Inventing and Re-Inventing: Optician Randall Quinn

Inventing and Re-Inventing: Optician Randall Quinn
By Paddy Kamen

You won’t learn everything about Randall Quinn from reading this article because he has inventions up his sleeve that have nothing to do with eyewear. He just can’t talk about them right now, for reasons having to do with patents, trade secrets and all that. But when we met in the back room of this optical store in Kelowna, B.C. — conveniently known as Downtown Eyewear — I got to know a man who has re-invented himself several times in the course of a long career in the optical business.

Quinn started out in his hometown ofMontrealin the surfacing lab of European optician and craftsman Paul Filip. “I was looking around for jobs and got the opportunity to work for Paul. I found I had an aptitude for the mechanics of optics and he taught me a lot. It was training that has stood me in good stead over the years.”

Just 24 at the time, Randall eventually worked his way west toCalgary, where he managed the surfacing department of Hudson Optical. The next move — to B.C. — just made sense in terms of developing a well-rounded experience of the industry: “I met a fellow who needed my technical expertise in his optical shop so I moved toVancouverand started dispensing as well as lab supervision. Dispensing is cleaner and more rewarding. From there Imperial Optical hired me to start up several stores for them.”

Recognizing that he now had the knowledge and experience to become self-employed, Quinn found an opportunity to open his own optical shop inLangley, B.C., where he offered a wide range of products, including some high-end specialty pieces that he created himself. When he sold that business to Lenscrafters in1999, he was asked by the owners of an eyewear store catering to children to manage the store while they looked for a buyer. The job was just temporary in Quinn’s mind, “…until I served a little girl, about five years old. When she and her father were on the way out, her father said to her, “Aren’t you going to thank the optician for your glasses?” She ran over to me and hugged my leg. That clinched it — I realized that I loved working with kids and wanted more of it, so I called the owners and offered to buy the store.”

The challenge of working with young children was thrilling for Randall and his face lights up even now, when talking about it. “The doctors would send me really difficult cases like kids who had been in accidents. I fit more than one child who only had one ear. I loved it, but eventually, the doctors who owned the building decided they could make more money doing something else so they bought out my business.”

Randall and his wife, Loretta, retired for two years, touring aroundNorth Americain their motor home. “We had a wonderful time but eventually decided that we wanted to get back into the business. We settled onKelownaand set up a store in the downtown area.”

It took about three years forDowntown Eyewearto become known asKelowna’s go-to place for fashion-forward eyewear. A key ingredient in Randall’s recipe for success is being hands on and making the store a fun place to be. “My colleague Laurie Calloway and I believe that even if people don’t buy something they should leave our store feeling that they have had a very pleasant experience. We genuinely enjoy what we do and insist that they enjoy it, too. That is our secret. And when they do buy, the enjoyment factor makes paying for the eyewear worth every penny.

“My philosophy about optics is that it has much more to do with personality than with fashion,” continues Quinn. “Eyewear shows others who you are as a person or how you want to be viewed. I once had a man come in and we tried a few different frames, then he looked me square in the eye and said, ‘I am a criminal attorney. I need a pair of glasses that will give me the illusion of being able to bend someone else’s will’. That put a whole different spin on the process and I went directly to a frame we hadn’t yet tried and he said, ‘Now we’re talking’. We all have a persona and when the frame accords with the customer’s image of who they are or want to be, we make a sale.”

Engaging people in conversation gives an optician the opportunity to understand the customer’s personality and help them find the right frame. “Frequently they are looking for something familiar but which doesn’t necessarily show them to their best advantage,” notes Quinn. “But if you allow them to show their personality you can fit them with something that makes them say, ‘Wow, I never thought I would be looking for this, but it really works’.”

Quinn likes to enhance rimless eyewear designs by adding colour around the outside of the lenses and cutting designs into the edges. “My customers really like rimless with an extra something that helps it stand out.”

While helping his customers to express and perhaps re-invent themselves, Randall Quinn keeps reinventing his own career. He’s definitely a man to watch.