Optometrist Bahr’s plan still works

He owns North Woods Optics in FL


Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Kevin Bahr knows he may have dodged a bullet. As a business owner, he understands it can be unwise to change your business name.

Bahr has done it twice. Now 25 years later, he’s still standing and standing strong at North Woods Optics, 20 N. Lake St. in the Town Square Building.

Dr. Kevin Bahr, center, is flanked by Dr. Dan Solbeck and Dr. Scott Telander who are on staff at Bahr’s North Woods Optics eye clinic in downtown Forest Lake. (Courtesy Photos)

On August 13, Bahr marked the silver anniversary of his optical business and eye clinic on the first floor of the downtown office building. His tenure dates to 1987, making him the third owner of the clinic which started in the late 1940s in the post World War II years when Oscar Van Wirt came to town to open what was then the Forest Lake Optometrical Center.

Dr. John Elverum bought the practice in the 1960s and ran it until 1987 when he sold to Bahr. Bahr continued the practice at Elverum’s location at 1068 S. Lake St. until 1991 when he moved to the Town Square building.

The name change seemed a given, Bahr said, as he transformed Forest Lake Optometrical Center to Town Square Optics. It stayed that way for the next 16 years. It was in 2007 when Bahr greatly expanded his business.

Thanks to larger quarters and a new marketing plan, North Woods Optics was born.

How he Arrived

A Racine, WI, native, Bahr, 53, was completing a four-year advanced degree at the Southern California College of Optometry when he began his search for future business homes.

It was in 1986. Looking at a map of the Twin Cities, Bahr concluded he wanted a location somewhere north of Minneapolis and St. Paul and near a major freeway. His search took him to Forest Lake and its location near the merger of I-35W and I-35E made the area even more appealing.

“I knew I wanted to move back to the Midwest,” he said. “I wanted to hunt and fish. I wanted to be in a growing area. The only problem was there was someone [another optometrist] here.”

With degree in hand, Bahr returned to Minnesota and quickly found work. He split time as a optometrist at clinics in Minneapolis and Cambridge. It was in 1987 when Elverum’s practice came up for sale and Bahr made his move.

It was a gradual transition. He continued his duties in Minneapolis and Cambridge and worked part-time in Forest Lake, trying to push down roots as the new guy in town.

By 1991 he was ready to go full-time. He vacated his office at the Forest Lake Professional Building and moved to Town Square. A year later, he brought on his first full-time doctor and now has added a second.

“We have just steadily grown,” Bahr said of his practice.

Bahr’s Success

Bahr knows there is some wisdom to the business no-no of never changing your business name. Customers and clients need to know where you are and they need to identify with your name. He understood that he would need to tread carefully when making a major change.

He believes he has passed the test.

“It was an important move to the downtown because I became more visible,” he said of the Town Square move. The change to Town Square Optics was a natural, he said.

This huge moose greets patients at North Woods Optics, 20 N. Lake St. in the Town Square Building. A wise owl also looks on near the visitor entry point to the clinic. (Photo submitted)

None of Bahr’s moves have been knee-jerk. In fact, he says, the changes have followed a marketing plan that flows with his early desire to own a business in the north metro.

When he purchased the north end space of the lower level Town Square complex, it became a perfect location for his optical division where eyeglasses are fitted and inventory is displayed.

He has retrofitted the entire office space to reflect a north woods theme, complete with a life-sized moose, an old wise owl and other woodsy subjects. He believes he has created a warm and pleasing theme that patients like to visit.

“We see a lot of kids here,” he says.

He also takes pride in delivering personal attention to patients in a way that makes patients feel assured they are valued by the eye clinic staff.

“We are spending more time with people giving them our full attention,” Bahr said.

The patient pledge at North Woods optics is simple and straight forward. “You’ll get my best,” Bahr said. “People want full-time with their doctor.”

It’s been that way for 25 years and even with business name changes, that’s one thing that’s not about to change, Bahr says.