Karl Hallam of Eyeye tells us about his vision for ‘doing the right thing’
My brother-in-law is a Philosophy Professor specialising in ethics and he says: “Ethical and profitable are two incompatible motivations.” Is he right? Has his living in America for 25 years, the last few under Trump, made him forget the good old British concept of trying to do the right thing? Or is it more that it is difficult to be profitable if you are ethical?
The starting point for Eyeye’s ‘do the right thing’ approach was to be up-front and transparent about the cost of our spectacles. It is the opposite of ‘Ryanair pricing’ in that we tell you the final price at the beginning, not at the end as a nasty surprise when all their up-sells have been added on. People who have been to other opticians respond well to this – if you like – ‘Yorkshire pricing’ – buy one, get one.
But, while our prices are more than competitive versus the final price you pay elsewhere, most of our competitors lure customers in with headline offer prices that you very rarely end up paying at the end. So, we need different, creative ways of getting people through our doors, like events and a bold, opinionated (polite) social media presence.
Another important feature of how we conduct our business is that we allow much longer for an eye test than others. For example, most Specsavers allow 20 minutes per appointment and we have more than double that. This allows us time to listen, understand problems, take and discuss pictures and give advice about keeping your eye healthy. The eye test is more enjoyable for the patient and the optician – it allows us time to hopefully build a trusting relationship. But the more tests you squeeze in, the more money you might make.
We also look for suppliers who are trying to do the right thing, too. We have frames made from recycled sea waste plastic, plant-based products and recycled steels. We also, use a Sheffield-based lens lab as we think that is sensible from a sustainability point of view. This contrasts with Boots who fly in four planes a day from Thailand, where their frames are glazed. These initiatives make me and loyal customers feel good, but don’t help in keeping our costs down.
We’ve been open three years now and are looking forward to one day getting to the point when we might have some tax to pay on some profits. We have undoubtedly attracted some customers by shouting about our ethical credentials, but we do need more if we are to keep going. In these uncertain times Sheffield is even more price sensitive than ever and the lure of Amazon ‘bargains’ is there for all of us.
My response to the brother-in-law in Michigan perhaps ought to be – do people really believe you can be ethical and affordable? We’re trying to be and we do like to think in our case that maybe seeing is believing.