Viewpoint: Diary of a spectacle designer
Author: Tom Davies
I’m the sort of person who likes to be out in the thick of it. These last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to go on holiday. Holiday - what a lovely word. Something one took for granted for years and yet has become such a rare and precious thing, not to mention logistically near impossible. Yet. here I am in Germany on holiday.
I say holiday but staying at your parents in law is hardly Ibiza but there is lots of wine, beer, a sauna and sleep. Only…after a week of rest, I started to get a bit restless.
‘Darling [I never call my wife darling, this is just for effect], I’m thinking of going to visit a few German eyewear factories and also catching up with my regional sales team, you know, since it's so hard to travel these days, might as well steal a few days’. I floated this idea over a nice breakfast and, to my surprise, three days later I’m on an InterCity Express train heading to the southern part of Germany. It's a very nice part of the world.
My destination is Passau, a wonderland chocolate box medieval town nestled on a river with views to the Alps and some marvellous five star hotels, well placed within the area of Germany where all the eyewear is produced. It’s worth mentioning at this point I did try to bring my family with me but they refused to come.
To be back in a hotel was fantastic. I had got to a point in my life where I hated hotels. I’d seen too many in my time and I derived no joy from them anymore. But here I was, in an actual hotel. Oh the bliss. This one had a jacuzzi bath on my balcony.
The first morning I had an actual business meeting with a company that repairs frames. There are two big companies in Germany that do most of the country's frame repairs and I wanted to work with one of them as a logistics partner for the EU. What I didn’t know until now is that, in Germany, for £16 you can get any frame, including titanium, welded and re-plated in any colour.
I started setting up my new EU business the week before I left for holiday. Bespoke frames stuck in customs are no fun for anyone and the resulting delays in logistics have killed off around 50% of my European business. Much easier to sell my frames to myself, import them to my new EU business and back again. But £16 to repair virtually any frame? That's less than the postage I’m paying to and from Germany. 24 hour turnaround? I’m not just talking about laminating an acetate frame split or replacing a spring hinge here. These guys are welding together pure titanium frames and re-plating them, re-lasering them and shipping them 24 hours later.
I was incredibly impressed with both the factories I saw. I took trays of glasses out of my sales guys’ collection to show the factories the kind of repairs they might need to make. Opening sales trays and presenting them, I’d not done that for 16 months. It felt good.
Back in the UK, my repair speed has been at best two weeks. Opticians in Germany are getting frames back repaired like new in two days. Four days if it’s Denmark or similar. With a service level like that at this low price, a conversation with a customer about a broken frame being ‘like that when I opened the box’ is a lot easier to have.
I spent yesterday afternoon with my sales team. It was a life elixir. I loved it. Talking about frames, talking about the new brands we are launching, showing off new functions on our website. I’d never felt so alive. Joyous. Exhilarating. After my reps left, I sat with a jug of beer in the funny fizzing bath on the balcony and I called my dad. I said ‘I’m Tom Davies and I love it’. I thought he’d be one of the few people who would understand what I meant. ‘I know you are, son’, he replied. Oh well.
As I travel back to north Germany on the train, I’ve been replanning my factory layout. I’ve looked at new laser welding machines. I’ve written a brief for my programmers to make changes to the new repair service that we are about to launch. New target - two days!
As positive reports about Covid fill the press, do we dare dream this is all over? Are we returning to a normal way of life? Will that include trade shows? I never thought I’d say it but I want business trips. I want tradeshows. I want to spend time with my sales team. I want to visit opticians.
The stimulation I got from just two short days of meetings is incredible. I feel like a new man ready to take on new challenges. I know there is a lot of talk in the media about people still working from home but not me. I need to be out in the thick of it, learning and exchanging ideas. But now I’ve got a few last days of holiday to enjoy. I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to focus on relaxing. There’s too much to be done.