Designing frames so children can play
Rob Barrow, director of Spec-Care Services, told OT how his experience of bespoke designs and fittings for young people has informed the launch of his new company, Exeter Eyewear
05 May 2023
What led to the launch of Exeter Eyewear? What went into the decision and planning for the new company, and its focus on children’s eyewear?
I was initially motivated to produce universally-fitted frames for young people that are fashionable and affordable.
Exeter Eyewear (EE) has been a development of mindset. It was never really planned, but it did become a natural evolution of my work and changing role within optics. Key factors include my role with the Optical Suppliers Association, aiding fellow industry members, and the background experience I have in helping spectacles fit faces.
What makes Exeter Eyewear unique?
EE is a product developer, importer, and facilitator. Our products are matched with agents and distributors who will be best placed to get the product to the optical clinics. That’s not the end of the EE involvement. We facilitate extra services, such as adjustments, modifications and linking the public with opticians, and opticians with agents.
I start and finish each day with the same passion as the day I started my career 30 years ago
What is the latest collection that the company have collaborated on or launched and why does it stand out from the crowd?
We have two very exciting collections releasing in 2023. Firstly, we have the TR range, a very light and robust collection offering enhanced fitting characteristics. These frames are perfectly suited to the increasing necessity of myopia management and have been placed with Norville, to be part of the new Blitz Kids range. We have been very impressed by the developments within Norville and see their current and future lens products as the perfect package with these ranges.
The second big release is with Bondeye Optical. A company well-known as offering exceptional customer service and delivery of practice equipment and accessories. For Bondeye, this is the first young person optical range they have catalogued, so we are very energised to support this development with such a dynamic business. The iPlay range is a highly adjustable product made from a newly sourced polyamide, that offers the practitioner superior quality and exceptional savings on comparative products on the market.
What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?
The location and interaction are a key part of the future of EE. New offices at the Exeter Science Park are a real buzz for us. Exeter Science Park describes itself as the South West’s centre of activity for businesses in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).
Our development will be with the business interaction from manufacturer to wearer. This will be a very complex network but fundamental to my personal vision of a new form of business.
Are there any new products in development that customers should be aware of?
We have some great ideas planned. Some fantastic clinics have already trialled our new developments, and feedback and responses indicate they will be a huge success. Our product developments will be focused on supporting current collaborations and enhancing the unique features their ranges will become associated with.
What external factors is the company taking into account when planning for the future, and why?
Future planning of external factors has been one of my decisions in applying for offices at the Exeter Science Park. The delivery of sustainable and ethical eyewear will become hugely important as the business grows. Access to leading research and its networking will greatly assist us in development.
Do you expect to see any key trends in children’s eyewear in 2023?
Children’s eyewear will continue to be bright, light and innovative. Our products offer innovation, as we see with the TR range sliders that snuggly secure the skull grip sides, this product will be very successful when people start feeling the benefit from traditional hockey style sides. This design is particularly appealing to young people with hyper sensitivity.
We have developed the iPlay range specifically to offer the sector a more affordable alternative to the other highly adjustable products on the market. We are so impressed by the new production material that we have launched the product with an RX lifetime accidental damage exchange policy.
We expect clinics to be looking for children’s eyewear that meets these criteria. Strong brands will sell, but we will see affordable alternatives finding it easier to become established in the market.
We adapt and repair spectacles to fit the needs of individuals, each time making a real difference to a person’s life
Exeter Eyewear has been launched as a legacy project commemorating the 75th anniversary of the NHS, for which Spec-Care has been selected to represent micro providers to the NHS and as part of the Parliamentary Trust historical records. Could you tell us what this recognition means to you?
I am tremendously proud of this recognition, as well as the development the business has made over the years from its beginning, to the highly-skilled technology provider we have become.
A large degree of realisation has begun to flow in my mind during quiet moments. Spec-Care is about helping the minority of people that manufacturing is not able to accommodate. We adapt and repair spectacles to fit the needs of individuals, each time making a real difference to a person’s life. The type of difference that is not achievable though choice. Its powerful and humbling.
My clinical customers message me with thanks for the small difference we make through modifications. My team helps people achieve a small degree of normality when choice is not possible. This recognition will open doors for us to help more people with limited choices.
I start and finish each day with the same passion as the day I started my career 30 years ago.
Spec-Care has been invited to attend an event later in 2023 commemorating the 75th anniversary of the NHS.
Three interesting facts about Exeter Eyewear:
- Our eyewear is about freedom for children. We want children to play and have fun. This will lead to breakages of spectacle frames, and we have developed an accidental damage policy to keep playful children’s eyewear in great condition
- EE founder, Rob Barrow, used to break his spectacles regularly during his school years. 20 years ago, Rob bought the business that used to repair his broken frames – Spec Care Ltd
- The TR range was developed for Rob’s nine-year-old son, who needed securely fitted spectacles that were comfortable to wear. The iPlay range was developed in response to the parental cost of the specific eyewear his youngest son required during early years hospital eye service care.
What impact do you feel cost of living concerns could have on optical suppliers, practices or patients? How is the company approaching this situation?
Technology will again play a huge part here and suppliers will need to be ready to meet the demands of these shifts. Specifically, within my field of spectacle frames, I am assessing the impact of technology within sight testing. Are we seeing the start of difference between an eye health exam and a sight test? How will this impact on consumer habits? If it is possible to access sight testing remotely, will spectacles become devalued as a result?
We have some very complex questions arising and large businesses will already have in-house or consultancy teams working on this. We are a new business, the financial cost of looking long-term will be inhibitive to growth. However, we want growth and long-term strategy for the brands we develop. Therefore, we look externally for our agents who can deliver products to market and have demonstrated a desire for growth, success and development of the optical sector.
I firmly believe suppliers supporting each other and working in collaboration to benefit from pooled knowledge and skillsets will be more frequently discussed. This mindset has been firmly echoed within the OSA, and as a board member, I will be fully endorsing its growth.