The polarisation of independent optics
Founder of Kirk & Kirk Eyewear, Jason Kirk, speaks to OT about celebrating 100 years of the Kirk family name in optics, its new collection and why practice owners cannot afford to flounder in the middle
Can you tell me three interesting facts about Kirk & Kirk?
- Kirk & Kirk is run by husband and wife team Jason and Karen Kirk (pictured above)
- Our frames are handmade in France from start to finish
- We are based on the south coast and have jellyfish in our car park.
What makes your eyewear unique?
Kirk & Kirk hand makes its frames in our own grade of Italian acrylic. We use acrylic because it is incredibly light and comfortable to wear. It also allows us to produce frames in our own unique colour palette. This allows the optician to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
How will Kirk & Kirk be celebrating 100 years of the Kirk family in optics?
There will be a number of events throughout 2019, particularly in-store events with our clients. Our communication will be geared to telling our story to engage consumers and drive them to the opticians. Our focus is on celebrating the past 100 years, while also looking towards the future; it is more about what we have learnt from the past that we can contribute to the next century of optics.
"The UK independent optical market is growing and our goal is to support that growth and ensure that it is sustainable"
What can practitioners expect from the Centena collection?
Centena is Spanish for ‘one hundred’…there is a theme going on here. The Centena collection is the first-ever collection handmade from 10mm acrylic. This creates a beautiful contradiction because the frame looks substantial, but they weigh nothing and that is the beauty of acrylic. There are 10 colours, which have a strength and presence that is rarely seen in optical collections, and 10 brand new shapes – all bold, confident styles, which makes 100 references.
What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?
The next 12 months are important for Kirk & Kirk. The UK independent optical market is growing and our goal is to support that growth and ensure that it is sustainable.
The development of the independent optician needs to be holistic. It is not enough just to carry more progressive collections. The message to the consumer needs to be clear and consistent through the shop fit, the window, the products, the staff, the communication – everything. We want to help opticians achieve this challenging transition in the same way that Sidney and Percy Kirk helped develop the profession in the 1920s and ‘30s.
How do you see the independent optical market developing?
The independent optical market is polarising. Consumers do their research online before they develop a relationship with a practice so their message needs to be clear.
Across the US, independent practices have either gone totally independent in their choice of frames and lenses, selecting a few brands and carrying them in depth so as to offer an unequivocal message to the consumer, or they have tried to compete on price, carrying popular brands. That is a battle that they will not win because you can always find Tom Ford, Ray-Ban or a Chloe frame online for cheaper, plus the consumer shops around.
The opticians who flounder in the middle, offering a bit of everything, will not last long. The consumer needs to understand immediately what the retailer represents and what benefit they will have by going there. This is what is starting to happen in the UK and over the next few years this transition will be more evident.
Frames will need to be distinctively different to competitors to attract the consumer and the differentiation cannot just be in brand name. How many little, round, metal frames can you name? Why is the consumer going to choose one over another?
Pictured is ‘Carter’ from Kirk & Kirk’s Spectrum collection