“You can’t sit still and just let change happen around you”

Jason Kirk, managing director of Kirk & Kirk, on the upcoming launch of pop-up retail experiences, communicating the brand story, and reviewing the way consumers behave

Kirk & Kirk frames
Kirk & Kirk
Independent eyewear brand, Kirk & Kirk, has shared plans to launch a series of pop-up retail experiences across the UK, raising awareness of the brand and drawing attention to unique eyewear.

The initiative begins with the opening of a new pop-up at 81 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, on 3 September.

OT spoke to Jason Kirk, managing director for the brand, about the decision to branch into retail.

“It’s a really interesting time, the company has been growing a lot,” Kirk explained. Kirk & Kirk saw a 42% growth last year, and is on track for a growth of approximately 30% in the year ahead.

The brand is not resting on its laurels, however. Kirk said: “Looking to the future, where is that growth going to come from? I think everybody has to review the way that we approach commerce right now.”

Part of the reasoning behind the new retail venture is to “face up to this challenge,” he acknowledged, “and see how we can continue to grow, both as a wholesale brand and communicating directly with the consumer as well.’

Presenting the brand’s story

“What’s inspired this? You can’t sit still and just let change happen around you,” Kirk said.

Another aspect behind the launch of the pop-up experiences is to lead by example.

“As a brand we work hand-in-hand with our partners, our retailers, to try and create a relationship which is equally balanced, where everybody contributes and benefits,” he explained.

The managing director acknowledged however, that in the practice setting the brand is dependent on partners presenting their story: “We have to try and find ways of communicating our story within a retail environment that we don’t own.”

Through the pop-up stores, the brand aims to create an experience that optimises how Kirk & Kirk is presented.

“We want to talk and listen to consumers about how they feel about the brand,” he said, adding that Kirk & Kirk hopes to see optical partners to “share in the experience.”

Kirk & Kirk
Kirk & Kirk

Adapting again beyond the pandemic

Kirk relayed a recent conversation in which he heard: ‘There are some businesses that have done really well to survive and even thrive through lockdown. But the next challenge is to adapt again.’

Not only have recurrent lockdowns eased, but consumer shopping behaviours and attitudes have changed.

Speaking to OT at 100% Optical earlier this year, Kirk mentioned: “We’ve had to review the way that people shop and the way we sell; I think that’s really important.”

“What we’re seeing is that consumers are afraid of nothing. They are excited, they are educated. You have to accommodate the way the consumer thinks and acts. We’re seeing consumers coming along armed with some knowledge. That’s exciting for our industry.”

Speaking in the context of the new retail venture, he now added: “People do and should inform themselves about frames and lenses, then go to stores armed with that knowledge to make an informed decision.”

This education is important, Kirk suggested, as currently: “I think the consumer is still confused about what makes the difference between different price points of lenses. We have to take down some of those barriers and get past that mystique.”

An eyewear experience

Arriving in September, the Shoreditch pop-up will be in place for a month. Aiming to raise the profile of the brand and showcase the eyewear, the retail experience will incorporate Kirk & Kirk’s virtual try-on technology.

“Experience is the right word,” Kirk said of the pop-up plans. “We want everybody who comes through that door to really enjoy experimenting with eyewear.”

“I think there are people who really love eyewear – the consumers who are aficionados and treat themselves – but there are not enough of those to allow every optician to flourish,” he explained.

By cultivating an experience through the pop-up sites, Kirk said the brand hopes to capture the attention of those consumers who might be willing to visit the High Street and treat themselves to a shirt, bag or pair of shoes, but perhaps hadn’t previously thought about eyewear in the same way.

“That doesn’t take away from the prioritised and absolutely paramount medical experience that people get when they go to an optician,” Kirk emphasised. “We’re not trying to cut that out at all, what we are saying is that there is another part of the transaction which is aesthetic.”

Kirk noted that the pop-ups will not compete with any of the brand’s partners across the UK, but that, in raising the profile of the brand: “What we’ll do is raise the profile of exciting and interesting eyewear for that location.”