Conor Heaney

Styling Optician Has Sights Set on Future Growth

Conor Heaney of city-centre based Jones And Co. Styling Opticians has his sights set on future growth as he celebrates seven years at the helm of the practice. And the UMIST trained optician is relishing the challenge of taking on the likes of Specsavers as his £900k turnover business continues on its upward trajectory.

Over 50% of the population require glasses and in the extremely competitive industry of opticians there is one almighty Goliath. Specsavers spend over £25 million annually on advertising in the UK (UK Optical Goods Retailing Report 2015, Mintel). They have recently trade marked the words “should’ve” to protect their advertising slogan “Should’ve gone to Specsavers.” Almost every year they are voted the most trusted optician in the UK in The Readers Digest Most Trusted Brand survey. Over 750 stores in the UK alone. Worldwide they have more than 1750 stores in 10 different countries.

As a result of Specsavers dominance successful independent opticians like Jones And Co. are fading from the high street. Over the last 20 years the market share of independent opticians has dropped from 70% to less than 20% with practices closing at a rate of 300 per year. The most recent Optical Goods Retailing Report (2015) from Mintel shows that the chains Specsavers, Boots Opticians and Vision Express have 70% of the market, supermarket opticians and online make up 15% and independent practices have plummeted to 15% and this figure is falling.

Jones And Co. however has bucked this trend. Housed in the Grade two listed Bank of England building at 82 King Street the practice looks like no other opticians. With a highly polished parquet floor, freshly cut flowers, the aroma of delicious coffee and the strains of smooth jazz, customers may feel they have stepped into a couturier or plush hotel when they visit, rather than a place to have their eyes tested or to purchase new eyewear. This blend of style and optometry in a unique setting have been the instrumental factors in building up a thriving business that is now one of the most successful independent practices in the country.

Conor’s secrets to success have been revealed as an approach to optometry more likely to be implemented by the likes of brands such as Apple or Audi. Visits to the practice are by appointment only as expected from other professional services suppliers such as lawyers or accountants. The range of eyewear on display is kept deliberately small. Less than a dozen pairs are on display at any time as each visitor is treated to a unique eyewear consultation which involves the dispensing opticians bringing into play only those handpicked frames that they know will suit the lifestyle, prescription and style of the individual client.

The worrying disappearance of independents is what encouraged Conor to offer his guidance to other independent opticians. He now is coach and advisor to 45 independent opticians across the UK.

“The consultancy is a passion of mine,” say Conor. “I want independent opticians to thrive and by sharing my experiences I can help them to grow by offering something different to their customers.”

He hosts an annual conference in Manchester to bring them together to share ideas and best practice in the competitive world of optical retailing combined with a in-depth behind the scenes tour of his practice.

“Over the years I realised that the thing our customers found most frustrating was the process of choosing glasses. If you wear glasses you’ll know choosing the right pair is like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why I set out to offer a different approach. We really ramped up the level of professional expertise we give and we guide our clients through the process of choosing glasses. Staring at a wall of glasses is not the best way to choose glasses. In fact, it is possibly the worst way. Choosing the right eyewear is a very individual decision and it requires expertise. We work by consultation to give our clients the benefit of our insider knowledge and know-how.”

“At Jones And Co. we travel to Antwerp, Munich, Milan, Paris and Copenhagen to source the world’s best eyewear. And that means we can offer clients glasses that they won’t find in other opticians. Something that gives them a unique, individual look. Glasses they will actually enjoy wearing”

As someone who champions independent businesses Conor is a big believer in personal service.

“The big businesses, the chains, the shops that have clones in every town, give you nothing more than a one-night stand. You’re just a number to them. Just a transaction. And tomorrow they’re on to the next customer. They’re not interested in commitment. They’re not interested in falling in love. That’s what the real strength of independent businesses is today. They can build a relationship with you. Give you a personalized experience. Treat you like an individual and give you advice that is tailored to you. They get to know you a little. Discover your preferences. They can even try and make your day whenever you visit. This is what being independent should be all about. There should be passion. Excitement. Even love.”

This ethos, while it may sound a little soppy, is attracting record numbers who want to be treated as an individuals and who are looking for something different. Conor’s practice and approach is very much bucking the trend.

Conor is the author of “The Definitive Guide To Choosing Glasses That Make You Look Good.” Readers can request a free copy of this book by visiting www.jonesand.co.uk.

0161 834 7798

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