An eyewear emporium
OT speaks to Janan Choudhury, founder of independent eyewear boutique, Spectacle Emporium, about his journey from apprentice to practice owner
26 April 2017
01. Born and raised in London, my first experience of eyewear was through an apprenticeship with an opticians in Canning Town.
During my time at the practice I fell in love with optics, it felt so adventurous, and I quickly became a dab hand at repairing frames.
I later studied to become an optometrist, but chose a career in retail to pursue my love of dispensing. I spent the next 20 years of my career with a number of multiple and independent practices around the capital.
I progressed to practice manager, but the recession changed things and, with a desire to provide a better quality of life for my family, as well as open up my own practice, in 2014, my wife and I relocated from London to Kings Heath, Birmingham, with our two young children. Relocating allowed me to realise this dream, but it took time.
02. We did a lot of research before opening our own practice.
This began when we travelled around Birmingham to see what was available and were surprised at how very little there was out there in terms of good quality eyewear – everyone seemed to stock the big brands and the big names.
When deciding on a location for our practice, we knew we wanted to be in an area where people sought more than just those ubiquitous labels and black or tortoiseshell frames. And, having moved to Kings Heath because of its indie and bohemian vibe, when a vacant outlet became available on the far end of the High Street, about a three-minute walk from a number of the large multiples, we seized the opportunity.
Ahead of opening, we attended trade shows looking for glasses that would suit our personality and the people in the area. I don’t believe in trends and fashion styles, so when it comes to selecting our stock, it’s all about the design, quality and personality.
We knew that starting from scratch would be tough and, despite wanting to fill a gap in the market, we were nervous, of course, because what we stock is so different from anything else around the West Midlands.
03. We opened our doors in November 2015 with the mission of getting people excited about eyewear and to change the way they perceive glasses.
However, it’s not just about the frames, it’s also about the client journey.
Creating the right practice environment was really important to us and we have designed it so that from the moment someone enters the practice, they are in a warm and friendly environment. We have opted for hues of purple orange and cream on the walls to help create this atmosphere, and have a scent dispersed regularly onto the shop floor. We often play slow jazz in the background to set the mood too.
I’m very passionate about eyewear and being a stylist for my clients. I often dare our visitors to try on styles and colours that they would never normally have considered. It takes years of practice to spot a well-fitting frame and with the collections we carry we get to elaborate further.
While we understand that our clients’ journey begins long before they walk through our door, once they enter the practice and become a client, we aim to keep in contact with handwritten letters and phone calls to see how they are doing with their frames. It’s about the personal touch and delivering exceptional service.
"I take pride in what I do and I can talk all day about glasses. I love designing and drawing too, so eventually I'd love to design my own range of frames - I'm ambitious"
04. Because it’s my first time owning a practice, we have basically tried every avenue in order to spread the word about Spectacle Emporium.
From the traditional marketing methods of leafleting, as well as adverts and advertorials in a local magazine, to social media channels, we have tried them all. In terms of effectiveness, social media has been pretty good, but nothing beats a word of mouth recommendation, it’s brought in more clients than anything else.
We have used these marketing methods to educate people in the area about our presence and the frames we stock, but also about our personality, which is what I believe people buy into.
In one year we have received dozens of incredible feedback via Facebook and G+. A lot of them talk about their fun experiences here. We want to increase on that, to beautify everyone who visits, and to make their new glasses a conversation piece for their friends and family.
05. Statistically, a lot of opticians fail in the first two years, but 18 months on we are still here and growing slowly but surely.
In a few years’ time, we would like to be in a situation where we are known as the place to go for glasses, not just in Kings Heath, but across the West Midlands. Sure, there are some fantastic optometrists out there, but I don't know many stylists – there are a couple in Manchester and a few in London, but in between there is a big hole that we want to fill.
I take pride in what I do and I can talk all day about glasses. I love designing and drawing too, so eventually I'd love to design my own range of frames – I'm ambitious.