As Optique Line celebrates 30 years of doing business in Australia, we caught up with founder, John Nicola, to learn about the evolution of his company and the driving forces behind its continued success.
Q. You lead one of Australia’s most established eyewear distribution companies – was this always your dream?
No, I learnt my trade as a sales agent for a number of eyewear distributors in Australia before establishing Optique Line in 1990, initially with a focus on accessory items, which included boutique spectacle cases, spectacle chains, and lens cleaning solutions.
Three years later we started developing and acquiring eyewear collections – we acquired the Stepper Eyewear brand as well as the patent license agreement to manufacture and distribute Convertibles, a magnetic clip-on eyewear range.
Today, our range is extensive and includes Stepper Eyewear, Convertibles, Mersey Beat Eyewear, Auraflex, Auraflex+, Paparazzi, Supasize, Gemini Collection, Gemini Essentials and custom branded accessories.
Stepper Eyewear and Convertibles have become industry benchmark brands that are known for being functional, fashionable and, with 200 styles to choose from, great fitting as well.
Q. What do you believe is the secret to your success?
Consistency and quality. After 30 years, we’re still focussed on keeping independent retailers in Australia and New Zealand relevant to their customers by maintaining collaborative partnerships. Our ethos is to continually advance the independent optical industry by offering four pillars of support:
- To provide the best value eyewear,
- To supply an entrepreneurial approachto business development,
- To deliver boutique customer service, and
- To generate consumer demand withbespoke marketing.
- What type of practices make up the majority of your customer base?
The majority are Australian and New Zealand independent optical retailers in the suburbs and regions where fashion, as well as quality and value for money, are the primary drivers.
We’ve worked hard and consulted regularly to understand the challenges they face, both in terms of competing against the corporates and weathering tough times. With this in mind, we support and encourage them to take a strategic approach to growing their businesses. We do this by offering various frame styles and value for money price points, and by providing them with access to our frame management system, which assists in range planning and inventory stock solutions. This, in turn, supports better cash flow control for their business.
Q. You have your own brands and work with external brands to create collections. Who is primarily responsible for the designs you offer?
I am primarily responsible for the concept design of all of our brands, excluding Stepper Eyewear and as such, I direct design teams for each brand to develop the styles that I come up with.
Q. What inspires you in the design process?
I spend a lot of hours running in solitude as I train for local and international ultramarathons. It’s the perfect opportunity for business forward planning as well as for creative thinking. While I’m out there running, I’m designing and developing new ranges.
Having come up with a broad concept and the target market, I work alongside the inhouse design teams for each of our brands to consider eye shapes and bridge fits. Our customers – i.e., the independent practice owners – play a vital role in the development of many of our styles, so we take on board all feedback as to future design directions.
Choosing the appropriate components, colours and finishes is what differentiates the styles, and while this is the most challenging part of the process, it is also the most rewarding. The eventual distribution of a new design into the marketplace is always an exciting time.
Q. Which brand do you uphold as being integral to Optique Line’s success?
Stepper Eyewear is the hallmark brand in our portfolio. It was created 50 years ago by the German optician Hans Stepper, who developed three-dimensional facial fitting as the key principle to ensure superior comfort and fit. He also chose to use only the lightest materials to manufacture frames.
All Stepper plastic frames are made from TX5 – a polyamide that is 25% lighter than conventional acetate material yet so strong that we’re able to produce much thinner frames with great scratch resistance.
Titanium and beta-titanium are the preferred materials for all Stepper SI metal frames and components. The benefits of these materials are that they are 50% lighter than other metals used, 100% corrosion-free, 100% nickel-free and, of course, hypoallergenic.
Q. Tell me about your other key brands
Convertibles Eyewear also holds a unique position in the Australian and New Zealand industry, as the leader in magnetic clip-on eyewear. We initially launched the brand with a strategic consumer focussed campaign. This included television, radio, billboard and print advertising, which quickly established Convertibles Eyewear as a household name. With well over 20 years of growth and development, the brand has maintained its market presence by consistently producing functional, innovative and fashionable designs that suit those seeking everyday wear or something more stylish.
Auraflex is another favourite, especially among the more adventurous customers. It combines practical styling with the latest memory metal technology, made using a combination of alloy and titanium. We recently expanded the range with AuraFlex +, a premium collection of architectural designs that features the same memory metal bridge but is constructed from pure and beta titanium for added strength and flexibility.
For customers that seek value for money, I’m really proud of our in-house brands – Paparazzi, Gemini and Mersey Beat. We’ve managed to achieve great styling for these collections and manufacture them at a cost that enables our customers to retail them at attractive price points. We’re able to do this by negotiating directly with manufacturers, which reduces the number of touchpoints before our products reach the end-user.
Q. What do you think will be the new ‘big trend’ in eyewear?
During the current economic climate, we believe consumers will be seeking value eyewear over designer labels. Buyers will still expect stylish frames that make a statement, but at a cost-conscious price point.
Q. What has Optique Line planned for the future in terms of design?
We’re always looking toward the future. As such, our design team is focussing on how we can support our retailers and their consumers’ needs by producing the best value eyewear in terms of quality, price and design.
Contact: (AUS) 1800 649 527 optiqueline.com.au (NZ) 0508 674 478 optiqueline.co.nz