Franchising Gave This Entrepreneur a Fresh Start -- and a Chance to Embrace New Technologies

Yousuf Ali had a successful career in marketing until he failed to embrace new technologies. Now, as a My Eyelab franchisee, embracing forward-thinking capabilities is the key to his success.
Franchising Gave This Entrepreneur a Fresh Start -- and a Chance to Embrace New Technologies
Image credit: Courtesy of My Eyelab
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This story appears in the April 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Every industry can be disrupted — and Yousuf Ali knows that well. He spent decades as an old-school marketer, until he got outmoded by new digital tools. That’s why, as he sought a career in franchising, he decided to bet on a forward-thinking brand that embraced new technologies. My Eyelab fit the bill. It has 108 locations across the United States, sells eyeglasses, and uses telehealth technologies to give customers easy access to eye exams and prescriptions. Ali appreciated that My Eyelab was fusing tried-and-true retail with innovative technology, and now he’s going all in: After opening his first location in 2019 in Irving, Texas, he recently opened a second shop in nearby Lewisville, with three more storefronts in the works.

You spent 20 years in marketing before becoming a franchisee. Why make the switch?

I mostly worked with B2B clients, consulting on direct or snail-mail marketing. We were very successful. But in 2009, when social media started to really hit, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I thought it was temporary, something that wouldn’t catch on. And I was wrong. We started seeing companies move their budgets to support social media marketing, and by then, I’d missed the boat. I failed to evolve.

Related: This Family of Tropical Smoothie Cafe Franchisees Is Using Their Business to Build Community

So how did you end up as a My Eyelab franchisee?

Franchising felt less risky than building something from the ground up, so I attended various franchise trade shows to see what was out there. My Eyelab appealed because it is technology-­based. They’re one of the first brands to use telehealth to connect their retail customers with doctors, and I saw a future there. I didn’t want to repeat my past mistakes by ignoring new technologies.

Image Credit: Courtesy of My Eyelab

What’s been the biggest learning curve with this transition?

Having spent my career in B2B, I was used to the luxury of time — spending hours and hours getting to know clients. In the B2C world, customer service is different. You have to do it well, but you have to do it fast. For the first few months, my sales associates would come to me and say, “You spent so much time talking to that one customer; I serviced three while you were chatting.” They told me to either speed up or take a step back and let them lead — which is what I’ve done. We recruited a lot of our associates from customer-­facing industries like food service so that they would come in with that expertise.

Related: Why This Oakland Cop Became a Subway Franchisee

Has that freed you up to focus on growth?

We just opened our second location in February, a third will open in April, and we have two more in development. When the pandemic hit, we did slow down a bit. But by June or July — because of our telehealth capabilities — we saw business picking up, and we felt confident in our product, the brand, and the economy. Plus, the corporate office handles the critical responsibilities of actually producing customers’ prescriptions and managing a centralized call center. That helps give us the space to keep moving forward.

Have you learned to embrace social media in this new career chapter?

We do a lot of social media! We even recruited a manager to focus on all our social media marketing. I still have faith in direct mail — but social media helps us reach customers, too.

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