Diary of a spectacle designer
Author: Tom Davies
I hold open days at my factory every few months when opticians visit from all over the world. Today I’ve had 20 of my best accounts from the Netherlands. Last week I had 240 opticians from the UK. The open days are my greatest joy and I love sharing my passion with customers. Since talk of eyewear is all but banned at home, optician visitors are a real treat for me.
I particularly love sharing the creative process and often coach opticians to create acetate materials as well as designing glasses. I’m no longer surprised at the creativity of many of the delegates, but my ‘students’ are generally amazed at what they can create.
One of the reasons why I’m writing this today is to tell you about the design of the eyewear you dispense. This begins with staring at a blank piece of paper – a moment that is exhilarating and distressing all at the same time. You can create anything. But what if what you create is terrible?
At the start of this year I was about to launch my largest ever collection. I’ve been releasing frames since 2002 and although I still feel like a start-up business, I must confess my landscape has changed somewhat. But I still design every frame in the collection myself.There are many things I must do in this business other than frame design, but none more important.
I sell to 1,500 opticians around the world with 24 sales agents, so there are many people giving me advice and opinions on what should be in my next collection and I’ve only recently learnt that I can’t please everyone.
My usual strategy has been to drip out new styles every month. This is a strategy without too much risk because if the release is not well received, another small update is only a few weeks away. If the reaction is good, I can build on it later in the year.
But I decided to change it this year and went for two major launches. It is certainly easier to produce two collections but more importantly, the collection makes more visual sense when showing to customers.
Once I’ve launched a new collection, there is a period of calm. I’m expecting a boost in sales after the release, but I try not to think about it too much. January’s launch went off like a rocket and although I was very happy, it’s the sell through that is key.
I waited nervously. The sales teams around the world trumpeted ‘the best collection ever’ and then the sell through started in March. It worked and the company enjoyed its biggest growth in six years.
I enjoyed a good four months of feeling smug. I walked taller around the trade shows (which I also normally don’t like as there are too many fantastic frames I don’t want to look at) and I decided to go with another large launch in July.
It’s now June. We’ve had a slow month... a very slow month. And the questions start. Was it collection fatigue? Do I need to go back to launching monthly? Should I have launched two collections instead of one big one? The fear starts creeping in. Concerned phone calls to my sales reps in Asia, America and… well, everywhere. No one seems too worried. But I am.
I’ve got my new collection coming out next month and if it’s not liked. I’m going to have trouble. One of my staff heard me talking to an optician at my factory bar as I explained why I was stressed. ‘Should I be worried about my job?’ said my factory worker.
Damn… got to watch my mouth after a few G&Ts I thought. I simply told him: ‘I’ve been one bad collection away from disaster for 18 years. Don’t worry about it.’ I think that’s true for most eyewear brands. But you are unlikely to hear any of us saying this on social media.
As the years roll by, the company gets bigger and the stakes get higher. I remind myself that the death of an eyewear brand is when the person in my shoes loses their nerve and puts out the same old formula too many times. But at the same time, you can’t reinvent yourself every six months.
So, my new collection will be finished in a few weeks. My reps will have it next month and all being well, I’ll see you in September at my factory for a tour and a G&T to toast another success.