10 questions: Conor Heaney, Manchester

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

Eyewear gallery at Jones And Co. – the store specialises in independent eyewear brands

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.

Illustration of Jones And Co. – Manchester – featured on a cleaning cloth

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!

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ROLF – substance – a popular choice at Jones And Co. in 2022

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…)

SALT. Optics: subtle colours and refined details

The new models from SALT. Optics uphold a timeless design with subtle connections to nature-inspired colours – versatility is key, with frames designed for sun or ophthalmic lenses

SALT. Optics has released new C3/C4 styles for 2022, in a collection that preserves timeless aesthetics and the brand’s signature custom detailing. Where design traits are minimal and refined, always linked to nature, technical details are intuitive and carefully honed, thanks to features imagined by opticians to provide elevated design and luxurious levels of comfort. Above: model Sela by SALT. Optics, available in a choice of five colorways

Modern classics: Sela with sun lenses – choose from rich tones of acetate

The Sela sunglasses are typical of the acetate styles in the 2022 collection, designed with material thickness transitions and bevels for refinement and balance. The core wire within the temples is hand polished and stamped with an organic nature inspired pattern, a symbol of SALT.’s representation of nature’s effortless beauty.

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Colorado by SALT. Optics – a titanium structure in brushed gold / antique leaves

Colorado, a classic square aviator builds on heritage style, integrating an 1mm acetate insert for structure and protection of the lens. This narrow insert provides another layer of colour variation, with both bold contrasting and subtle monochrome colorways, to suit all styles. See more SALT. styles at https://saltoptics.com

Article One: timeless active sunglasses

Five new active styles produced in hexetate, released this week

From Article One, the 2022 ACTIVE collection features five unique designs, including a revival of Article One’s best-selling style, the Moon. The timeless silhouettes are produced in a material called hexetate, a patented acrylic resin with superior technical and mechanical properties offering flexibility, enhanced shape memory even when exposed to high temperatures, lightness, and durability. Compared to most performance eyewear that utilizes traditional acetate and TR-90 plastic, Article One explains that hexetate is also a sustainable choice compared to some traditional materials as it requires less processing thereby reducing carbon footprints, and excludes BPA, DEP and toxins. Above: the Moon in the ACTIVE collection, a bestseller at Article One

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The Moon by independent label, Article One – designed for sports and everyday, created in a state-of-the-art material called hexetate

Each style in the summer collection is constructed with CR39 polarized lenses with backside anti-reflective coating that blocks 100% of UVA/UVB rays and prevents road glare. The frames also boast signature adjustable nose pads, rubber temple tips, and spring hinges – a combination of features which make these frames particularly well oriented for active lifestyles.

The 2022 ACTIVE collection also includes a frame named The H – a unisex, moto racer-inspired frame which will donate 100% of profits to The H Foundation to support general cancer research. For further information visit www.articleoneeyewear.com.

10 questions: Johnnie Rousso, Athens

Coming from a family of opticians, Johnnie Rousso was always destined to travel down the optical career path. Since its establishment in 2016, his eponymous, bar-themed boutique has become widely regarded as one of Europe’s premier optical stores. Eyestylist speaks to the eccentric, extroverted founder and visionary following a personal visit to the store in Athens in February 2022…

1. Tell us a little about yourself, and the career path you’ve taken to where you are today? So, I’m an optometrist with a BSc from Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, where I studied from 2001 to 2005. I worked there for a year as well, in the city centre’s Boots Opticians; that was my first experience of working as an optician and in the optical world in general. I then moved to New York in 2005 and stayed until 2010. There, I pursued an MSc from NYU in International Business while working full time as a retail salesperson, going on to become a manager in the years to follow.

This environment introduced me to the world of fashion and business at the same time and, of course, the vibrant and diverse lifestyle of New York inspired me – it continues to inspire me still. Next, I moved to Greece until 2016 when Johnnie Rousso opened its doors to the public. My team and I developed the business plan of what we wanted our store to be, and implemented the final idea of the Optical bar. Six years later, Johnnie Rousso is recognised across the industry as a bespoke optical store as well as for its services in behavioral optometry.

2. You seem like an incredibly extroverted and creative person, did you always envision yourself going into eyewear? Firstly, yes – I guess I am a people’s person! Secondly, also yes – I come from a family of opticians, my late father was an optician, so the idea of progressing within this field came naturally, but my love of retail began in New York. I realised that I loved meeting and coming into contact with people, something that has always been interesting to me, and it is very embedded in the culture of this city. Above: Johnnie Rousso wears the Drake by In Barberia – Bottega Ottica

Bespoke eyewear: Drake by In Barberia (Treviso) – available at the Athens store

3. In the store you have created an amazing opportunity for bespoke frames made in Treviso, Italy. Tell us more…In the first lockdown of 2020 I first made contact with my colleagues Marco and Antonio from In Barberia – a fantastic shop in Treviso, Italy. Even though we couldn’t meet in person at the time, our passion for eyewear and our similar business philosophies brought us together. So, we started collaborating on this very unique project. Making acetate frames from scratch and satisfying every customer’s need in sizing and colours is very important, but also very difficult to satisfy in today’s environment.

Although handmade frames are available quite easily, handcrafting eyewear from scratch is a forgotten craft due to the impossibility of satisfying today’s market.

So, the collaboration with In Barberia Treviso gave us the opportunity to offer this fantastic service to our customers who want something really unique, completely handcrafted and made to their own specified needs. It’s a really great project to be part of and I am very proud to be involved.

Johnnie Rousso’s Athens store: the main entrance

4. Your website speaks a lot of your experience in both New York and London, why did you choose to start your venture in Athens when you felt so inspired by these two cities? Athens is my hometown, it’s where I grew up and lived until I was 18 years old. It’s becoming a very cosmopolitan city and the decision to be here in the city center came naturally as a result of our need to be international, conveniently located and diverse.

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5. Your approach to social media marketing is more ‘out there’ than a lot of other companies, you tend to go down a personal / comedic route, why did you make this decision? Well, I generally find social media in our field very “sterilized”, if I can refer to it that way. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes, and I believe in a more fun approach when it comes to marketing. I believe this is more memorable and at the same time more entertaining for people to watch and interact with. It’s also based on the fact that we are opticians and we are selling glasses, I don’t believe that’s something that sparks people’s interest enough to engage in videos on its own. To watch content that is spontaneous, though, is more intriguing, especially since we always post the first take of the video and upload it as raw as it can be.

The stylish interior of the store was designed by Darch Studio

6. In outlining your process for meeting clients and finding their perfect frame, you lean heavily on the personal aspect – an emphasis on the coffee / drink to discuss wants and needs – of the customer / salesperson relationship. Why do you think this is such an important part of your process? Customer experience is always key in selling anything, and luxury eyewear is no different. The clients have to feel comfortable first and foremost, this is why we started the design of the store with a bar. In a good, elegant bar you stay to relax, to meet people, to have a drink, chat away and enjoy. We wanted the same energy to radiate throughout our store. Even the lighting is dimmer than usual stores, the music is bar-like and of course we serve drinks and coffee as part of the experience. This relaxes the senses, takes the guard down and brings us closer to our customers. We build their trust through this process before moving on to discuss eyewear, then they can choose the best frame to suit their needs.

7. What do you look for when selecting a brand / frame to stock in store? We select labels based on their philosophy, as well as taking the people behind the brand into consideration. We don’t care about “brand names” and what is “popular” or not. We are only interested in originality and design, that’s where we find our inspiration.

8. Do you include a selection of vintage frames? We have a few collectible vintage frames in store which are not really for sale; they are part of our archive. I strongly admire the many advantages of vintage collections, and that has to do with quality and originality most of the time. Nowadays, many brands try to copy instead of being original. This bothers me, so we are very careful to avoid stocking new labels like this when we choose a contemporary brand. We need to be inspired, so that we in-turn inspire our friends and customers alike.

9. If you had to select one frame that symbolises the typical Johnnie Rousso customer what frame would that be and why? There are a few to choose from, but if I have to choose, it would be the Cazal 607. Why? Because of the history of its creator and designer Cari Zalloni alongside the entire story behind this fantastic model. I have to mention Kuboraum, though, due to the immense inspiration we are getting from our Italian friends, Livio and Sergio. Their first model A with the comet-like stones and burnt texture is massively influential to us, too.

As worn by Johnnie Rousso: Jean Paul Gaultier vintage sunglasses (left) and the 607 Cazal sunglasses (right)

10. What frames are you wearing today? I like to own many frames, but I mainly wear the Drake model from In Barberia Treviso, the Cazal 607 (of course!) and a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier Junior frame (pictured above) among many, many others. For more information about the store visit https://johnnierousso.gr/en/

An interview by Victoria G. L. Brunton exclusively for Eyestylist.com. All rights reserved. 

Morel: sunglasses for vintage admirers

Morel revisits classics from archives

The French company Morel has returned to its archive for its summer edition of classic acetate sunwear. The three models are fitted with premium mineral sun lenses, ideal for the intense sun conditions currently being experienced in Europe. Mineral glass lenses offer high quality vision and are often described as the ‘crème de la crème’ of sun lenses for their comfort, visual clarity and long-lasting colour. Above: Isidore is a timeless man’s design based on a sunglass model of the 1950s 

A very glamorous winged cat’s eye: model Roxane by Morel

Model Roxane is a collectible piece with the distinctive rhinestones and engraving at the brow and on the temple. The frame comes in this iconic tortoise tone which elegantly offsets the bright white sparkling rhinestones.

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Danae by Morel

Model Danae is a replica of the company’s Cleopatra frame. Sleek deep acetate is embellished with delicate rhinestones at the temple corners, recalling the distinctive 1950s trend that dominated at the time. To see more on these models visit www.morel-france.com