Ace & Tate’s remodeled flagship will make you break up with your optician

Amsterdam – Think about your last optical experience. Was it friendly? Warm? Or as the Dutch would say, gezellig? Those may not be the first descriptors you’d think of when it comes to any medical service, but changing that has been the core mission of Amsterdam-based eyewear brand Ace & Tate.

That explains why the brand re-opened its Van Woustraat flagship only three years after its creation. The first Amsterdam location was first opened as a pop-up in June 2015, and has led to the company’s impressive growth with over 35 stand-alone stores in Europe. Now, the company imagines the re-born space, designed by Pepijn Smit of local design studio S-p-a-c-e Projects, as a ‘retail lab’: a place where they can experiment, and enable customers to experience features that may later be incorporated into other stores as they grow. It’s all part of the brand’s evolutionary omnichannel model.

The outside façade of the shop provided a good place to start with the experimentation: it immediately differentiates itself from the environs, putting forth a stark white tiled exterior that contrasts with the beloved red brick Amsterdam is known for.

There’s another point of differentiation: a ‘vending machine’ – really a 24/7 service point for returns – on the street front is powered by a proprietary QR code reading to process the transaction. Eventually, Ace & Tate hopes to extend the feature to offer pick-up for customers who have bought glasses online. Ironically, the Dutch fast-food company Febo is just across the street, well-known since the 1940’s for enabling diners to retrieve their premade meals from similar machines – the team jokes that a collaboration could be in order. 

Inside, the retail area itself is spatially defined by zones of mandarin orange and aquamarine; there are translucent, modular walls that can be moved depending on what the space requires. It allows for relative freedom in merchandising, and allows for modifications if there are events or artist exhibitions held at the store. Colloquialisms – like a smiley face neon sign declaring ‘Hi, Gappie!’ – loosely translated to ‘Hi Dude!’ in Amsterdammer slang – adorn various areas of the shop, designed by Dutch artist Pieter Ceizer. Ceizer also created an installation in the 'natural light courtyard' – the nook with greenery does not carry any product, rather letting customers imagine themselves in a different setting altogether.

A new in-store feature called Lift & Learn is also front and centre: it’s an interactive screen that allows customers to play with information that guides them along the optical process. When you lift a disc, it reveals information about Ace & Tate's services.

We felt that having an eye test at Ace & Tate should almost feel like having a spa treatment

And then there's the eye tests, which are given by appointment in-house and lack none of the medical expertise or equipment needed to deliver a quality product at an agreeable price, something that the company has been celebrated for since its birth. Inside the testing rooms, the experience is devoid of the at-an-arms-length care typical of many opticians, but the aesthetic does depart from the colourful whimsy, opting understandably for a more muted environment. After, customers can select blue-light filtering lenses or same-day service with ease, and flip through the indie magazines scattered throughout the store while they wait.

The value is in the warmth and intimacy from selection to prescription that the brand introduces to an otherwise clinical market

'In the end, it is about the best experience for our customer,’ said Doortje van der Lee, Ace & Tate's retail expansion manager.' We wanted to create an environment where they can receive the best of optical service, but in a non-medical environment – we felt that having an eye test at Ace & Tate should almost feel like having a spa treatment. We've designed the optician spaces accordingly, as places to unwind and relax.'

Ace & Tate also recently opened locations in Munich, London, Bristol, Manchester and Dublin, and has plans for another 20 stores in their existing European market next year…  no matter where the company goes, though, gezellig will certainly have to remain. Its audience relies on it. The value is in the warmth and intimacy from selection to prescription that the brand introduces to an otherwise clinical market – something we all increasingly crave in healthcare.

Berit Burema, Ace & Tate's retail design manager, is on the 2019 Frame Awards jury panel for the retail spatial awards. 

Location Van Woustraat 67, 1074 AD Amsterdam

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