While much has changed in the optical industry over the last 82 years, one thing has not changed at Wahl Optical in Council Bluff: The focus on outstanding customer service.
Dr. G.F. Wahl, the father of the current owner, Bob Wahl, established Wahl Optical in 1937. Bob Wahl took over the business from his father in 1990.
“We are passionate about our patients’ experience at Wahl Optical,” Bob Wahl said. “Our motto is ‘Good is not good enough.”
Although he assumed management of the firm in 1990, Bob Wahl has been associated with the firm since childhood.
“I was heavily involved in athletics as a youngster, and I was very competitive. When my performance didn’t meet my own expectations, my glasses would often get thrown down. Since I broke them, Dad would insist that I repair them; so I learned early,” Wahl said.
“When I got out of Thomas Jefferson High School in 1974, I got a job with the railroad,” he said. Two years later, he was laid off.
“I came to my father’s business to fix my glasses,” Wahl recalled. “Then I started answering the phones and did repairs for other people.”
The elder Wahl — who had been accustomed to doing all the business’s necessary tasks himself — realized that by having his son work in the shop, he could devote more time to other services — like performing eye examinations. The rest, as they say, is history.
“He asked me to stay. I already had 20 years of experience fixing my own glasses,” Wahl said. “I think the best training is by learning on the job. You have to understand what your patients want and then adjust to what fits their needs. You have to learn to listen and to ask the right questions.”
Wahl said he and his staff just returned from the Vision Expo in Las Vegas, an event that he attends annually.
“It gives us an opportunity to get updated on the latest technology along with seeing the newest eye ware styles for 2020,” he said. “With today’s technology and proper fitting of the glasses for the individual, if should be an awesome experience. And with the new frame styles, customers can find something that really fits their personality.”
In terms of technology, he said that the equipment used today by opticians does 80% of the work, leading to a more accurate patient examination.
Being a family operated business, I get to know our patients, he said. That knowledge helps us fill our patients’ needs in the best way.
“Patients need to understand that the wrong lenses or cheap quality lenses can not only cause eye strain but also be related to neck and back pain,” Wahl said.
“Our goal is always to give customers the best quality glasses at the most reasonable price,” he said. “That way we can keep you as a customer for life even if you move. A lot of our customers who lived in the Council Bluffs area and are now from other cities and states come back to see us when they come here for vacations or to visit relatives or friends.”
Late last year, Wahl Optical moved from its long-time location at 201 West Broadway to 204 S. 35th Street, next to the U.P. Connection Federal Credit Union. At the time of the move, Wahl said he purchased a lot of new technology to enhance the services the company offers.
Lens technology has change immensely since Wahl began wearing glasses as a boy — glasses with lenses he described as being made of glass and thick as pop bottles.
“Guys would joke we could start a campfire with them,” he said. “And, being glass, they were dangerous.”
But like so much in today’s world, lenses evolved over the years. In the 70s, plastic lenses because popular but were easily scratched. They were followed by scratch-proof plastic lenses. The downfall of the scratch-proof lenses was their thickness.
Polycarbon lenses were durable but not as clear as glass or plastic. Today’s high index plastic lenses are thin and have good clarity. At the same time, bifocals have evolved from lenses that show the increased-magnification area to no-line lenses that now have a much increased reading area.
All lenses, Wahl said, have been revolutionized by digital technology, with today’s lenses being far more accurate than those ground just a few short years ago. He added that the digital lenses are easy to get accustomed to.
“Most people can put their new lens on and adapt right away,” Wahl said.
A long-time athlete himself as well as a coach and sponsor of athletics, he said an athlete’s eyesight is the most important equipment they have.
“Being sports minded, we at Wahl Optical want to enhance your game,” he added.
Wahl is quick to note that he is extremely competitive by nature, a trait that drives him in the business world. His involvement with youth sports allowed him to share that competitiveness with younger people he worked with.
“I think I brought a lot of competitiveness out in people,” he said. “I think sports and the competitiveness of sports builds traits that are key to being successful. Many of the young people I’ve worked with have gone on with that win-all attitude to be very successful in business.”
“For me, that competitiveness drives me to provide you with the best possible experience at our firm. We have more frames than any other store in town and two top opticians,” he said.
That drive keeps Wahl Optical at or near the top in the annual Daily Nonpareil Readers’ Choice awards.
“It gives us great pleasure to thank people for allowing us to serve them for the past 82 years,” Wahl said.