Community Service, Lava Lamps and Petula Clark

A Conversation with Optometrist Diane Wallach

by Beth Hester

Optometrist Diane Wallach, is owner of Selden Optometry in downtown Norfolk, a comprehensive optometric practice. Witty and relaxed, her practice’s calm and modern interior design creates a welcoming atmosphere for patients of all ages.

A native of Dublin, Virginia, she’s a graduate of William & Mary, and the New England College of Optometry. Wallach is a long-time member of the service-oriented Rotary Club of Norfolk, which provides a home base for much of her volunteer work.

We recently caught up with Dr. Wallach to discuss entrepreneurship, non-traditional marketing strategies, and dinner party guests.

CoVaBIZ: How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance as a solo business owner, and what strategies do you use to stay energized?
Dr. Diane Wallach: My first child was born within a year of owning a business, so I have had to make adjustments constantly since then, including making sure I picked them up from school once a week to assuage my working mommy guilt. I am extremely fortunate to have a true partner in life and work in my husband of 25 years. We both work hard, but prioritize being there for our kids, and taking at least one vacation a year.

I have been involved in community service since high school, so being a Rotarian allows me to fulfill this need to contribute. Working out, walking, biking, hiking are activities which give my mind and body a chance to stay healthy to best live and work.

In your Rotary Club bio, you said that as a youth you dreamed of perhaps becoming a forest ranger (among other career options). Why pre-med instead of the Forest Service?
Wow, people actually read those online things?! Yes, I have always loved the outdoors and plants, and thought it would be awesome to work outside, but I felt a much stronger pull to serve and better people’s lives medically. I was a very well rounded biology major.

Are there any unconventional or non-traditional approaches or strategies you’ve implemented in your business that have yielded positive results?
Probably the best ROI and marketing strategy I have organized—beginning in about 2007 and continued until today —is the A-frame sign I produced that’s on display outside my office. Being in downtown Norfolk, we have a lot of pedestrian traffic, so potential patients just stroll by on their way to lunch. It gives me the opportunity to be quite creative and witty while promoting my business. I know it is very analog, but it has worked remarkably well over the years. My most memorable sign was a picture of Sarah Palin with the words “You do not have to agree with her politics to love her glasses style.”

Can you recall a time when you took a significant risk in your business that ultimately led to greater opportunities or success? How do you view risk taking?
Isn’t buying a business at 28 years old risky enough? I never intended to work solo, it is just the opportunity which arose. It was really intimidating, and lots of hard work, including a stint moonlighting at a high-security prison that needed optometry services.

Please share an example of a challenge you faced along your business journey and what you learned from that experience?
Um, let me think, what challenge has there been in the past 4 years…I know it was something mind-blowing…oh, yeah, the pandemic! The world was shutting down, and there was no guidance from our professional organizations or the government as to when and how you should shut your office. I agonized over when to close, and it was the weirdest, toughest business decision I will probably ever make. Close down for the “magical” two weeks? And then extend it indefinitely? As I sat at home, unable to work remotely at my profession, I found peace in the spring weather, the resilience of my neighbors, and in my very happy dog. I learned that we can survive and even prosper through absolutely inconceivable adversity.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs looking to establish a business?
Believe in yourself and your business and shamelessly plug it when the opportunity arises; remember to have fun – at work and afterwards; the buck stops with you, so sometimes you will have to kill the roach or mop sewage or make deliveries after hours.

What is the most unusual or unexpected item on your home or office desk, and is there a story behind it?
I have a lava lamp on my home desk. Growing up, my grandmother had a lava lamp always on at her house, and I was simply entranced by it at every visit.

If your business had a theme song, what would it be, and how does it capture the essence of your business?
Downtown by Petula Clark – you know “Downtown, where all the lights are bright” especially the refrain “And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you.” Selden Optometry has always had downtown style, and we are always here to help.

If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to a dinner party with you, your family and your team, who would you choose and why?
Only three, that is a tough one. Barbara Kingsolver. I admire her style of writing, subject matter, and work ethic and would like to be her student. Barack and Michelle Obama, (they are a couple, so they count as one). It would be fascinating to discuss their historical journey and their views of our current society. Robin Williams. He was a comic genius and would make us all think and laugh simultaneously.

What is your favorite digital or analog productivity tool?
It is awesome to be able to order all of our products online and to browse online catalogs. Twenty years ago, so much time was spent calling and being put on hold.

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