Answering the front door, a client encounters Cheryl Shuman, traveling optician. She is surrounded by three large tapestry suitcases that in another era might have been called carpetbags. These modern versions have a Jordache label. Her handbag is by Louis Vuitton. The red snakeskin Alain Mikli specs she wears are exceedingly chic.
After a few moments indoors, Shuman's bags are open, revealing about 500 of the more than 3,700 eyeglasses frames in her entire Personal Eyes Optique collection.
From there, the meeting proceeds much like a visit to any optician's office. She measures, chats, remeasures and adjusts the frames. She offers various styles, nixes some, nods at others. It's easy to forget that one is sitting in the comfort of home.
"My clients are busy people," explains the optician, "who can't always afford the time to go to a retail store. So I go to the home or office."
Once a manager of an Encino optical boutique, Shuman says she has framed rock stars Michael and Marlon Jackson and Elton John. Shirley MacLaine will wear Shuman's glasses in her autobiographical film "Out on a Limb." Barbara Eden is a steady customer.
"My clients are wealthy or on their way to being wealthy," she states, "but my prices are 20% less than I would have to charge if I had a retail space. The customer saves and I can afford more stock."
Shuman says she once had a career as a professional saver. A millionaire by age 22, the former Cheryl Peart built her first career as the "Coupon Queen" on a nationally syndicated television program. She also toured the lecture circuit on clipping coupons and wrote a syndicated newspaper column and a book, "The Beginner's Guide to Successful Couponing and Refunding."
Needed a New Career
After a near-fatal automobile crash in 1983, her television segment was canceled, her lecture tours and columns fizzled, her marriage failed and several plastic surgeries had drained her bank account.
"I knew I had the choice of giving up or trying a new career," Shuman recalls.
Having apprenticed with an optician in her hometown of London, Ohio, she completed her studies, became a licensed dispensing optician and started her life over in Los Angeles. She married KNBC-TV newsman Phil Shuman and started her own business.
In addition to her list of clients, she eventually outfitted most of the local NBC newsroom in spectacles. Weatherman Fritz Coleman's signature horn rims are from Shuman's collection, as well as the Day-Glo styles he wears in his nightclub comedy act.
Those styles are atypical of her trendier frames. Most men, she says, choose conservative Dunhill ("The Cary Grant style"), Polo or Gucci eyewear. Younger men have been asking for the frames Bruce Willis wears on "Moonlighting," frames Shuman describes as the Dobbs-II by eyewear designer Robert LaRoche.
"Women are more adventurous and extravagant with their eyewear," Shuman observes. "Some have 30 or 40 pairs. Women tend to view eyeglasses as jewelry--an important accessory."
Shuman hand-tints the lenses of the spectacles she sells, using many of the same techniques a makeup artist uses on the eye area.
"I can make cheekbones look higher, blue eyes bluer, the whites whiter--or I can do a dramatic look that's very much like sophisticated eye makeup," she explains.
Snakeskin, handcarved buffalo horn, real and simulated woodgrains, marbleized plastic and touches of solid gold are some of the fashion finishes Shuman pulls out of her Jordache bags. There are rhinestone-studded frames, pearly ones and plain ones. Right now, the plainer, the better. One of her current best sellers, she says, is a very simple model by Calvin Klein, detailed only by a fine wire rim in silver or gold.
Some clients prefer a bit more flair, however.
For the wife of a Los Angeles attorney, Shuman designed an 18-karat-gold frame studded with diamonds and emeralds. Price: $14,000. Most frames, she says, are ready in less than a week, or in a day if necessary.
Her $14,000 one-of-a-kind sale notwithstanding, Shuman says a visit to a client's home results in an average sale of $950 for three pairs of glasses. Working with three to four clients a day, Shuman claims her San Fernando Valley-based business grossed $85,000 in its first six months. Heading into her second year, the 27-year-old entrepreneur will increase her sales force by adding traveling opticians based in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach.
She still, however, admits to clipping coupons:
"I still go to Hughes on Double Coupon Day, and last week I saved $25."