Essex County College
Utenzi Miller marks the third generation of her family dedicated to quality eyewear. Learning the ropes by throwing her heart and soul into her father’s business, Utenzi — a self-confessed workaholic — eventually decided to continue the legacy through her own business, Elegant Eyes.
Celebrating 25 years, Utenzi has made it her mission to help people “discover their eyedentity” with fashionable frames for all budgets. To accomplish this, Utenzi makes it a priority to know her industry inside and out, dedicating herself wholly to her business with a marked passion. After all, Utenzi has a fierce belief that passion is crucial to succeed in any business. That’s a strong piece of advice we can definitely subscribe to.
In business, you always have to keep your composure.
How did you discover your current job?
My job discovered me! Coming from a long line of optical owned businesses, it was a natural progression for me to be in the field.
What is your typical day like, and what types of things do you do in your job?
My days are never consistent. I live by the motto that my schedule's subject to change. The start of my day consists of running through the to do list I've made the night before, store runs, delivery and pick-ups. Once I arrive at my final stop, I review emails and prep the staff for our morning meetings. And I always make time for a quick check in on all of the company's social media sites.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is helping a customer who doesn't like wearing glasses discover that perfect frame. I enjoy seeing them walk out loving their new look. It's them "discovering their Eyedentity."
What challenges keep you awake at night?
A huge challenge is keeping the inventory fresh and up-to-date. Another challenge is finding the balance between stocking stylish, affordable options and luxury lines. We always try to attract new and diverse customers while remaining loyal to our current and long-term ones.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
The biggest personal sacrifice is definitely my personal time. Being a workaholic is a part of my DNA, so I focus a lot of time on my business, whether it's shopping my competition, spending hours reading new articles about the industry or networking to attract new customers. Over the years, there have been dinners and events that I've missed because of my work schedule. But it's all a part of making a business grow and be sustainable. Sometimes I become so consumed with the business that it takes time away from my friends and family.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
When you treat people with respect and dignity, coupled with a great product/service, they come back for generations. Also, in business, you always have to keep your composure.
You’re celebrating the 25-year mark for your family-owned business. What new challenges are you facing today as a small business?
Like all businesses, Elegant Eyes is facing the concern of what people will (and won't) spend their money on. So, it's important to make sure I can meet the needs of any and everyone.
Who are your role models?
My family. My grandparents started in the field over 50 years ago with sheer will and determination. My only hope is that I can continue to build that legacy. I'm really inspired by my mother and grandmother because of their strength and integrity.
What are some of the rules you live by?
There are a few keys to success: wanting it, making it happen, envisioning yourself doing it and then going for it because nothing's impossible!
What advice do you have for women who want to lead a successful small business?
I would advise women wanting to lead a successful business to be passionate. To not give up and never become complacent. To keep pushing, even when you think you can't. Remember, "We are stronger than we know." This is not an easy process or task! Understand that it will take a lot of time and determination. If you want it, you can have it.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now, I see the Elegant Eyes brand in other retailers. I see a few more locations and our "Eye For Style" personal concierge sister company on the upward slope.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I always remind myself of the Maya Angelou quote, "All great achievements require time."