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Specsavers Optical Group

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Specsavers Opticians is the UK's leading optical retailer, and one of the five largest in the world. It celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014, but is still privately owned by husband and wife team Doug and Mary Perkins. The company claims a 35% share of the UK spectacles market, well ahead of nearest competitor Boots. It was voted the UK's "most trusted" optical retailer for eleven consecutive years until 2012 by the annual Reader's Digest survey, and is the leader in most market sub-segments including contact lenses and eye tests. It also has a growing international presence, with outlets in Scandinavia, Spain, the Netherlands and Australia.

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Competitors

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Brands & Operations

Despite relentless competition from the country's biggest high street healthcare retailer, Specsavers has remained the UK's #1 optician by a considerable margin, quite an achievement for a private company. It has also developed an impressive international profile, extending its footprint to the Irish Republic, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. The Danish stores operate under the Louis Nielsen brandname. The first outlets opened in Australia and New Zealand in 2008, and it is already the the local #1 in both those countries as well as in the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway.

The group now has more than 1,700 stores in 10 countries. All run as a joint venture with a resident practice partner. In return the central company handles brand marketing and runs three huge manufacturing laboratories which supplies all the chain's lenses. The group stepped outside the UK for the first time in 1997, opening an outlet in Haarlem, Netherlands, followed by a second a year later in Breda. Both stores adopted the Specsavers name in 2000, and the group acquired rival chain Prins Brillen in 2003. In 2004 the group acquired two Swedish chains, Blic and Tva Bla, with a combined total of almost 60 outlets, and it has continued to develop its footprint in the UK and other countries with acquisitions of individual stores or chains.

The company offers a full range of optical products and services. In addition to third party brands, Specsavers sells a variety of exclusive designer frames (including Gok Wan, Karen Millen, Kassandra and Tiger of Sweden) as well as its own private label brands Osiris and Ultralight. Lensmail is a mail order contact lens delivery service, which controls around a third of the UK market. In 2002, the group moved into the hearing aid sector, acquiring privately owned retailer HearCare (now Specsavers HearCare) for an undisclosed sum. It has also extended its hearing care business into several of its international markets.

Financials

For the year to March 2014, combined sales rose 8% to £1.9bn. The UK still accounts for around 56% of revenues, or £1.07bn in ye 2014. There are 586 optical stores spread across the country and 138 hearing stores. Australia is now the next biggest territory with sales of £368m and 292 stores.

Management

Doug and Mary Perkins continue to run the business. Mary Perkins was ennobled as a Dame in 2007 in recognition of her charitable work. Doug Perkins is chairman; their son John Perkins is managing director. Two other children also work in this business. Other executives include Paul Fusey (CFO), Derek Dyson (retail director) and Nigel Parker (group commercial director). The group's increasingly sophisticated advertising is produced inhouse by Specsavers Creative, overseen by marketing director Richard Holmes, poached from Boots in 2007, and creative director Graham Daldry.

Background

Doug Perkins and Mary Bebbington met at college where they were both studying ophthalmology. After graduating they took over two small optician's practices owned by Mary's father, which they renamed Bebbington & Perkins. They developed this business into a small but successful chain of 23 outlets, which they sold in 1980. At the time, the eyecare industry was tightly regulated as an offshoot of the National Health Service. However in 1984, the Conservative government lifted many of these restrictions, and allowed opticians to advertise directly to consumers for the first time. After a four year break, the Perkins re-entered the industry, opening the first Specsavers outlet in Bristol in 1984. Further pilot stores followed and they began to roll out a series of outlets a year later, forming each one as a joint venture with its resident optician.

In 1999, Specsavers announced plans to launch a chain of high street dental practices in the UK alongside its opticians, but later pulled out of the venture. It moved instead into hearing care in 2002. Also in 2002, the group agreed a deal to sponsor football referees in Scotland, taking light-hearted advantage of the age-old joke about referees needing a pair of glasses. It has rolled out a similar arrangement in other countries including the Netherlands. That decade the group mounted an aggressive expansion of its international footprint, establishing a presence in Sweden in 2004; Denmark and Norway in 2005; Spain in 2006, Finland in 2007 and Australia in 2008.

Last full revision 24th July 2015

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