“My Sister is the same age as Jamie and Ayshah Edney’s eldest child and my Mum and Ayshah met at a baby group, so they are now family friends. I was at a bit of a dead end when they offered me an opportunity to see if I wanted to come and work for them.
They knew I was a bright lad, and I liked the opportunity so they supported me and said they would take me to the next level if it was something I wanted to do. That was in 2015 and two weeks later I started at Wilkinson Eyewear Studio here in Tonbridge. Jamie Edney was working here at that time, he joined the business in 1995 at the Sevenoaks store.
After I joined, it was just three weeks before I started my college course and very quickly, I realised that I really enjoyed it and knew there was lots of scope to do more and to develop skills that I didn’t even know I had. The college course was for three years to become a dispensing optician, most people think that an optician tests eyes, which they do, they are called an ophthalmic optician (or optometrist) and then you’ve got people like Jamie and myself who are dispensing opticians.
I qualified in 2018 and have had a lot of luck along the way; just before I qualified the manager who had been here for 15 years, decided to leave after 30 years in optics. When I returned from a holiday, two weeks after qualifying, Jamie offered me the job as Manager, it was good timing but also a well-earned position as I had been practically running the studio for the previous six months. I worked very closely with Jamie, especially for the first year before he opened Edney and Edney in Tunbridge Wells, we both worked here and often travelled in together as we lived closely to one another.
I like building a rapport with people, seeing them come back, being happy with their eyewear and then spending again. I like the challenge and the operations side of things – when I take a step back, I like to make sure things are being done properly, finding ways to streamline procedures to make things easier for us.
We have the biggest team here from the group, but it’s also quite disjointed, most of them are part-time so their paths don’t cross often, I’m here five days a week unless I’m needed to cover elsewhere. Our assistant Manager Sean works across this site and Sevenoaks, and we’ve got four optometrists that work across all the clinics, so we’ve got quite a diversified team which is good because our customers are often seeing different people and we must be good with our communication. Other than Charley, who is new to the team and will be starting the college course soon, everyone here is qualified and having a team that’s slightly bigger with different members of staff that are part time allows us to lean on different people with different specialities for our clients.
Wilkinson’s bought this store back in the 1960s, so it’s got a very big and loyal patient base that spans back decades, but we decided a few years ago that we need to move the business in a different direction to survive. A lot of the independent opticians were being matched and beaten by the big high street multiples, we looked at what we can offer that they couldn’t and that was the best handmade, artisan eyewear from independent suppliers across the globe. We pride ourselves on the service but by offering a quality product that you just couldn’t get hold of was where we wanted to be.
We were looking at independent eyewear and handmade eyewear that was brave and different, people were getting comments on them and recommending, we were educating our clients and their friends that eyewear is more than just a medical device but a fashion item as well. They become an accessory and you have a work pair, a social pair and you have a classy pair or whatever it may be, even to suit whatever mood you may be in.
We had a client who bought two bright pairs of specs and she came back in a couple of weeks later saying she absolutely loved them, but when she woke up in the morning, they were a bit too bright for her – so she bought a dull pair for the first two hours of the day! If we were not offering the eyewear that we do, she wouldn’t have been able to explore those options.
We’re always on the lookout for new brands, we go to trade shows like SILMO which is the main one in Paris in September, looking for new opportunities. We also have an unwritten rule where once we sell a piece, we tend not to replace it with like for like and that way it keeps our stock fresh. But it also means that we can tell people that it makes that piece quite individual to the area as well. If people come in asking for a specific brand, it will be something we don’t stock, often a large fashion brand it’s not what we’ve based our business on. The quality isn’t always there because it will be mass produced. We take the opportunity to show them something in a similar style but better quality, or maybe something completely different that they previously would have never considered.”
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Wilkinson Eyewear Studios in Bromley, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge have provided outstanding eyecare to their respective communities for over 80 years with pride.
Our commitment to exceptional service has been testament to our fulfilling history, and this unwavering pursuit of eyecare excellence still sits at the heart of what we do. Premium Nikon lenses, coupled with artisanal eyewear collections showcasing formidable quality and industry leading style, will ensure that our clients enjoy perfect spectacles.