please tell us about your background?
I’m actually a lifelong sales and marketing person.
Until 2004, I was the UK head of division for a
multinational. And really the online business came about
as a result of a cliché. I
was tired of sitting in things that were moving - I was
always in trains, planes and cars...never at home, and I
missed my son growing up. I simply resigned and started
experimenting with various internet based projects. I was
fortunate enough to have a chance meeting with a gentleman in his seventies who was
extremely fit and who ran an opticians group in the north.
He had done since the 1940s. He was looking for something
to do with a rather substantial stock of old frames that
he’d built up over the years.
Had you been involved in ‘opticals’ before?
Not at all.
So when you saw this stuff, what were your thoughts?
It was one of these things where you say “I’ll give it
No previous experience necessary.
And in fact the old gentleman said “I’m not going to
tell you anything about the industry, because I’m going
to leave you to find out for yourself.”
The school of hard knocks. So you inherited all this
Initially we were sort of drip-fed.
Did you inherit his clients?
No, nothing. They were mainly supplying opticians, but
very often the stock was coming from the opticians rather
than the other way around. So that’s how it came about.
Where are you getting these items from, because obviously
there’s a turnaround of these items. Is it getting more
difficult as people become more savvy about them?
No, the thing is that high street opticians have a limited
And a limited selection as well.
Yes, and therefore they only want to stock the ones they
are going to sell the most of. We had a substantial amount
of stock anyway – around 20,000, and indeed, six years
on we still have some of that stock going through the
system. But equally we have people ring up - it happened
very recently, and say “We’ve got 7,000 pairs of old
frames in storage, would you be interested in them?”
And this is in the UK?
Yes, the last lot came from a warehouse in London where
they’d been since 1988.
Do you drive down there and check them out?
No, it’s remarkable, they send them up and we sort out
what we want and then send back the rubbish.
Sounds like a nice business model.
I think in most cases, David, they’re just pleased to
find somebody who wants them.
You don’t have to take everything and then can cherry
pick what you can use.
There’s a fine line between vintage, retro and rubbish
and there is, unfortunately, some rubbish – we got sent
7,000 and we kept 1,300.
What sort of feedback are you getting from clients?
Fantastic. We are getting an average of three calls or
emails a week from people who say they are so pleased to
have found them because they’ve been looking for their
favourite style or to replace something they lost. And
people are extremely positive - I’ve had an email today
from Canada. I’ve had them from America and Australia
from people who lost or had worn out frames that were dear
to them and had them for a very long time and asking if we
had them. And it’s remarkable how often we do have them.
Does that mean, therefore, that they’re not so available
in those countries or is it because of your prominence on
I think the latter but then I consider myself global
because half of what we sell goes overseas.
I always wonder that about The Internet because obviously
it’s global by definition. But I wonder if people do
discriminate and try to go to a local site if they can
first and then look overseas.
Certainly we have a lot of business with Australia.
I suppose in that case it might be the ‘Mother
country’ connection and also maybe lots of people living
there would have originally obtained their glasses over
Retro and vintage so enduringly popular and they seem to
be getting bigger all of the time. Why do you think that
I think we all know that fashion goes in circles and I do
think that the majority rather than the minority of people
actually have a style that suits them. And they want to
stay with it, whether 100% or to a certain extent. If you
find the style of glasses, like thick acrylic black
frames, are what you’re used to and what you look good
in, if round glasses became the fashion you wouldn’t
change to round glasses.
I suppose contact lenses didn’t have much of an impact
on you but is laser having much of an impact?
I’m not aware and again I think the great advantage with
vintage and retro is that you change your image and mood
in a second.
Yes, I imagine that some people even have plain glass in
We do sell them and we charge £15 to fit non-optical,
non-prescription lenses into them.
Does that happen very often?
People going for a look.
But you can change your look completely with a pair of
glasses. We’ve actually given up ‘sexing’ glasses
because we never fail to be amazed by what men buy and
what women buy.
I suppose these days anything goes. So what are the best
aspects of what you’re doing?
I think there’s two answers to that. One is from a
satisfaction angle – we are really making people happy
and relieved because they have found the style of frames
that they want. It’s not a sales pitch – we really do
get calls from people saying how pleased they are to have
found us. From a commercial aspect it’s great because
it’s a niche market.
What would they have done before The Internet? Struggled.
Yes. Although I suppose before The Internet the ranges of
glasses carried were less focused (to use a pun.)
What are the unique selling points of The Old Glasses Shop
when compared to your competition?
First of all I’m not actually sure we’ve got any
competitors in the sense that we don’t have copies made
of old ones i.e: Retro. All of our glasses, or 99% of
them, are genuine vintage but they’re brand new. And
people tend to associate vintage with used or what have
you but these frames have just been in storage for a very,
very long time and have been forgotten about.
What’s the oldest batch that you’ve had?
We found a ticket on them saying 14/6d.
That would be fourteen shillings and six pence in old
means they were pre-decimal in 1971.
In fact I’ve got some in front of me and they’re made
of tortoiseshell. I’d say they were probably –
they’re not glasses in the sense that you and I would
recognise them. You know opera glasses?...
If you can imagine those without the binocular bit?
Yes like those but they’ve got handles. And these say
’Guaranteed British Made OTC' whatever that means.
These are probably the thirties.
What are your retro passions? If you came into this by
accident I wonder do you have any?
I’m just an old fart and I’m really not interested in
what the marketing people are trying to persuade us to
wear or look like.
But is there any retro music style that you like, for
I’m definitely a seventies music fan. I loved the glam
rock. I still play it. My youngest daughter is sixteen and
I like Elbow and Kings of Leon and what have you.
We’re going to see Elbow in March as a Christmas
A great band, aren’t they?
The Seldom Seen Kid is a classic album. I bought that one
first and then went back and bought their earlier albums
and you could see how they evolved and developed.
Do you know? You’ve just literally repeated a comment I
made on the very same subject to my daughter. You can
actually see how they’re matured into their full
potential. If you ever go onto Youtube and see them
performing with the BBC Orchestra it’s just outstanding.
We interviewed Mike Dixon who was the MD for that, so
I’m going to put your ad on that interview page as well
as the interview we’re doing with Maggie Stredder of The
Ladybirds who was known as The Girl With The Glasses in
the fifties and sixties.
Thanks. I’m definitely an Elbow fan. It’s a classic
album in every sense of the word.
It is a wonderful album.
What’s your favourite track?
I don’t know. I don’t think I have a favourite, I just
like the whole album to be honest. I don’t know when the
next one’s due, do you?
I don’t. I’m one of these people who someone will tell
me “Do you know the Elbow album’s been out for six
months” and I say “No.” I’m so busy David that the
world tends to pass me by quite frankly. A terrible
situation, but true.
It’s not uncommon in small businesses. People are being
torn in every which way and we must be the hardest workers
madness, it is but I would obviously like to get to the
stage with The Old Glasses Shop at some point where it’s
a saleable enterprise. But I don’t want to do it at the
moment because, frankly, it’s a good business.
What sorts of labels and brands are you stocking there at
the Old Glasses Shop?
The vast majority of our frames are original designer
brands - Dolce and Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Jean
Paul Gaultier, Versace etc etc. A new development is that
we have started doing prescriptions so that our customers
receive the completed glasses if they prefer.
other developments are there Graham?
You’ll be amazed what I’m into. I’ve done e-commerce
consultancy for Sage for a few months, I’ve just taken
on a new client, who’s basically into therapy practice.
And I have garden ornaments, both reclaimed and new.
Do you have problems knowing what hat you’re wearing
I am actually just reorganising the staff to relieve some
of the pressure on that side. Certainly you can put your
mortgage on the fact that our best selling line will
always be round glasses .
Yes, John Lennon ones?
That style, yes. And out of that lot of 1,300 that I
picked the other week there were probably around 150 pairs
there of round frames that still need to be photographed.
Definitely the round frames in the UK.
Michael Caines? Audrey Hepburns?
No, we’ve got acrylics and they are becoming a more
popular part of the business. But if I had to pick one
style and only had one style to do it would definitely be
round. And children’s round as well - we have authentic
vintage children’s round frames as well. They also sell
very well. I’ve actually got a pair of Kookai ones in
front of me and they’re sort of twenty years old –
it’s like half a pair of glasses that rests on the end
of your nose. I wish we could get more of those. They are
always in demand and I struggle to get hold of those.
Do you know the demographic of your clients?
Right across the board. Young people are very much into
vintage and we have an Old Glasses Twitter account with
That is good.
And we only started six months ago. We just pump out on
there, and on our mailing list, the glasses that we add.
And those followers are all over the world. Young people
looking to be trendy and older people looking to get hold
of ones they’ve always worn.
Well, thanks Graham for letting us know all about The Old
Glasses Shop and best of luck with the future as well.