Conor Heaney is an optometrist and owner of Jones And Co. Styling Opticians in Manchester (UK). His practice has an average dispense value of more than £1300, over five times the optical industry average. The store stocks an eclectic choice of frames created by some of the finest independent eyewear labels from around the world.
1/ What would you say is your favourite part of running Jones And Co.? I went to university to learn how to be an optometrist but what I’ve fallen in love with is the business that is wrapped around that. I love that we get to choose what kind of practice we want to be, what we want to specialise in, how we want to treat people, and figuring out every aspect of our business philosophy. What I enjoy most is seeing the difference we make for our clients and seeing the growth and fulfilment of the individuals on my team, and seeing how inspired they are about doing what we do in the way we do it. It’s a joy to be part of a high-flying team that sets high standards and big goals and then strives to achieve them. It’s hard work! Often painful! But worth it. Our path is littered with things that didn’t work, but that’s how we grow and learn. Above: Conor Heaney (left) and the practice team at Jones And Co. Styling Opticians
2/ What’s your personal story when it comes to eyewear? When I decided to open my first practice (Seen) with best friend and fellow optometrist Tareq Moustafa, we thankfully realised we knew nothing about the world of eyewear. This was in 2004. Before we even had a location, we set off to Silmo and Mido and Opti-Munich and discovered a new world of independent eyewear. The passion of people like Jason Kirk and Mik Sommers, Shane Baum and Christophe Gilabert, Gregers Fastrup and the guys at Ørgreen rubbed off on us. I think most optometrists open a practice because they think they can do it better than the rest. It’s an honourable intention. It’s driven by the desire to do something better for the client. To delight clients. But saying it is easy. Delivering it consistently is hard with a capital H. It requires real commitment to the cause. You cannot deliver a world-class experience in our business unless you are working with the best of independent eyewear. Too many practices lack this excitement and passion for eyewear. To overlook this is like trying to be a Michelin star restaurant but using only the cheapest, blandest ingredients, and being afraid to offer anything different. So I got into eyewear design because I wanted to offer our clients the best experience. As much as it pains my fellow optometrists, our clients and patients care more about how they look and feel in eyewear, and the experience and treatment they receive as a customer, than they do about anything else. They only tolerate the optometry geek-speak. That’s not what wows them.
3/ Has Jones And Co. changed much since you first opened ? Jones And Co. Styling Opticians has been going since 1989 or so when it was first Angela Campbell Opticians. There was a bomb in Manchester city centre in 1996 that caused so much damage that the practice had to move to a new building in a different part of the city. The business struggled after that and went through a series of four owners in 10 years. Tareq and I bought the practice in 2009 and through blood, sweat and tears we were lucky enough to make a success of it. I’ve been the sole owner since 2014 and Tareq is the sole owner of Seen, just around the corner – and also thriving.
Has it changed much over the years? That question would make my team laugh out loud because we change so much! It is unrecognisable. The skill is to figure out how much change will frazzle the team and cause nervous breakdowns and just dial it back a notch so that doesn’t happen. But it’s been a constant journey of change and improvement. Not change for the sake of change. But change in search of making something better and keeping things fresh and exciting for the team and the clients.
4/ Regarding your own personal taste in eyewear, what frame are you wearing this season? I’ll start with a secret confession. I have no prescription, but I wear glasses anyway. After a few years of dabbling in, but not really wearing them, I forced myself to wear them all the time for work. If I’m in the practice, or at an event with clients, or on stage presenting to other optometrists I always wear them. I think that’s the best bit of advice I can give here, more than what frame I am wearing at the moment. This goes back to the client experience again. If a client is being served by someone who looks great in their choice of eyewear it is reassuring, even inspiring to the client who cares about how they look in glasses. It is a clear demonstration that you know what you are talking about. If I want my team to all wear glasses all the time, then I must lead by example. One of my team came to work one morning, a few weeks after starting at Jones And Co. and said “Sorry, Conor I forgot my glasses at home.” I asked him what he would do if he discovered on his way to work that he wasn’t wearing any trousers? He said he would RUN home in embarrassment to get dressed fully. I explained that at Jones And Co. his glasses are his trousers. I don’t want to see naked faces and staff walking around with their noses hanging out. Trousers must be worn at all times!
5/ What do you think of current trends and do you have a favourite look in 2022 My team are enjoying Rolf’s Substance collection this year. We’ve worked with Rolf and their wooden frames for years but the new 3D printed collection made from plants really puts sustainability and design and technology at the forefront. They’re a joy to wear and have been really popular with clients. We also linked up with a local charity focused on planting trees and managing woodlands and we donate just under 10% of each Rolf Substance frame sale to the charity.
Another new addition to our collection this year that has the team giddy with excitement is Sabine Be, an extremely expressive and colourful collection that makes a strong statement. Whatever ranges you bring into your practice have to align with a well thought out eyewear philosophy and there has to be a strategy behind it. There is so much amazing eyewear out there that you have to be strategic about what you are doing and why. Collections with depth and breadth like Theo are fantastic because there is so much you can do with it and it just keeps going and going with always new evolutions every season.
6/ What is your best tip on choosing eyewear? In a word; enthusiasm. Selling is the transference of emotion. If the person doing the selling and serving is not enthusiastic neither will the client be. Eyewear can be boring, or it can be exciting and inspiring. It’s a simple choice that makes all the difference. Too many independent practices still haven’t grasped the significance of the eyewear opportunity they have. Eyewear and optical is an afterthought and it shows. If eyewear is an after-though that has just been tagged on in your practice as a distant second to optometry, it is extremely obvious to me and to your clients. That’s why average spend, and conversions and referrals and recommendations are low. That’s why clients walk out with their prescription and continue their search for eyewear elsewhere. The crux of the matter is your approach to eyewear and the standards you insist on in your practice. Without that foundation all the tips in the world will make little difference. The good news for readers of Eyestylist is that if you’re here reading this, you get it. I salute you!
7/ As well as running the store you run the OSA (Optical Success Academy) – what is this organisation and what made you set it up? Optical Success Academy is a place I created for open-minded, ambitious, individualistic optometrists and opticians who want to take their optical practice to the next level. It’s not enough to just have the right products and create the right environment. Warby Parker has inspired a troop of great looking stores with appealing products that sell at low, low prices and with a big online presence. Independents need to be better than that by being more sophisticated about every aspect of their business. The big differentiator is our people – the staff who deliver the customer experience. Doing that at world-class levels doesn’t happen by accident. It’s hard to do that consistently day in and day out. The staff need leadership. They need processes that work and that make it easier to get the desired results. They need systems. They need to learn how to sell and really master that skillset. There needs to be a culture in the practice and a vision that drives everything. And there needs to be a clear understanding of marketing and how to attract the specific type of clients you want, and making it clear why you are worth what they’re going to spend with you and why they can’t get that anywhere else.
Being a practice owner myself, I learned all this the hard way through research and experimentation and testing and spending my own money figuring out what works and what doesn’t. As well as being inspired by the greats in our industry, I’ve had coaches and mentors from many outside industries who have influenced me and how I’ve differentiated my practice. After being invited to speak at various optical conferences in the UK and Europe I started putting everything we do at Jones And Co. into a format that is easy to share with other like-minded independents so they can benefit from it too and we now have a monthly program with about 130 practices where we provide monthly coaching calls, staff training, marketing examples, and four live events a year. Readers can find out more at www.opticalsuccessacademy.com – we have a podcast and a bunch of resources at www.theopticalentrepreneur.com. (more…)