Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shop serving visually impaired customers gets help

For any retailer, location is a huge factor. But for Lesa Berg Kretschmer of Florida Reading & Vision Center, there is an added challenge, the ease with which her customers could get to her store. That's because her customers are visually impaired or blind.

So Kretschmer moved her shop inside the Lighthouse of Broward, a Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here.-based nonprofit educational and rehabilitation agency that assists visually impaired or blind children and adults. "It was hard to identify our customers," said Kretschmer. "They're not driving by to see us." In the past, many of the agency's clients would go on to Kretschmer's old shop about a mile away – if they were able to arrange a ride.

Now agency clients can take a short walk down a hallway to explore Kretschmer's store for vision aids such as desktop magnifiers, big-button telephones, large print playing cards; talking watches and thermometers, Braille products, canes and games. In addition, customers can buy computer-based technology products like screen reader software, global positioning systems, PDAs and notetakers.

Writing a check, reading ingredients and viewing prescription bottles are difficult for those visually impaired. But John B. Deinhardt of Pompano Beach has maintained some independence with vision-assistance products he's purchased through Kretschmer. He is legally blind and makes his way through his apartment with the help of a cane. He's able to read and write and watch television because of screen magnification enhancements, computer software and lighting.

"I'm grateful for the help of technology," said Deinhardt. "I enjoy Kretschmer and her shop, and I depend on her a lot."Kretschmer and her sales representatives stay in touch with customers by phone or visits in their homes. She follows up on how customers are handling their equipment and keeps them informed about new products.Initially, Kretschmer entered the industry working for a company that made spectacles for low-vision clients.

"But it opened a door, and I became passionate about it," she said. "I have the ability to change peoples lives." When she was ready to start her own business, staying in touch with clients, manufacturers and distributors paid off. She sent out postcards announcing her business to friends, family and "everyone I could think of," said Kretschmer.

In the first year sales were more than $300,000. The second and third year sales doubled and now hover at $1.5 million. Kretschmer's business has grown through her participation in health fairs, referrals and testimonials. Five sales representatives work throughout Florida. A keen understanding of trends helps Kretschmer keep pace with the industry, she said. There is more competition than when she started.

There is new research and development and market growth in Braille and speech synthesis.Even though Kretschmer has found an easier path to her customers, she also looks for new business through networking, chamber events, community involvement and customer service."I love that she relocated in the Lighthouse," said Larry Llerena. He has retinal pigmatosis, or RP, and has lost his peripheral and night vision.

His condition is affected by lighting so he relies on a specialty lightbulb. "Kretschmer's value is immense," Llerena said. "The store has great stuff for people." Though Llerena lives in Coral Springs, the shop is easier than ever for him to get to — he's a volunteer at the Lighthouse.

Cindy Kent can be reached at or 954-356-4662.


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