Greg Knuppel: Former Aztec tattoo parlor owner talks about switching careers at 52.

Treat people well: "The customer wants to be taken care of and feel comfortable," Knuppel said. "The number one thing is when you can sit there and let them know that you want to help them out. It makes a big difference. I'm a people person and I love what I'm doing. Making people happy makes me happy too. I see how Cindy does it, and she makes them feel comfortable. To see the smile on their faces ... it's gratifying."

Be flexible: "Important for a family business is that you are flexible," Knuppel said. "It's not a one-sided thing. You've got to be versatile and flexible. I can learn a profession that's going to be good forever. People have got to see. That inspires me to want to try to do more and more. Nobody's perfect, but if you're passionate about what you're doing, you're going to be willing to keep on trying, giving it your all."

Don't stop challenging yourself:It's a big step and a big responsibility to start your own business. I like to give it everything I've got filing, ordering, marking lenses. I don't want to get good at just one thing, that way Cindy can do her thing when she wants take the kids someplace, run errands and I can run the shop. I'm already making glasses, that's just the first step.

Take it one step at a time: "It's about doing things a little bit at a time and not getting caught up," Knuppel said. "There are lots of things I thought were going to be a climb, but I said, 'That's easier than I thought.' But not all of it goes smooth. That's just the reality of doing something new."

Family first: "A lot of parents get caught up in everyday life. I'm fortunate to have my mom and Cindy's mom helping us. I'm so thankful for that," he said. "I worked with propulsion in the Navy and I could have worked in the oil fields, but you are never home. The money's good, but the money's no good when you don't make time for your family. You always have to make time for your family, whether you're having a hard time in the workforce or not."

FLORA VISTA — Although they had seen each other for years picking their kids up at Country Club Elementary School, it wasn't until Cindy Pierce brought her daughter in to Greg Knuppel's Aztec tattoo parlor last year for a piercing that the two connected.

Less than a year later, the newly married Farmington couple work side by side at their family optics business, Shades-N-Specs, in Flora Vista.

"She brought her daughter in to get a piercing. I had that good feeling about her," Knuppel recalled. "We just kind of hit it off."

This summer, Knuppel found himself scrambling to close his tattooing business, The Pierced Buddha, at the Main Avenue location in downtown Aztec he'd had since 2001 after he was given 60 days' notice to vacate by the owner. For Knuppel, the cost of moving his shop to a new location and starting up again was daunting.

Knuppel said he faced a choice — find a new studio for his tattooing business or do something else. That something else was to go to work alongside Pierce.

"I told Cindy, you know, I've been doing this 20 years. This is my opportunity. I can learn a profession that is going to be good forever," he said. "Training with Cindy, it's a good feeling. I've already learned how to make glasses, reading marking cutting out lenses already. It was really a bummer at first, but then I started thinking, 'This is my time.' Cindy and I get along, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity."

Pierce, who worked as an optician at Shades-N-Specs, bought the business in March from former owners, Jim Ford and Sandra Schaack.

"I've worked here for three years, but I've been doing this for almost 20 years," Pierce said.

Pierce has a criminal law degree, but started work in an optician's business after a friend told her about the job. Her first business, Ideal Optical in Farmington, closed after a car crashed through her front window.

"It shut me down, right at my tax time," Pierce recalled. "I was helping my mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I helped her through that, she got better and I was looking to get back to work when Jim and Sandra called and said, 'Hey, would you please come work for us?,' and I came over. They decided to retire this year, made me a deal and I said yes."

The couple, who live in Farmington, have two college-age daughters and two 'tween daughters from former relationships. They home-school their youngest daughters now, an arrangement that they manage with the help of two retired teachers and Knuppel's mother.

Greg Knuppel on Friday talks about the importance of being people-oriented in a job involving customers at Shades-N-Specs Optical in Flora Vista.
Greg Knuppel on Friday talks about the importance of being people-oriented in a job involving customers at Shades-N-Specs Optical in Flora Vista. "It's something that keeps customers coming back," Knuppel said.

While Pierce and Knuppel admit they have a unique arrangement working side-by-side, the couple say their secret to happiness is their friendship with each other, making their new family a priority and making customers happy.

"Cindy and I work so well together, get along so well, we don't ever argue, we just hang out together," Knuppel said. The couple's lab room is stocked with a lot of the comforts of home, including work-out equipment, comfy couches and framed family photos on the walls.

Pierce says her apprentice husband has proven to be a quick study.

"Greg came in and I show him how to use the lensometer and all the lab equipment one time, and he gets it, like that," Pierce said.

Knuppel's new career may not pay as much as work he could do, but for him, money is not the point. Too often, he said, money as a primary focus ruins relationships and businesses alike.

"I worked on propulsion equipment as a machinist's mate in the Navy. I could work out at the power plants if I wanted to, but I'm 52 and I've got a 10-year-old. I just don't want to be away," Knuppel said. "I like working on that stuff, but I see how people's hours are. They're gone all the time and they're burned out. They think about all that money they're making, but the money's not worth it."

In the meantime, Knuppel is focused on becoming a certified optician so he can more ably balance duties at the office.

"I've made about 50 pairs of glasses already. It's gratifying. Did I see this coming? No. But I didn't see tattooing coming, either," Knuppel said. "By me watching how she does it. I'll give myself six months to a year and I'll be a certified optician. I want to learn. I don't want ... to do her lab work back here while she's working with customers up front but I want to be able to do everything to where she can take the girls and go do something and I know what to do. Just to watch her with people up front.

"It's the same thing I was doing with tattooing. I mean, you've got to be good with people. Otherwise you don't have a business. Just the smile on people's faces when they come in gives you that good feeling."

Knuppel said that so much change in less than a year — new family, new career, marriage — might sound like a lot to some, but so far, he's still smiling.

"I couldn't ask for a better apprenticeship because I like it. This is meant to be," Knuppel said. "I'm ready, I love doing this, I see how gratifying it is to Cindy and I get to work with the woman I love. And the bonus — she's my optician."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.