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Interviews with Retailers: Tim Fallowell of Focus Optics

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Old Friday 28th September 2018, 12:46   #1
Troubador
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Interviews with Retailers: Tim Fallowell of Focus Optics

Welcome to this, the 4th of 5 interviews: 2 from the USA, one from the UK and two from continental Europe.

Who am I?
Tim Fallowell of Focus Optics, near Coventry, UK.

My Background
In the days before we launched the shop I was a partner in a small-holding farm here on this site, as you will hear from the background I give to our shop, and I had an interest in birding. My first binos were a pair of Pentax 8x40 porros, with those ruby-coloured lenses that I absolutely hate today. I was always interested in birding, not intensively, but since I was a glider pilot, I found myself on airfields rather a lot and you find lots of birds there. I used to love flying with Buzzards alongside the glider, taking a look at me and then effortlessly gaining height while I am still trying to find lift.

Our Shop
Our shop had its origins in our small-holding poultry farm, run by me and my business partner, Arthur Day. We were both into birding and one day Arthur went into town to buy a spotting scope (this was back in the days of the Swift Telemaster) but soon discovered that you can’t reasonably do it there because you just can’t test them out in urban surroundings. On the other hand, we reasoned that we had a site on top of a hill with views all around, and decided that we could provide superb conditions for the demonstration and testing of optics and so our shop opened in 1982.

This enabled us to change our small-holding (it’s now about 23 acres) into a nature reserve and so we have a large pond in front of the shop, a wild-flower meadow and 6 acres regenerating naturally into oak woodland. This is how we started.

We employ 4 people and I guess I am the MD as Arthur retired about 15 years ago, although he still has a hand in the business. When you (talking to me, Troubador) bought your first pair of binos from us in 1986 you would have met Arthur and his wife because at that time they were more involved in the shop than me. Back then we had both the shop and the farm and my primary job was managing the farm, but as that ran down and the shop increased I moved across to the shop.

Our Customers and How We Do Business
The typical age of our customers is probably 50 and above. This is a concern as our customer base is ageing, but on the other hand this pool of customers is getting bigger and they are on the whole more financially stable than the younger generation, so maybe age isn’t such a big risk. I put the lack of younger customers on mobile phones and tablets as they spend so much time looking at what is in their hands that they don’t discover the real world until in their later years.

Ladies have always been a significant part of our customer base to the extent I would say that 40% of our customers are ladies and this has always been the case. So for us they are, and always have been, important.

In general our customers fall into two groups: some with a certain level of expertise who will ask questions about field of view, close focus and light transmission and so on. Then there are others who are either beginners or at least do not profess to have any knowledge, and with them it is more a case of fitting them to the right bino for their needs. So we have to explain things like eyecup positioning for with or without spectacles, the IPD adjustment and so on. This is a really big part of what we do, coaching customers in the practical aspects of how to use binos.

The biggest challenge we have is explaining the dioptre adjustment. Understanding this seems to be a big challenge for many. In practical terms it is better now this adjustment is done with a collar on the right-hand tube or on the central focus, so once the adjustment is set, that’s it. Back when it was done on the eyepiece, customers would fiddle with the eyepiece or eyecup and shift the setting and then wonder why the view had changed.

About 60% of our customers have both a scope and binoculars, which is quite a high proportion, and they fall into many different categories, for example not only birders and nature observers, but tourists, archers, gamekeepers, surveyors, a very few hunters and some from the military. We have even sold binos to the control tower personnel at the small Coventry Airport as they don’t have radar there and rely on visuals.

On the whole our customers have realistic expectations and come back time and again and support us because of our service and location.

Our Products and Sales
In more or less alphabetical order the brands we stock are: Bresser, Celestron, Hawke, Kowa (scopes), Leica, Opticron, RSPB, Swarovski, Vanguard, Viking, Vortex and Zeiss.
Our best-selling brand is easily Swarovski, followed in order by Opticron/Vortex (they are too close to separate) then Zeiss and then Leica. I am pretty sure from our experience with Swarovski that we will certainly be in their top ten dealers.
We expect to have sold over 1200 binos by the end of this year and over 150 scopes.
The black SF, with improved focuser, has really increased sales of that model, while Leica’s Noctivid has done a bit but is well behind.

Our 8x magnification sales are still bigger than our 10x although 10x has been catching up a bit recently. I would say the proportions are roughly 60/40 or 55/45 in favour of 8x, but 7x are hardly ever sold and the same goes for 12x.

Looking at objective lens sizes then about 70% of our sales are 42mm with 30/32mm in second place. 50mm are way behind, and that is because people are definitely looking for reduced weight. In fact with the improved optical performance of recent 30/32mm models, they are providing acceptable performance in most circumstances and so are increasing in popularity.

I see the move to lighter weight binos continuing and I can see bird identification apps being installed in binos. For me this would take the fun out of birding but I can see that coming.

The price of top branded binos is significant but it is within reasonable reach. I mean 2,000 isn’t life-changing like a 200,000 Ferrari, and even beginners can see the difference between their starter binos at 200-300 and a Swarovski and can aspire to buy one in a couple of years’ time. And these instruments last a lifetime so per year it’s a reasonable cost. Mind you with binos being generally so well built these days and lasting so long it does mean some of our faithful customers only visit us once in ten years, so we need a big customer base to make up for this.

Relationships with Our Suppliers
Brands have usually kept decent stocks to support quick deliveries but recently Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski have all had to quote longer delivery times than we would like. This is a problem for us as balancing the need to keep a certain amount of stock in the shop, while controlling how much money is tied up in the stock, is difficult enough without the complication of extended lead times.

Payment terms are the standard 30 days and when you reach the level of main dealer or premier dealer you are ordering such quantities that you easily satisfy minimum order quantities and don’t get the dispatch charges that a small dealer, who only orders one bino at a time, would face.

One thing the suppliers could help us with is with the cost of demo units. Since we have to sell those at less than full retail it would be helpful if we could buy at an appropriate discount too. Perhaps if we could be able to place an order on this basis say, once per year, this would be very helpful.

Point of Sale Support from Brands
This is very good generally and you will have seen the cutaway models in the display cabinets.

Warranty Support
The Gold Standard of warranty service is Swarovski’s and other brands certainly aspire to equal this. Not only is Swarovski’s turn-around of warranty claims short at around 2-3 weeks, but when there is chargeable work the charges are very respectable and rarely cause a customer to baulk and refuse the work.

With some brands the costs of some repairs are equal to the value of the instrument so the customers say ‘no, send my binos back’. In addition the support from some brands has varied significantly over time. Generally speaking the market accepts the usual 10 year warranty and the average level of service and time taken for repairs is OK.

However Vortex’s lifetime unlimited warranty, including accidental damage cover, is working very well for them. It is a big advantage that Vortex trade on.

Trading Challenges
Internet sellers are a challenge of course but they don’t have a location like ours and once customers have experienced trying binos out here they tend to return. If a customer is having difficulty choosing between two binos we will tell them to take both of them outside and try them among the trees then overlooking the vast views to the east and west and usually this enables them to come to a decision, and you can’t do that over the internet.
Social media and the website are becoming so important and I am not very good at working with them so I am employing people that are. Our website can now accept videos and one idea we have is to post up a video taken of our site by a drone survey so that people can see the extent and variety of the grounds around the shop, not to mention the free parking, which is another good reason to come here rather than a dealer in town. We will also be utilising Facebook and Twitter and inviting customers to post their product reviews on the website.

Thanks!
A big thank you to Tim for taking the time to give Birdforum members an insight into optics retailing. Tim’s details are given below:

Tim Fallowell

https://www.focusoptics.eu

Focus Optics Limited,
Church Lane, Corley,
Coventry, CV7 8BA
01676 542476 or 01676 540501
[email protected]


Lee

Last edited by Troubador : Sunday 30th September 2018 at 07:45.
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Old Friday 28th September 2018, 15:11   #2
Foss
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I love these interviews Lee. Thank you so much for the initiative and hard work to produce them. My only wish is that there were not a continent and ocean between me (in California) and Tim's shop on the hill.
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Old Friday 28th September 2018, 17:22   #3
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Thank you Foss and thanks to Tim for making himself available to do the interview.

Lee
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Old Friday 28th September 2018, 18:39   #4
PeterPS
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Thank you Lee and Tim for another very interesting interview. I have not bought any binos from Focus Optics, but I had an exchange of emails with Tim concerning a Zeiss Victory FL and he's so easy to talk to.

Peter

Last edited by PeterPS : Friday 28th September 2018 at 20:10.
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Old Friday 28th September 2018, 19:20   #5
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Tim and Ian are very friendly and knowledgeable and the site of the shop is a treat after city-centre shops.

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