Inconsistent Consistency: How Bailey Nelson trains for an authentic retail experience
Jason Bacaj | 4 min read
The Bailey Nelson brand started at Australia’s Bondi Beach with the directive of its two founders to “look different.” Like any number of startups, the eyecare company wanted to disrupt its industry and improve the eyecare experience for customers and employees.
Unlike businesses focused solely on upending their industries, in addition to providing reasonably priced high-quality eyewear, Bailey Nelson wanted to turn buying spectacles into one of life’s pleasures.
The company set about working toward this by encouraging employees to share their stories and be themselves. No uniform, no sales script—just down-to-earth conversations, person to person.
“It’s unusual. In a sense, it’s inconsistent consistency. All of that fits under the Bailey Nelson umbrella because we have a clear overarching purpose.”
Prue Freestone, Head of People at Bailey Nelson
After all, glasses help people function better on a day-to-day basis. Bailey Nelson began as two guys who understood that eyewear didn’t need to cost as much as it did. The founders and their early employees weren’t necessarily expert opticians or slick salespeople. They just worked to help customers look and feel better for a more reasonable price.
Not only did this human-centered approach help customers find frames that looked great on their faces, but early employees found the personal connection meaningful and rewarding. It’s that spirit that guides hiring practices now.
“The main things we look for when hiring are people who really get a buzz from helping to solve a problem for others and find genuine enjoyment in customer service,” Prue says. “I always notice in our team members there’s an intellectual curiosity.”
The Authentic Experience
Since it began on the beach, Bailey Nelson has grown well beyond Australia, with recently opened brick-and-mortar stores in New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
How does the inconsistent consistency prescription fit within the formal training program of a multinational company undergoing a global expansion?
Prue and Gani Moore, Creative Learning Developer, answered the challenge with another seemingly paradoxical approach: by standardizing authentic experience.
Bailey Nelson had already worked toward this through store design. Each location, whether on the Gold Coast or British Columbia, has in a lightbox prominently displaying an Australian scene. Paired with training that includes a video explaining the brand story, the scene gives employees a tangible sense of Bailey Nelson’s origin. The display also gives customers a feel for the brand in-store.
The introductory video course Gani created is more of a guideline than an absolute set of rules and coursework. The intent, Prue says, is to give employees the means to learn as well as allow them the freedom to practice and hone skills in a way that’s authentic to themselves.
And that authentic-self takes many forms. Gani, for instance, came to the optical industry from a videography career. She didn’t expect to make a second career out of optics, but Bailey Nelson offered a satisfying mix of professional challenge and constant learning. Other employees have had careers as chiropractors or in linguistics or philosophy.
Finding the right People
With optometrists, Prue says Bailey Nelson looks for people who enjoy customer interaction and are excited to participate in the whole of the business rather than just within the four walls of the testing room.
“People are from all sorts of backgrounds. I think at the core of that is people who do just genuinely enjoy the challenge of learning and the curiosity of something new, which optical provides within a retail context,” Prue says.
To allow employees the wiggle room to bring their past experiences to their present work, Gani says Bailey Nelson makes an extra effort to keep training pieces conversational and readily available for employees to revisit as needed.
The Training Tribe
The training has been so successful that a number of experienced employees asked if they could get more involved in training. So many that Prue and Gani have started something called the Training Tribe.
The Training Tribe consists of store managers and assistant managers—individuals who have been with Bailey Nelson a couple of years and who are knowledgeable and passionate about the brand and the culture.
“It’s really valuable to have people who are internal champions and who can help store managers and optometrists say, ‘Hey, these are the tools available and this is the experience you should be giving and here’s how we can help with that’,” Prue says.
Beyond helping locations expand and improve, the Training Tribe offers employees the opportunity to grow within Bailey Nelson. So many people have been with the company for a couple years because they love it and are looking for variety in their role, Prue says. The Training Tribe offers a way for those people to share the benefits of experience and expand the network of people with whom they interact.
“We’re really big on just the human experience,” Prue says. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s really compelling when it all comes together and we get great customer and team reviews just based on human simplicity.”