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Interviews with Retailers: Tim Strivens of Cley Spy (1 Viewer)


Staff member
Cley Spy has to be one of the most well-known optics dealerships in the UK and a chance meeting with Tim, the owner, encouraged me to ask him for an interview and although he readily agreed, the busy run-up to Christmas and the holiday itself intervened, meaning that it wasn’t until mid-January that we were able to get together. We did this by telephone and this account of our conversation has been checked for accuracy by Tim.

About Cley Spy

T: When was Cley Spy established and by whom?
TS: Cley Spy was established in 2001 by a group of birders, principally Paul Marriott and Steve Harris, because they felt there was an opportunity for an impartial dealer based in suitable rural surroundings. Their idea was to present potential customers with a wide range of instruments, and allow them to make their own minds up about which best suited them. For example customers are welcome to take a selection of instruments to their hide and try them out and arrive at their own conclusions without pressure or interference from staff, who are available to give help and advice when asked for it. I took over the business in 2016 with a strong belief that those founding principles still apply.

T: Has it always been in the same place?
TS: Yes, in fact Cley Spy actually has several outlets with the main one being at Glandford, as well as another overlooking the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley, plus a small concessionary outlet at Pensthorpe Natural Park, where the Pensthorpe Norfolk Bird Fair will be held in May.

T: Who is the owner now, what is your role and who are your staff?
TS: I am the owner and Managing Director and the main members of the shop staff are
Suzanne, Phil, Andrew & Simon.


T: Which sells most: 8x or 10x, and do any brands go against this trend?
TS: 8x outsells 10x by about 60% to 40% and this is pretty much the case across all brands.

T: Which sells most 32mm or 42mm, and do any brands go against this trend?
TS: Our overall best sellers are now 32mm, this trend having emerged over the last 5 years. Customers are definitely looking for lighter instruments. This might be different from the situation in markets where hunting has a greater presence but in the UK, with its highly developed birding market, smaller format binoculars are definitely increasing in popularity.

T: Are sales of folding pocket binos on the increase or static?
TS: They are static, although I should note here that Zeiss’s Victory Pockets have been very well received.

T: Any other trends in binos? E.g. are sales of 7x dead/dying and do you ever sell 10x32s?
TS: 7x magnification binos are dead but there is a steady market for 10x32s.

T: Please name your top 4 best-selling bino brands in top-down order.
TS: That’s easy: Swarovski is top, followed by Zeiss, Opticron and then Leica.

T: How is the market receiving newcomers such as Hawke and Vortex?
TS: Vortex might be big in the States, especially in the hunting market there, but over here although they are growing, helped by their generous warranty, they are a ‘slow burner’ and not growing quickly. Hawke products have been welcomed by the market and are selling extremely well.

T: Which is most popular in spotting scopes?
Travel class 50 – 55mm
65mm class
82mm class
88mm class
95mm class
TS: Travel scopes and 65mm scopes. Nobody walks into our showroom and asks for the biggest, heaviest scope we have available. The growth is definitely in the smaller models. Even Kowa’s 55mm travel scope is selling quite well even though it is fairly expensive. Opticron’s latest evolution of the original travel scope, the Mighty Midget, continues to sell really well.

T: Are fixed mag eyepieces maintaining market share or are zooms the clear leader?
TS: Fixed magnification eyepieces are effectively dead. We haven’t sold a new one for a long time so 99.999% of our sales are zoom eyepieces.

T: With zooms do you see a trend in customers wanting:
Higher magnification
Lower magnification
Bigger fields of view
Any other trend?
TS: Not so much higher magnification, certainly field of view, but mainly a high quality image. In popularity the 20x-60x is becoming popular again with customers realising the value of the lower magnification paired with a decent but not over-ambitious high magnification.

Describe your typical customers

T: Age?
TS: Probably 40+

T: Male or female, with females on the increase? Or?

TS: A fairly even balance these days, especially with more couples birding together. It is no longer a men-only pursuit.

T: Is their knowledge of binos or scopes limited or extensive, or?
TS: Our customers arrive with every level of knowledge from none at all to extremely well-informed.

T: What do they want from their instruments: lighter weight, wider fov or?
TS: Lighter weight and good field of view, and a high quality image.

The Market

T: What trends do you see dominating your market for the next 5 years?
TS: Smaller, lighter instruments, with no reduction in quality, hence the growth in 32mm and travel/65mm scopes.

Your Suppliers

T: Do all your suppliers keep sufficient stocks to give you quick deliveries?
TS: Some do, for example deliveries from Hawke, the Vortex distributor and from Opticron are usually next day.

T: What is the one thing your suppliers could do to make Cley Spy’s life easier?

TS: If all of them could match Opticron/Hawke/Vortex, then that would be terrific.

Any Other Business

T: Would you like to make any other comments about Cley Spy or the market?
TS: The market outlook in the UK is challenging at the moment with so many uncertainties in the air. Nobody can predict what is coming around the corner. The best that Cley Spy can do is to play to our strengths, so for example by stocking as many accessories and spares as possible, including eyecups, but above all by being an optics destination rather than simply a shop, so that a visit is a memorable experience, not just a transient event. For us this means continuing to make our hide available to those who wish to have time alone with their short-listed binos or scopes (or be accompanied if this is desired) and to ensure by having the lowest prices in the UK, that we are never simply a shop-window for internet sellers.

T: A big thank you to Tim for taking the time for the interview.



Cley Spy Ltd, Manor Farm Barns,
Glandford, Holt,
Norfolk, NR25 7JP,
United Kingdom

01263 740088

Chris Sharpe

Well-known member
Tim was extremely helpful to us last year in donating optics and arranging discounts for equipment shorebird conservation work in Venezuela (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network). The optics that CleySpy provided were vital for last year's workshops and censuses, and for further census work this year, and are used by researchers who would otherwise be unable to afford binoculars, scopes and tripods. Without the amazing Kowa scope, we would have been unable to read flags on migrating Red Knots, originally captured in New England.


Well-known member
United States
Interesting. I love my Swarovski fixed power eyepieces even though I have both available zooms. I agree that my next binocular purchase will likely be a Zeiss 10x32. I would love to find a Swarovski 20SW fixed power eyepiece to go with my 30SW and 45SW fixed.

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