Interview with: Marie Forrest, FORREST Optical Styling Studio
Can you tell me about your career background – why you set out to work in optics, when you began your training and your qualifications etc?
My first encounter with optics was a gap year job as a receptionist with Dollond and Aitchison in Leeds. This led to changing my career focus and completing the Dispensing course at Bradford College. After qualifying, and after a few years as a locum DO across the northern region, I became the youngest (and only female) manager in Sheffield for a small chain of opticians.
What do you enjoy the most about being a Dispensing Optician?
The thing I love the most is the sociability. Every day I get to chat with a range of interesting people, and I genuinely enjoy helping them find a pair of glasses they love. That’s my mission, and what I actually tell every client. I love seeing people really excited about their glasses. I’ve returned to Dispensing after a spell living abroad, and then running a business unrelated to optics. Having had a break means I’m coming back to it with fresh eyes, and with a number of transferable skills I’ve picked up from my other business
I know you’ve only recently set up as a dispensing only Styling boutique- what was your inspiration behind this?
My inspiration was my close friend with whom I trained over 30 years ago, Amanda Nasser. She set up a dispensing-only Styling Boutique three years ago. I covered for her a number of times during her holidays, and I was reminded of how fun and rewarding it can be supplying amazing specs to people. It rekindled my passion. I live in the small vibrant market town of Ledbury, and I thought a practice of this nature would work well here.
You have achieved great growth in a few short months. What do you attribute this too?
Being very different to the competition, which I don’t actually regard as competition. They serve a different market. They don’t offer the services I do, and there is actually room for us all. Everyone who comes to me remarks on the beautiful boutique design, the imaginative displays I have (no conventional racks) and the welcoming comfortable ambience. My style is not clinical, but professional. Clients enjoy starting a styling session with a coffee on my comfy sofa while I chat to them about their visual needs, and their Style Personality. We then move to the dispensing table where I can demonstrate their Colour Type (with the aid of colour colours – a great investment!) They tell me they enjoy having frames selected for them – they don’t want to try on every frame until they hit upon a suitable one by chance. They appreciate my guidance and advice, and respect my expertise. I can feel that the in-depth process inspires them with confidence in my decisions regarding a selection for them. I can also see clients slowly realising that although a “frame for all seasons” is possible, it will be a compromise – it will mean diluting the vibrancy of the colours they love, or toning down the unconventional shape they’re drawn to. They realise that they’re going to need more than one pair!
Once they come to this conclusion, it means they can be more daring and brave in their frame choices.
I also believe the adage that “people buy from people”. So I try to be the best version of myself I can for my clients. Nothing is too much trouble. I’m there to pamper them and give them a fantastic personalised experience; one that makes them feel special. I try to make them feel like they do when they’ve been to the hairdresser or beautician, where someone, and in this case me, has given them time and undivided attention, and has totally focused on their needs. They appreciate that I’ve listened to them intently, because I’ve genuinely tried to understand what they’re looking for and how they want to express themselves through their specs.
Why did you decide to enrol on the Eyewear Stylist Practice Programme?
I came across the course by accident while searching online. I happened upon a video talk by Eva, and I immediately connected with everything she said, and I identified that Eyewear Styling, more than anything, would set me apart from the multiples. This was to be my USP.
What skills have you learnt to assist you with dispensing eyewear more effectively?
It’s absolutely night and day in terms of how I was trained to dispense, how I dispensed literally thousands of specs, and what I do now. I think in the past I regarded the lenses as the most important aspect of a client’s glasses. Next came fit, and if they looked ‘quite good’ that was just a bonus. The emphasis has totally shifted for me now. Of course I discuss lenses in great depth, and ensure they meet all the requirements for my client, and the fit is also key, but these are a given – they’re the minimum a client expects. But I now realise how they look and feel in their glasses is actually the number one concern for the majority of people. In fact I’d say it’s 100% the case for my clients. Anyone who is not too concerned about how they look and feel in their specs is happy going to a chain where there is a lot of choice, but not always a lot of variety, and that’s totally fine.
I have learned so many skills through doing the course. I now know exactly why a frame works for a client in terms of style, shape and colour. And even better than that, I am able to assess a client’s face and pre-determine exactly the type of frames I’m going to include in the selection for them – based upon the in-depth styling consultation skills I’ve acquired.
I’ve actually done the online course multiple times to fix it securely in my head. I’ve also picked up extra tips from the regular live streams and the blog posts Eva provides. Now I’ve taken on board all aspects of the course, and how to deliver a styling session, I’ve become confident enough to modify it to suit my personal style.
How has this impacted your business?
I started this business as an Eyewear Styling Studio so there has been nothing to directly compare it with, but I see that the model is a successful one. My average dispense is a lot higher than I initially anticipated. It’s still early days, but I’ve exceeded my targets for September and October, and I’m on track to do this same this month (I opened in September). In fact I’m becoming busier at a time I expected to slow down – moving into the traditionally quiet period in Optics of November and December. This is definitely down to me following the Eyewear Styling model.
Have you changed your style since becoming an eyewear stylist?
My style has remained the same, but I love being able to “dress up” every day to go to work, where ordinarily I would only get to do this when socialising.
How has this impacted your clients?
I’m sure my “dressing up”, and essentially modelling a few style personalities – City Chic and Dramatic, with glasses to match, helps them see style and specs in action.
What do you value most about being part of the Eyewear styling Academy Community? How does the extra support and help like Monthly Zoom Live sessions help you?
I mostly value being part of a growing movement within optics to improve the specs of the nation. It sounds like a grandiose aspiration, but having lived in Vienna for a few years, I was always impressed by the style and colour of specs over there, and confused by our lack of confidence over here in the UK to wear bold styles and colours. So, reducing this ambition to a local one, I’m on a mission to provide the specs wearers of Ledbury with glasses they’ll love.
What advice would you give for someone wanting to join the Eyewear Styling Practice Programme?
Very simply – do it! It’s a great investment. Yes invest the money, but most importantly, invest your time in doing the course, revisiting the content, and maintaining an on-going connection to it, by attending or at least watching the monthly live sessions. It’s not a lightweight course. It’s full of solid, great content, and follows a logical well thought out route map through a styling session, covering every aspect in a lot of detail. You do have to retrain your brain to take on board a new in-depth way of dispensing, but the result is a much more enjoyable dispensing experience – for you as well as the client. To me it feels like the difference between being a sales assistant on the till at Marks & Spencer’s, and a personal shopper at Harvey Nichols! And from a client’s point of view, having experienced both myself, I know which is the better, more personalised, and more enjoyable experience!
Fashion and Style Focus
And finally, because we are champions of everything unique and personal about our clients – a little bit about you:
What style personality /personalities are you?
I’m a combination of Dramatic and City Chic, with a seasoning of Creative.
What is your colour type?
I’ve got dark hair and eyes, so I’m a Deep.
What are your passions in life and how do you reflect this in your eyewear choices?
I have a lot of creative and dramatic passions in my life. I’m very involved in amateur dramatics and I was a member of a local band (4 part harmony with backing band). I’m a voluntary event manager for Ledbury Poetry festival where I get to look after the performers. I also took my own show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which I hope to do again, and I write poetry in my spare time to entertain my friends and myself. My eyewear choices reflect the creative and dramatic aspects of my personality.
What is your personal favourite accessory to wear right now and why?
I like bold scarves and unusual jewellery. I don’t have any one favourite – I like to mix it up.
What eyewear says ‘Marie Forrest?
Apart from Eyewear Styling, what do you love to do in your spare time?
As above, but I’m also a member of a book club, and I’m a very keen on meeting friends for coffee and cakes!