Friday, November 19, 2010

Inside JFRey...

Ever wanted an insight into the inner workings of JFRey.....?

Handmade by J.F. Rey from Cohesive Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Starting to think about setting yourself apart...

The article in last Friday's Optician Magazine entitled "Hope in the High Street" contained a couple of paragraphs that struck a resonant chord with me:

"That push towards differentiation has been crucial in helping traditional opticians of all types fight against competition from new areas such as the internet."


"Smaller chains have also used marketing techniques, such as £10 eye tests and two-for-one offers on frames, to divert customers away from the optical giants, but Key Note suggests the future of the independent sector lies in high service levels as the bigger boys slug it out on price.

The market continues to develop adversely for independents, particularly in terms of price competition from the multiples. But, the report concluded, 'There remains scope for the trusted - some might say old-fashioned - independent retailers that offer a higher level of service to an older, often more affluent clientele'."

In a previous blog I referred to the alignment of the larger optical organisations as they marry manufacturing with retail. The effect of this is a homogenising of the market (i.e it reduces the choice available to consumers by distributing "exclusive" branded products through large chains and, dare I say it, the internet). This leads inevitably to price competition - something extremely dangerous for the independent sector.

But where do we start if we're serious about meeting the desires of those KeyNote have found that are the future of independent practice?

KeyNote suggest we focus on the "older, often more affluent clientele' - the premium end of the market:

As professionals we should already have an idea of the tastes of this demographic and it helps to analyse or audit what you offer now and imagine yourself as the patient. Do a Mary Portas on yourself!

This should be done through the array of disciplines of modern practice:

The eyecare services you provide (and the way you provide it!)
Your patient's experience from welcome to farewell
Your practice environment
Frame collections and the way you display them - are they targeted at a particular premium customer?
The array of lifestyle accessories available (and I'm sure this will feature a blog before too long!)

Now within these very general headings are myriad of elements - the important thing is to think critically about the opportunities in each discipline to enhance the experience and offer to these target patients.

Often when you're charging a premium for a product you should not look so hard at the cost - but of the premium you can charge and the margin that you therefore create in any innovation. That may be uncomfortable - until you start to experience the bottom line.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Create or Copy? Do what keeps you leading the tribe...

I love this blog from Seth Godin.

The challenge in eyewear design is just the same dynamic - and it's a challenge those clever people at JFRey and Morel (who manufacture Oga and Koali) have more than met. Having seen the next seasons introductions at SILMO this weekend has reassured me that they can do this every 6 months!

The same could be said for your practice design, the way you interact with your customers and the eyecare services you deliver. The challenge is to know what your tribe (or target tribe) will love.

Building fans of our art is what we should be about (in Seth Godon language that is)...

Accounting for taste

Taste is the ability to select, combine and create experiences that the tribe likes--before they know that they like it.

John Waters, the filmmaker many accuse of having bad taste actually has great taste--according to a small tribe of people. He establishes a look and a feel and a story that (for this group) is then emulated.

Successful chefs like Thomas Keller invent restaurants and the dishes they offer--and are then rewarded for having the good taste to make precisely what we like. But of course, the 'we' isn't everyone.

Martha Stewart, according to a larger group, also has good taste. She's not merely copying what came before (that's not nearly as difficult or as valuable)... no, she's staying half a step ahead of her tribe, establishing the standard as she goes.

Great graphic designers have good taste. They understand how to use type and imagery to create objects and advertising that resonate with people likely to buy. Copying a book cover or a business card or a mayo label isn't good taste, it's copying. The difficult work is doing a new thing in a way that people who have never seen it before will 'get it'.

The other difficult work: understanding that your standards might not be the standards of the tribe you're seeking to connect with. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's in bad taste. If the market respects the creator, takes action and then adopts the work, it's in good taste.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A call to rally ourselves...everywhere?

Malcolm Polley, Chief Executive of the FMO, has been reported in the Optician magazine as calling all Optical associations and Optical bodies to come together and use Optrafair 2011 as a cost-cutting landing-pad.

His sentiment has been echoed by leaders within some of these optical bodies.

And surely we should also sound the trumpet to gather the whole optical industry - far and wide - behind the flag?

I have long believed that UK optics could benefit from more cohesiveness - and am glad that the optical bodies now form a confederation. David Hewlett, Chief Executive of FODO, suggested that "a house divided against itself will not stand" and it is true that by standing together we shall all benefit.

So where do we go from here?

I dream of an Optrafair where opticians from all parts of these islands come, enthusiastically searching for products that can shape the future of their businesses (and where they find them!), and where learning and celebration can also take place (there is much of that happening already).

However, as I journey around the country I find that many do not recognise Optrafair's importance to the industry.

Of course, I see it from the side of an exhibitor hoping to make connections with new customers for our ranges but I wonder - what percentage of the dispensing / examining / retailing population don't visit the show?

As all in the Optical bodies agree - togetherness brings many benefits. Connections, relationships and the understanding of our  industry is paramount  - to us all, whether in front-line delivery of care or delivering the goods - if we're to weather the economic storms and blaze trails into the future of eyecare and eyewear.

Let's hope Optrafair 2011 will prove to be a refreshingly bouyant affair and that opticians from all over will come (including those from London to whom a trip to the NEC is far from sexy).

Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fashion-brand v Creator-brand in the recession

I am often asked about the role of "designer brands" in independent practice today. My view is that they can be useful but should not play a major part in an independent's strategy.

We need to address first things first.

This definition of "Designer Brand" is a misnomer.  There is a distinction between fashion-house and jewellery-house collections, which most will call "designer frames" or "luxury frames", and creator collections which can span the price ranges but seem to deliver much more excitement (and nervousness).

The latter, ironically, are imbued with innovative original design and creativity - its part of their DNA, whereas the former tend to be more of a formula (OK there are some, I think).

By definition therefore, if you want to know what styles are going to be important in the market we need to look to the edgy creators first. Everyone can recognise that Alain Mikli was central in resurrecting the trend of the strong brow bar.  Today this leading design edge is now provided by people like Jean-Francois Rey with his 2 main brands JFRey and BOZ.

I have found the French very strong in creativity and they use this to provide an alternative to the fashion-house brands of Italy. Their ingenuity allows opticians to offer unique, attractive and business building eyewear that demands attention in an increasingly polarised and homogenous market. The Koali and Oga collections, from Morel France are worth a look - they provide something dedicated to women and men respectively with award winning POS materials.

But the Italian's are not all about fashion brand - a design company NICO Design offer Derapage - this is the most awarded eyewear collection in Italy. This fact tells its own story about quality of design v "designer brands". Even the name (which means the edgy way a rally driver takes a corner) is intended to communicate the experimental "pushing the boundaries" approach.

Let's face it - the recession has affected everyone's buying decisions. We're all more deliberate and careful. It seems that with eyewear purchases especially the first thing consumers consider is "value for money".

Consumers are wondering if fashion house brands represent best value to them when they know that they are paying for the brand as part of their purchase. Many more people these days seem to be considering the prime attributes of the frame first -

"Do I look great in these?"
"Are they comfortable?"
"Will these suit everyday?"

For sunglasses the brand is of greater significance - whereas the brand, for those buying ophthalmic frames, is secondary.

What about the integrity of the brand? Can this be achieved in this segment?

Much of the cachet of the brand has its roots in exclusivity - but how can that stand up against being sold cheaply on the internet or in supermarket outlets?

In fact if we look for a moment at the structure of the market and at those who have bought the licenses for these fashion house brands we see that 2 out of the "big 3" are part of the same group as the retailer (see an earlier blog post).

So what does the fashion-house brand offer the independent optician?

The main reason an independent would require a fashion-house brand is in order to position themselves to a certain market segment - a case of "positioning by association" i.e. we attract the people to us who appreciate the brand and its attributes.

My assertion is that this cannot be a sustainable long term strategy for them. We only have to look to the large manufacturers' appetite for retail themselves - take this to the nth degree and their shareholders will demand more of the brand equity for themselves.

The surest way for an independent to thrive today is to focus on unique (i.e. not widely available) quality products and audacious service and experience. In order to drive referrals (which do not require advertising) independents need to create the "I go to True-Joy opticians - they're just amazing..." or the "Where did you get those - you look fantastic!" - without these reactions a practice stultifies. And these reactions are not a function of designer brand.