When you cast your eye over certain areas of Brighton’s retail landscape, you might experience the usual High Street stores sporadically interrupted by bare shop fronts, the occasional McDonald’s and an abundance of lands and worlds where you can purchase substandard items for a quid. However – while it goes without saying that the North Laine presents something more unique – the London Road redevelopment has given some people the opportunity to rise up. A number of people have decided that starting their own independent business is the best way to take control in the current unpredictable economic climate, changing the dismal appearance of the earlier mentioned view.
The Specky Wren next to The Open Market is no exception. When we first introduced BN1 readers to owners Marco and David back in 2013, they had just opened their doors, unsure of how people would respond to their modern ‘boutique’ looking shop. Here we are, nearly two years later, sat in the sun outside one of the most popular independent opticians and they couldn’t feel luckier.
With plentiful pop-ups and cost-effective mobile businesses being the ideal option for start-ups to test their product at a potentially low risk, both Marco and David first had the idea after watching George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces,
“Two years ago, the original idea was to kit out a transit van and do a mobile opticians, which was born out of frustration from working in a high street chain”, says Marco. “We didn’t have any money, I couldn’t stand my job so phoned David up and said ‘look, shall we do this thing we always talked about?’”
While phoning around markets for places to regularly park up around the city, they learnt that The Open Market was about to get its new lease of life and that an empty greengrocers next door was looking for a new proprietor.
“With me living in the area and Marco having lived here previously, we felt it fitted in perfectly with what we wanted to do. Low margins and high volumes.”
David describes proudly how the birth of The Specky Wren shop was a real labour of love and support from both families,
“When we got the space, we did all the work ourselves. Literally we didn’t pay anyone on the promise of glasses to help us,” David laughs as he recalls what was such a poignant time for both of them. “We had lots of independent people and family helping us for three months. Friends we hadn’t seen in ages, sanding walls and lending a hand. It was amazing, it really was a family experience.”
So with “zero in the bank and on a wing and a prayer”, in September 2013, The Specky Wren was open for business. Marco and David have fastidiously built up their reputation as one of Brighton’s best clinical eye health specialists, using the best equipment and offering a diverse range of glasses. “[It] feels phenomenal to have been able to expand, I mean, pinch me. We never expected to be this successful. The idea with the transit van was to scratch out a living and just be our own bosses and have things on our terms. We’ve totally superseded that and become one of the most popular independent opticians.”
Forget the ‘shop looks nice so it must be expensive’ judgment, these guys work hard to deliver an exceptional accessibility of care as professional but friendly opticians (for instance they make no profit on children’s glasses). Whilst priding themselves on carrying a huge variety of affordable frames, they have also scored the beautifully crafted and prestigious Lindberg collection, “we are very lucky to get that contract as it doesn’t get offered out very often.”
Make no mistake, with The Specky Wren boys both experts in their own fields and looking after different aspects – Marco is the clinical optometrist while David manages the shop, glasses and all dispensing – this is an independent business that means business.
The Specky Wren is 1-2 Marshalls Row, Brighton, BN1 4JU.