Q 1. Please give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/cities.

Ans: My name is Dr. Melissa McCulley and I founded McCulley Optix Gallery in 2006 with the mission of bringing fashionable eyewear and fabulous eyecare to the growing community of Fargo, North Dakota. Our “gallery” showcases exclusive and unique eyeglasses and sunglasses from around the world. And I offer eye exams to provide glasses and/or contact lens prescriptions to give the best vision possible along with thoroughly evaluating the health of the eyes.

Q 2. Please give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).

Ans: I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota.  I graduated cum laude from Boston College with a degree in Spanish and a concentration in pre-medical course work. I received my doctorate in optometry from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, where I graduated with honors.  I practiced optometry for several years at the University of Minnesota, Department of Ophthalmology, before returning home to open my own practice.

Q 3. What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?

Ans: I spent my first 4 years practicing optometry in a location that didn’t have an optical. I was working with prestigious colleagues and seeing interesting cases, but I felt I was missing the “fun” part of helping my patients choose new glasses that they loved. For a brief moment I considered opening my own practice in Minneapolis, where I was living at the time. However, the area was saturated with unique opticals. Then I started to consider that my home town of Fargo, N.D., didn’t have many fashionable optometry practices or high end opticals and I decided I wanted to move home and open up Fargo’s first boutique optical and optometry practice.

Q 4. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Ans: If you have a dream, work hard for it and do it! 2. Absolutely spend time making a detailed business plan. Consider budgets, marketing, and your competition. 3. Remember you must pay yourself last. Having another part-time job to support yourself while starting your new business can relieve the financial strain of the cash flow.

Q 5. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Ans: The ability to be open minded, the ability to listen, and a willingness to jump in and get your hands dirty and get the job done.

Q 6. How many hours do you work a day on average?

Ans: When I first opened my optometry practice, I worked all the time! I would be the first one to the office at 9am and the last one to leave at 7 or 8pm, a few hours after closing time. I even worked on the weekends. But I’m happy to report that 12 years later I have more control over my schedule. I’m now in my office just 3 days a week. Those 3 days are long days, but I then have the other 2 weekdays and the weekends to be with my family. However, I often find myself in the office on my “days off” and I consider the time spent thinking about work to be endless sometimes!

Q 7. To what do you most attribute your success?

Ans: I attribute my success in business to being tenacious and willing to work all the hours necessary to start up and run my business. Since the first day the doors of my practice opened I am usually the first one to work and the last one to leave at night. When there is work to be done and bills to be paid that is always my number one priority. And I think another huge part of success when working with customers and patients is to always have a smile on my face!

Q 8. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Ans: As a new business, marketing was my biggest challenge. I’ve spent a lot of money in many different avenues of marketing, from print ads to radio and TV and everything in between, and some have been more successful than others. I truly feel our most successful form of marketing has been word of mouth and patient incentives when they’ve referred their friends. I still set a yearly budget for marketing and try to stay current in some form of local magazine. Lately my best source of marketing has been to put my dollars into SEO for my website and key words. That has driven a lot of new patients to our office recently.

Q 9. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

Ans: When I started my business, I was fortunate to have family members co-sign my loan as a guarantee. This was also before the market crash of the late 2000s and I think it was easier to get a loan at that time.

Q 10. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?

Ans: I think that long-term success in business comes from always treating the customer as you would want to be treated and honoring the old saying that the customer is always right.

Q 11. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?

Ans: Lately this is the hardest question for me to answer. I feel like I’ve spent my entire career trying to build a successful optometry practice and business brand. And now that I have a busy practice, loyal patients, and money in the bank, I’m not sure what the next 5-10+ years look like yet. Unfortunately, I’ve been so focused to get to the point I’m at right now, that it wasn’t on my mind to keep looking forward. So now I have big decisions to make and hopefully in the next 10 years I just continue to grow my practice and continue to enjoy the happiness that this brings.

Q 12. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

Ans: The company that I admire the most is Target. It has evolved over time to really match their customer’s shopping trends with grocery and fashion. I have always experienced well trained staff and a clean environment. I feel they do an excellent job of turning customers’ every day needs into shopping wants that increase sales with their smart mix of inventory.

Q 13. How important have good employees been to your success?

Ans: Having good employees has been one of my best keys to success. And I’m fortunate to think I have some of the best employees in the world! We try to embrace a culture of working smart and having fun while doing so. And I like to find ways to reward my employees and show my appreciation for them because they are so vital for our success.

Q 14. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

Ans: I am the type of person who needs a lot of information to be able to make a decision. Therefore, when I come up with an idea, I probably need to think on it for a while. But over the years I’ve learned to become what I think is a good decision maker. I often don’t have the time to dally on making decisions, so I’ve learned to make smart choices and trust my gut.

Q 15. What motivates you?

Ans: I’m motivated by making people happy. I love to have my schedule full of patients and be able to really listen to them to solve their needs. And I’m motivated by setting goals and the rewards that come from meeting them. I’m a little bit on the perfectionist side and that motivates me to do a good job with any task at hand.

Q 16. How do you generate new ideas?

Ans: I’ve found my best ways to develop new ideas is through a group brain-storming session. We do this often in my office. We might have a specific topic or a very open theme we are working on and through the collaboration of all the ideas thrown on the table, we’ve often come up with some of our best ideas. It’s rewarding for everyone involved to be a part of the great ideas!

Q 17. How do you build a successful customer base?

Ans: Word of mouth advertising has been our best way to generate new customers. And good word of mouth comes from doing an outstanding job with our current customers. There have been a few times when working with a certain customer has been a challenge or a hassle, but throughout that I always think if I can make that one person happy, they in turn could send 10 new customers my way. It’s not always the fastest way to build a wide customer base, but I think it’s the most lasting way.

Q 18. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Ans: What I love best about owning my own business is that I get to make all the decisions. Some people may find that overwhelming and a burden, but I like the idea that no one can tell me what to do. I don’t have to abide by corporate decisions or have the day to day operations of my company be dictated to me by someone else. Before I opened my business, I worked for a large university clinic and I asked my boss for years if I could paint the walls in my office another color. The answer was always “no.” So, after 4 years of asking the same question and getting the same no answer, I quit to open my own practice where I could paint the walls whatever color I wanted! Ps, the walls are tan.

Q 19. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Ans: My most satisfying moment in business so far has been celebrating our 10 year anniversary. As I was preparing for this milestone, I knew I wanted to do something memorable to mark the occasion. And one day the idea struck me – instead of throwing a grand, expensive party, let’s take that money and donate it to local charities that are doing good work in our community. We decided to celebrate 10 years in business by giving back $10,000 to our community that supports us so well. Every month my staff and I met to listen to charity nominations and discuss who the money should go to. And over the course of giving away $1000 to 10 different charities, I had the opportunity to meet new people and learn about all the fabulous things that our local non-profits are doing. We also had a small party to mark the 10 year occasion and I had the opportunity to truly thank my parents for all of their support. I will never forget the immense sense of accomplishment I felt to celebrate that milestone anniversary.

Q 20. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Ans: I feel like there is a fundamental difference between owning your own business and working for someone else and that is at the end of the day, you pay your employees and your vendors first and if there is any money left over, then you can pay yourself. I think it makes your work harder and try even harder when your business could be on the line and that sense of risk and make-it-or-break-it just isn’t there when you work for someone else.

Q 21. What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?

Ans: My office has a culture of excellence amid a fun experience for both our customers and our staff. As the boss I always tell my staff, “If I’m not stressed, you shouldn’t be stressed. And I’m not stressed.” We deal with a lot of serious things and expensive things, but I don’t want a culture of stress in my office or all the fun is taken out of coming to work. I have aimed to bring this type of culture to my business because I know that if you are happy doing what you do, you will do a better job of it.

Q 22. In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.

Ans: Relentless.

Q 23. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

Ans: If I could start over, one thing I would do differently is try to network with more people when I was young and not be afraid of it. I was always too self-conscious that others wouldn’t want to take the time to talk with me, so I avoided networking. But networking is really just having conversations with people and learning about what they do and how they do it and there is so much knowledge in that. I wish I could have asked so many more people who started their own business in my field about what they did and what they wished they would have done differently. Knowledge is powerful and could have saved me some hassles figuring out the learning curve early on.

Q 24. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

Ans: I think that being an entrepreneur has saved my family life. Being my own boss makes it so that I can choose the hours that I work. I was fortunate to have already spent 7 years in business before having children. Before kids, I used to work over 50 hours per week. After having kids, I work in the office less than 30 hours per week. In many workplaces, these reduced hours would not have been allowed and certainly not at the same salary. However, I am known to say that “I work all the time” since my business is not far from my thoughts at any given moment.

Q 25. How did you decide on the location for your business?

Ans: They always say: location, location, location. However, I arrived at my location only because another location I was trying to secure fell through. But am I ever glad it did! I love my current location: near one of the busiest intersections in town and next to a Starbucks!

Q 26. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Ans: I would say the formula for being a successful entrepreneur is:
1. Treat your employees like family
2. Treat your customers like family
3. Have a positive attitude and a smile on your face
4. Sell quality products and services

Q 27. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

Ans: I don’t seem to have enough time outside of work and raising my young children to devote to hobbies, but recently I’ve found a passion for painting. I have painted 2 large acrylic works for my living room and now want to learn to paint with watercolor for a 3-piece installation I’m dreaming of for over my piano. And speaking of pianos, when I can find even more time, I’d like to take piano lessons again to be able to play songs at the holidays.

Q 28. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Ans: I’ve never had the attitude that I make sacrifices to own my business. I enjoy it so much that it never seems to be a sacrifice to me. But the one thing that has been sacrificed a little is my personal salary. Like I always say, pay your employees and your vendors first and then pay yourself. And of course, at the start of a business the money is tight. So, had I spent my career working for someone else, I may have acquired more money in the bank. But by the end of my career on the path of entrepreneurship, I will have a business to sell that is worth something, instead of just walking away from a desk at a business I never owned.

Q 29. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My dad has been my greatest inspiration as an entrepreneur. My dad had his own dental practice and worked very long, hard hours. But he was a expert at his craft and always treated his patients with the highest level of care and therefore built a very successful business. He retired at a fairly young age and is able to enjoy his life of golf and travel now. I hope to grow my business into the same successful career that my dad had and retire early too!


Company Detail:

Company : McCulley Optix Gallery
Contact : Melissa McCulley
Address : 2553 Kirsten Lane S
City : Fargo
State : ND
Zip : 58104
Phone : 701-373-2020
Email : info@optixgallery.com