DEC, DEZ and DES
- October 2004: Formed The Dry Eye Company LLC
- February 2005: Launched dryeyezone.com
- June 2005: Launched dryeyeshop.com
When did it really begin?
July 20, 2001. That's when I had LASIK. Here's that story in case you're interested.
There's a lot of important stuff I've forgotten, but I remember plenty of the boring things - like the search for really good ecommerce software.
It was 2005. We didn't have the amazing platforms that are available now that allow you to get a business up and running in about 45 seconds. I am - or rather was at the time - a bit of a database nerd and so I was looking for some really good software. Looking back, I'm so grateful that I happened across the right platform for us. It was called Nexternal (part of TrueCommerce now) and although using it was a lot of hard work, that platform stayed alive *and* was able to do everything we needed for well over ten years. Upgrading to Shopify in 2017-18 was an adventure of another color.
I remember my brother doing a lot of artwork for us - both for the products, and for the site.
In fact, you know those stickers we put on the boxes with the teardrop logo and the phone number? We've only ever made one change to them over the years, and that was to put the phone number in numbers, rather than letters. This feels a bit archaic now (rotary-phone-reminiscent) but we chose a custom toll-free number and printed it on the stickers as 1-877-MY DRY EYES.
It seems such a long time ago now. I actually remember much more about starting the Dry Eye Zone (DEZ) than the Dry Eye Shop. DEZ was a patient information center and forum which I created and ran in parallel with the Dry Eye Shop all the way up to 2018 when I finally decided to create a 'proper' 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (the Dry Eye Foundation).
Picking a partner, setting up a stockroom, facing my flaws
At some point while expecting the first shipment of products, there was the question of physical premises.
When I started the company I brought in a dear dry eye friend, Cindy, as partner. Looking back, I think I was enthusiastic but kind of nuts at the time and didn't know what I wanted and most certainly did not know how to be a partner, though we were very close as friends. Incidentally, I also didn't really know how to run a business, a deficiency I had to work very hard to remedy - and then only partially - in later years! One of my least favorite memories of this business history is what I put Cindy through by realizing too late that I was not cut out, or at least not ready, for a partnership at that time and proceeding to make a hasty and ungracious exit. Sigh. The things we would change about our younger selves if we could!
Anyway, before that came apart, we had briefly housed and shipped the products from an excellent unused space in her husband's business premises in Michigan. Then we shifted gears and sent it all down to Florida where I was living. I rented some business space in a strip mall in North Tampa and suddenly found myself commuting. My husband looked after stock and packed orders, while I spent my time researching, running Dry Eye Zone and talking to fellow patients.
Atlanta, spring 2005
It's so funny to look back on these things! Cindy and I were in the exhibit hall at SECO (an optometry event) in Atlanta that year, featuring Dwelle, Dakrina and NutraTear. Exhibiting at these things is so expensive. Somehow we scraped through on a shoestring with some cheap equipment and a nice vinyl banner.
Dry eye exhibits were a rarity in those days - anybody who had something for dry eye was sought out by a lot of doctors. I remember Jeff Gilbard manning his Theratears exhibit - this was four years before his untimely death in 2009.
SECO is also where Cindy met Suzanne from Eye Eco - a neophyte company at the time in the early stages of launching Tranquileyes, long before anyone else was thinking of moisture goggles for dry eye! We ended up stocking Tranquileyes within the year. Eye Eco is the company that would go on to create Onyix and Quartz silicone shields some years later, then EyeSeals, and later several more warm moist heating products.
Dr Holly's Drops
You can read more about this story here if you want - I wrote about it way back in 2006 and left the story sitting there on DEZ.
Probably very few people know that I actually started the Dry Eye Shop to get some very special dry eye drops back into production. I saw it as a parallel project: on the one hand, 'rescuing' Dr Holly's drops from obscurity (I look back and laugh at my own optimism or arrogance or whatever it was - I did not have a fraction of the knowledge or resources to succeed at this) and on the other hand creating a way to support myself so that I could dedicate as much time as possible to the Dry Eye Zone, advocacy and education efforts.
It all actually worked out that way *except* for the drops part. I mean, I did manage to keep the drops going for a few years, but it became unsustainable and I was heartbroken when it was over. Thankfully, by then, the shop had outgrown drops and moved on to many other things, so the demise of the drops didn't mean the demise of the shop.
But what great drops they were!
Dwelle, Dakrina and NutraTear
Dwelle was the basic formulation. For severe symptoms, and for RCE, I really do feel it was the best OTC drop ever made.
Dakrina was Dwelle plus Vitamin A. Dakrina was the first drop that helped me sleep through the night without taping my lids down when I was pregnant and extremely dry in 2002 in London. Dr Holly was getting the drops made in a compounding pharmacy in Texas and sending them to me in England. Whatever the ethics of that, I figure we're probably way past the statute of limitations and I was so terribly grateful to him.
Trying to figure out how to market them was challenging because Dwelle and Dakrina were so similar. But Dakrina seemed a little less viscous. So I decided to differentiate them by night time and daytime use. I remember our product slogan - on brochures, postcards and the big banner we had at SECO, all my brother John's artwork - was "The difference is night and day." It's not like I knew what I was doing, but it was fun anyway.
NutraTear, though, was my true love. You probably can't see it in the picture but it says "The remarkably red eyedrop". Best artificial tear ever made, for general use. The red color was from Vitamin B12.
Sigh. Those were the days.
I really, really miss those drops. When I started wearing scleral lenses, I found NutraTear to be the only drop I could tolerate over the top and it did an amazing job of lubricating without irritating the lids or mucking up the surface of the lens.
To be continued....