the product,” Berberian says. “I knew I didn’t want to do it like that.” He created the name Todd Rogers-Rogers is his middle name and his mother’s maiden name-and put energy into creating catchy tag lines. The idea was to invest his fledgling line with “a feeling” that felt true to his personality and vision.

The next big test arrived when Berberian took his wares to the New York Vision Expo East, where they were assigned a booth at the bottom of an escalator that attendees had to use to reach some of the most popular exhibits.

“We designed the booth to look like what you’d see at a concert, with T-shirts stuck to the wall,” he says. One of them read: “I know you’re admiring my glasses,” with the “gl” and the “es” in tiny letters. Needless to say, the booth drew a lot of positive buzz. “We brought a new kind of vibe, and even though we’re a small company, the whole show was talking about us,” he says.

Berberian understood that creating that vibe was as important as creating the eyewear itself, and marketing played a key role in this part of the process. “We were looking to promote our indie name with viral marketing,” he says. One example of his creative marketing approach is an ad he shot that depicts Berberian with his back to the camera with his beloved dog, Prana. There are no eyeglasses in the picture, although there is a Todd Rogers logo on a T-shirt hanging out of his jeans pocket.

“On the way to the photo shoot, my PR manager told me that the camera does not like someone’s back, but people now tell me that it is their favorite picture.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the word got out. Berberian was written about in a trade magazine called Eyecare Business, in which he was included in a piece on designers who are also optometrists and opticians. Another writeup, in which he was named among Andover’s “Hottest Bachelors” in The Andovers magazine, proved to be more embarrassing, although Berberian is a good sport about it.

“That article is going to follow me around forever,” he says, laughing. He was nominated by a customer and was under the impression that his appearance in the magazine would be a small, forgettable item. “Instead, I found myself on the cover,” he says, a fact he didn’t discover until he noticed a few people staring at him at Butcher Boy market, where the magazine was on display. “There I was, in sweats, a hoodie, and flip-flops, thinking, ‘get me out of this market- now.'” Nowadays, Berberian is off the bachelor market and is the doting father of a six-month-old son, Jackson.

If more proof were needed that Todd Rogers Eyewear has caught on with the cool set, a character in an upcoming film being shot in Toronto, called And Now a Word from our SponsorÂ… will wear a pair of Todd Rogers sunglasses in the movie. So with all this success, why is the designer still in Andover?

“I love Andover,” says Berberian, who moved there from his native Somerville-or “the ‘Ville,” as he calls it (the abbreviation is lasered onto a pair of white Converse sneakers that Berberian sometimes wears at work, a tribute to his hometown). He especially likes downtown Andover’s classic New England beauty and its inhabitants, a mix of locals and transplants. He also credits the great local schools, interesting companies, and beautiful houses for giving the town its character. “Andover is fashionable. It’s preppy, but, guess what? Preppy is a huge fashion influence, especially now.” That aesthetic is part of what influenced his designs, he notes, calling his eyewear style “Classic New England with a twist.”

Berberian also wanted to ensure that his eyewear sold at a reasonable price, noting that his line in his shop sells in the $200 range. That said, he admits that the optician in him sometimes gets in his way when selling his own eyewear.

“There have been times when someone comes in and wants a pair of Todd Rogers and there’s been another brand that fits better,” he said. “In that case, I steer them toward the other pair.”

When asked if he has advice for other entrepreneurs starting out in this difficult economy, he modestly replies: “If I can do it, anyone can.” On the other hand, given the dogged perseverance it took to get his line up and running, he can’t resist adding: “You also need to see between the lines.”


Andover Eye Care, 777 Main St., Andover, 978-749-7300