Styling optician Conor Heaney has his sights set on future growth as he celebrates nine years at the helm of his optican’s businesses.
Conor runs Jones And Co, on King Street in Manchester city centre where he employs a seven strong team. His blend of style and optometry in a unique setting have been the instrumental factors in building up a thriving business that is now one of the most successful independent opticians in the country.
Housed in the grade 2 listed Bank of England building, the practice looks and feels more like a boutique hotel than an opticians. The range of eyewear on display is kept deliberately small. Less than a dozen pairs are on display at any time as each visitor is treated to a unique eyewear consultation which involves the dispensing opticians bringing into play only those handpicked frames that they know will suit the lifestyle, prescription and style of the individual client.
Successful independent opticians like Jones And Co. however are fading from the high street. Over the last 20 years with the rise of Specsavers, Vision Express and Optical Express the market share of independent opticians has plummeted from 70% to less than 20% with independent practices closing at a rate of 300 per year. This is where Conor’s consultancy business for other independents is really starting to make a difference.
From his home office in Clitheroe, Lancashire, he is coach and advisor to 70 independent opticians across the UK and organises two annual conferences to bring them together to share ideas and best practice in the competitive world of optical retailing. Often these conferences are in Manchester so that attendees can get the behind the scenes tour of his practice.
“Over the years I realised that the thing our customers found most frustrating was the process of choosing glasses. If you wear glasses you’ll know choosing the right pair is like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why I set out to offer a different approach. We really ramped up the level of professional expertise we give and we guide our clients through the process of choosing glasses. Staring at a wall of glasses is not the best way to choose glasses. In fact, it is possibly the worst way. Choosing the right eyewear is a very individual decision and it requires expertise. We work by consultation to give our clients the benefit of our insider knowledge and know-how.”
“At Jones And Co. we travel to Antwerp, Munich, Milan, Paris and Copenhagen to source the world’s best eyewear. And that means we can offer clients glasses that they won’t find in other opticians. Something that gives them a unique, individual look. Glasses they will actually enjoy wearing”
As someone who champions independent businesses Conor is a big believer in personal service.
“The big businesses, the chains, the shops that have clones in every town, give you nothing more than a one-night stand. You’re just a number to them. Just a transaction. And tomorrow they’re on to the next customer. They’re not interested in commitment. They’re not interested in falling in love. That’s what the real strength of independent businesses is today. They can build a relationship with you. Give you a personalized experience. Treat you like an individual and give you advice that is tailored to you. They get to know you a little. Discover your preferences. They can even try and make your day whenever you visit. This is what being independent should be all about. There should be passion. Excitement. Even love.”