Optician Daniel Schmidt used to need 1,600 square feet of office space to do business. Now all he needs is your living room.
Seated on your couch, the 35- year-old specialist will open a custom-made case filled with hundreds of frames in optical trays. He'll lift his lensometer from a second case and set it on your coffee table to analyze your old glasses. Then he'll take your eye measurements with his pupilometer.
If you'd like to order glasses, he'll get a form and receipt out of a third case, and he'll even do minor repairs for you.
"People are amazed at how well I can take care of them in their home," the Bel Air resident said. "Our patients love this house-call service."
Mr. Schmidt has joined the ranks of beauticians, barbers, auto mechanics and health- and child-care providers who are bringing their services to people's homes.
"In today's society, nearly anything can be mobile," said Maurice Brown, a business consultant with the Maryland Small Business Development Center in Harford County. "We are living in a society of convenience."
Mr. Schmidt's wife, Cynthia, came up with the idea of a "portable business" a few years ago when the couple were living in Baltimore County. Mr. Schmidt was away from home, commuting and working long hours at his retail optical business in Ellicott City.
She suggested that he eliminate the expenses of rent and employee salaries, do his laboratory work at home and see customers in their own homes or offices.
Mr. Schmidt, a master optician, decided to give it a try.
The couple liked Harford County and moved here in early 1993. They closed the Howard County business later that year and set up a base of operations in their new split-level home in Bel Air.
"Unless I'm out on an appointment, I can do my work at various times of day," said Mr. Schmidt, father of Matthew, 11, Michael, 6, and Sarah, 6 months. "This leaves me time for playing with the children, spending time with my wife."
Enthusiastic about fitness, he works out at an athletic club several days a week, enjoys long-distance biking and practices martial arts in his home gym. He's an avid scuba diver and will even make prescription diving masks.
The business, Spectacles Eyecare Services, is headquartered in well-organized office in the basement. That's where Mr. Schmidt does his paperwork; makes all of his own charts, grids and business cards; and designs ads on his computer. All of the lab equipment he needs for lens work, frame work and repairs is in the home's converted garage.
"I work seven days a week from as early as I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night, if needed," Mr. Schmidt said. "This business was designed to be different. It's all about being there when people need you."
Sometimes a new patient will want to meet for the first time at the Schmidts' house. Mr. Schmidt had an appointment recently with Baltimore County resident Nick Burke, who selected a new pair of glasses while his wife, Lisa, and their 1 1/2 -month-old baby, Brittany, sat in a chair nearby.
"I thought, with the baby, it would be a good idea for him to come out to our home," Mr. Burke said. "It's easier that way and more convenient. But I thought it would be better the first time if we met him at his house."
There isn't a shingle hanging outside the house and, while Mr. Schmidt doesn't have regular office hours, he will see an occasional client at his home by appointment. He makes an average of five to 10 house calls in a 70-hour workweek, spending one to 1 1/2 hours at each home.
He does his own labwork, cutting lenses and fitting them into frames; reconstructs broken frames and makes comprehensive lens repairs; and does specialty work in low vision products, such as magnifiers, and produces prescription scuba masks. He also makes regular visits to retirement communities to fill eyeglass prescriptions and make simple repairs.
So far, the business makes a profit and is growing.
"Most patients do take advantage of the free house-call service," he said. I'll come to your home or office and take as much time as you need.
"I can't say necessarily that this is the wave of the future. But if you cut your own niche, you'll build a loyal patient base. People like the convenience and they like the comfort."
Mr. Schmidt went to architect Tom Cooney's Bel Air home at 9:30 one evening to fill a prescription.
"One thing I like about it is that it's more of a personal service," Mr. Cooney said.
"He took his time and answered every question I had. He didn't leave until midnight."