Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with David Lochhead from Finlay London

Our latest interview is with David Lochhead as he tells us about the journey to get Finlay London off the ground.

Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with David Lochhead from Finlay London

We had a great catch up with David Lochhead on the challenges and successes of his entrepreneurial journey launching sunglasses company, Finlay London. Founded in 2012 the brand is renowned for its association with Megan Markle who wore their model ''Percy'' on her first public appearance with Prince Harry.

Over the next few months we will be talking to numerous innovators working in retail. Whether this is a company founder or a product designer, they are all experts in their own right.

It’s a huge step starting your own business David - what prompted you and what was your eureka moment?

I was made redundant from a Marketing role within a bank during the recession. Shortly after leaving the company, I was on holiday in Portugal with friends and we were surprised by how unimaginative people’s eyewear choices were. Given that we all wear different clothing and accessories, it was intriguing to see so many faces wearing either wayfarer or aviator shaped sunglasses. After much discussion, we decided to start designing frames that help express your personality and individuality.

What has been the toughest part of your entrepreneurial/business journey?

We operate in an extremely crowded market. Almost every large fashion or lifestyle brand will turn to eyewear to licence their brand. Everyone from Chanel to Land Rover put their brand name on sunglasses.

This means as a small artisan eyewear brand you must have a real point of difference and simultaneously compete with a substantially smaller marketing budget. As an unproven newcomer with no industry credentials or contacts, it was a challenge in the early days to ensure our message was heard. This becomes a little easier as our reputation in the market grows, however, our marketing budgets are still a tiny fraction of the large industry players'.

What is your favourite part about doing what you do?

It’s a real joy to hear from customers who have visited our stores and received a level of service that goes beyond their expectations. It’s particularly thrilling when the frames they’ve selected become one of their most complimented items of clothing.

What's the most valuable piece of advice you received early in your career?

Someone shared this simple line with me - ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’. I think this articulates the ambition, resourcefulness and resilience that is needed to grow a business.

What makes your product offering unique and how do you maintain this?

There are two elements of what we offer at Finlay - eyewear and eyecare. Eyecare is a service and our people and the experience we offer in store helps set us apart in this space. When it comes to our eyewear, we believe the proposition we offer- Handmade in Italy using the finest materials for £100-£150 - is unrivalled in the market. The design and fit of our shapes alongside the subtlety of our branding completes the picture.

How do you ensure you have an in-depth knowledge of who your customer is?

Traditionally it has been significantly harder to know our customer because the bulk of our business was selling through wholesale. This meant that the individual retailer might know the end customer, but as a brand, we had to make assumptions based on the profile of the store.

Today more than 90% of our business is Direct-to-Consumer and so we are able to build a much clearer picture of our customer-base. There is a substantial difference between knowing who your customers are and knowing your customers. We find that those who we build the strongest relationships with tend to shop with us numerous times each year.

The D2C model is really having it's moment, if you're working with D2C then has your customer changed over time and if so how?

When Finlay first launched online, our product attracted early adopters and tended to resonate with hipsters. Today Finlay appeals to a wider customer base, which can be seen by observing the diverse range of customers that visit our store. Undoubtedly this broad customer base is a function of store location.

Given that our first store is in the heart of Soho, we see a mix of shoppers, tourists and local office workers. Our online customers are predominantly across UK and US, although we shipped to over 70 countries last year. Something that hasn’t changed is how unisex our customer base is. We were intrigued shortly after starting the brand at the customer mix and continue to design frames that appeal to a broad profile of customers.

The benefits of using data in decision making in retail are becoming clear, could you give me an example of how you use data and how it’s benefited you?

Controlling stock is essential for any product-oriented business. We combine sales data for each product across our three core channels to predict when stock levels will drop below a given threshold in order to trigger re-orders. This level of insight allows us to avoid being out of stock and therefore missing sales. It also prevents us unnecessarily ordering too much stock and have too much cash tied up in slow moving products.

That seems like a sound approach! In terms of next steps - the retail industry has changed dramatically in recent years - what do you now think are the key skills needed to succeed?

The key to succeeding in an offline world is to offer something that can’t be replicated easily online. This is why the word ‘experience’ has become so central in the retail discussion. Eyecare services are next to impossible to replicate accurately online and eyewear remains one of the few categories that is difficult to shop remotely.

Customers also expect a seamless omni-channel experience between online and offline worlds. Our product catalogue and appointment booking software needs to be fully integrated across channels.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenges in the coming years, for both your own business and the wider retail industry?

High streets are widely reported to be struggling as online sales continue to grow significantly year after year. Despite this, we haven’t adapted the tax system in this country to support the high street and level the playing field versus online players. Business rates for physical stores have increased and we’re not seeing rents reduce from landlords to compensate. Do we have an appropriate tax system given that M&S paid more tax last year than Amazon have paid in the UK over the last 20 years combined?

Can you tell me any brands/retailers that you admire and if so what is it about them that you think they do well?

I really admire the evolving department store concept that Neighbourhood Goods are pioneering in the US. By partnering with an eclectic and ever-changing selection of different brands - often Direct-to-consumer - they are giving their customer reasons to return to the store each time they are nearby.

Wolf & Badger have a similar model in the UK, but Neighbourhood Goods allow their partners to create a more immersive shopping environment.

I’m also consistently impressed by London Sock Co and the way they have created such an established luxury sock business in such a short space of time. They’ve become the sock of choice for the modern gentleman through innovative ideas like a digital sock subscription that can be paused and amended. They continue to stand out by striking exciting partnerships and design collaborations.

Thanks for your insights David!

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