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HomemifeatureConfessions of a Spexaddict

Confessions of a Spexaddict

Louis Fullagar grew up in Australia and was a partner in an optical store in Melbourne before moving to America where he has established himself as an optical dispenser, blogger and independent luxury eyewear representative for Bevel & Orgreen. The creator of Luxury Eyewear Forum, Spexaddict and The Eyewear Cartel he is the ‘go-to’ man on all things uber cool and independent in eyewear. mivision connected with Louis to ask what it is about eyewear that keeps him inspired and what he believes independent Australian eyewear retailers can do to create their own winning identity.

Q: How did you get into the eyewear business?
At 17, I found myself restless and bored with school. All my friends had already left for apprenticeships in various trades. I decided I wasn’t going back and thought I might take a year off… my Dad had a different idea. My parents signed me up for several job interviews and off I went. I had been working part time in retail at Myer for a few years already and, evidently, I nailed the interview with OPSM. That was 1984…

Q: What makes the profession of eyewear design and retailing exciting for you?
At the beginning it was exciting because it was new to me. Soon after, you started to see eyewear become something of a fashion accessory. You began to see rock stars and entertainment icons purposely wearing a certain look and style. Eyewear began to appeal to me on a different level other than as a visual device. I started to be interested in its history, how it was made and interesting new designers like Oliver Peoples, Alain Mikli, LA Eyeworks and others who were pushing in a new direction.

On Design…

Q: 3D design is in its infancy, what’s the potential for a ‘make your own’ 3D eyewear market? What effect do you think this will have on the optical industry?

explore the path of doing something different to everyone else. Go to the local shopping centre or big city… see what they sell… then stop selling that stuff.

I feel that it’s purely a matter of time before the option to download and print your own eyewear will be a commercial reality. Right now we are still in the infancy stage but there are several pioneering 3D printed collections already on the market. Mykita Mylon and pq Eyewear spring to mind as the most visible. I think you will see this segment grow at several price points and levels of quality
in the next two to three years.

Q: What is the future for wearable tech eyewear?
Clearly the wearable tech market is also in its early days. Here in the US there is a fair amount of pushback relating to personal privacy issues and the eyewear available at this point in time. The concept can only move forward and I imagine that many of the issues will either be resolved or they will force some different design ideas to surface through this developmental phase.

Q: Eyewear design has been focused on vintage and retro styling for some time now, where can eyewear designers go next?
Vintage and retro styles will always have some place in the market but we are starting to see, particularly in the independent and luxury sectors, a conscious design focus on incorporating new materials, abundant use of colour, edgier styling, larger sizes and more distinctive and unique shapes.

On Australia…

Q: What are your thoughts on Australian eyewear designers?

I think it’s a very exciting time right now for Australian eyewear design. I am starting to see more Australian collections featured in some of the best eyewear boutiques in the USA. That was not a reality just a couple of years ago. In the last few weeks alone, I have seen Jono Hennessy, Carter Bond, Isson and Niloca in places I visit… that’s pretty cool.

Q: How can eyewear retailers encourage customers to be more confident about trying new eyewear designs?
Confidence comes from passion.

It is totally possible to create an environment in any optical store that is rooted in a passion for styling customers
in a genuine and unique manner.

Sometimes it may mean making changes to ensure it happens. That may include changes in inventory, price point, staff and decor.

It may sound radical but the one thing that stuck with me on my last visit to Australia was that many small operators are struggling to compete. So what’s the answer? Get back to what the original dream was… think about it, own it and do something about it! If it was being an “independent” then start working to create a truly unique experience in your store. The rest is an organic extension of that idea…

There are so many designers out there creating amazing limited, independent collections that already have an audience. It’s all about changing the focus of the business to provide incredible service, supply amazing product that is not available everywhere else and ultimately creating a “brand” for the store that the owners and staff understand, are committed to and, most of all, are passionate about!

Q: Have you ever been tempted to move back to Australia?
I’m always tempted to come home. I try and visit every year. I have small kids so we feel it’s important that they get that cultural experience that can only be achieved by being there. My wife, Heather, is from the New Orleans area so we also make sure the kids get down there as it’s as different a way of life from the rest of the USA. I still call Australia “home” though….

On Retail…

Q: What do you see as the challenges facing eyewear retailers today?

Certainly in the USA it’s managed care, insurance factors and the advent of online eyewear. I’m sure it’s probably the same in Australia with the added competition at the street level of large corporate discount chains. In the USA the market went through this saturated discount revolution at the retail level quite a few years ago so that part of it has really settled into its own space.

Q: What do you believe retailers can do to overcome those challenges?
Over here many independents went through a period where they redefined their overall image… i.e. stepping away from the discounters to create an option to provide unique, personalised service and product. It’s still happening and every month I see stores who want to remain independent slowly make the change.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to Australian eyewear retailers given the current competitive and slow environment?
My advice would be to decide where they want to be “after” this phase and work towards that.

Let’s face it, just in the time I have been in this industry we have been told we would be put out of business by all or any of the following… LASIK surgery, superstores, one hour service, two for one glasses, discounters, online eyewear, etc.

To me it seems obvious to explore the path of doing something different to everyone else. Go to the local shopping centre or big city. Go into all the major optical stores and see what they sell… then stop selling that stuff. Seems an obvious place to start, right?

On Luxury Eyewear Forum…

Q: When did you set up Luxury Eyewear Forum and what was your inspiration to do so?

I had already organised some of the reps into a group on Facebook to discuss our daily travels and challenges as well as putting together a blog called The Eyewear Cartel which was a loose affiliation
of some luxury brands.

Some months later I was in one state talking about a certain topic to an optical dispenser and that afternoon I drove to another appointment in the next state and had an identical conversation with someone else. That night it struck me that these guys would really benefit from talking to each other and perhaps by talking to a bunch of people on the same topic.

I set up the Facebook group that night. I began just by adding my own contacts in the luxury sector… dispensers, optometrists, other reps, competitors, lab guys, etc., and initially I drove most of the conversations. After only a short time it really started to become very active as people became more comfortable and trusting with each other and the conversations. Now it has grown exponentially. We have a core group of admins from all corners of the luxury eyewear sector and the group is vibrant, interesting and often humorous.

Q: How important has it become to the survival and growth of the independent eyewear market?
Our Facebook group and website give independent stores and practices the opportunity to learn from many of the industry’s most experienced and dynamic store owners, sales people, designers, lab technicians, media professionals and luxury experts, who help them separate themselves from the pack in their local areas. Previously there was no place to learn from so many talented people at once… social media has revolutionised this aspect of learning and made it faster, accessible and productive.

On Social Media…

Q: What do you believe should be in the optical retailers social media kit toolbox?

At this time most optical retailers have not done a great job of adapting to the new social media landscape. Obviously having a presence on the main formats such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., is only the first step.

Make no mistake. Doing it effectively takes a lot of effort and time. I strongly advise people to begin by just making a start. Utilise the young people in your store or practice to get going if you are not getting professional help.

Q: How important do you believe a social media presence is to an optical retailer?
Social media is another conduit to your business; as is an engaging, professional website. I am still shocked by the websites of many eyewear retailers. The internet is NOT going away folks!

Your website is nowadays a way more effective ‘window’ to your business than your actual window. It should be a natural extension of the business. It should answer every conceivable query that someone looking for an exciting new eyewear store might want to know. If you carry exclusive independent collections then be sure to tell the “stories” of these brands… create the DESIRE and curiosity. Make it easy to understand what you are offering… be creative, distinctive and professional.

Social media avenues should extend from your website in the same way the website should mirror your in-store experience. Synergy between all your online efforts creates a seamless, logical and exciting experience of your overall identity.

The most important thing is that it is important! When you have established your identity and taken steps to effectively deliver on that message through all your social media activity it may be time to seek some professional help. As much as you think you might know, you might not actually know it. Good social media companies will take the heavy load of timely delivery of information to your customers and potential customers off your desk and into professional hands.

The key is don’t be afraid of it… embrace it and make it your friend.

For more information about Louis Fullagar visit: www.louisfullagar.com


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