Givers and takers John Hare tells Andrew McClean about the patients who sustain Black & Lizars
Aperiod of consolidation has started at Black & Lizars with a focus on patients who value quality service amid changes to the wider landscape of optical practices in Scotland.
Competitors such as Hakim Group have partnered with reputable independents while Duncan and Todd outlined expansion plans and large investment in its lens business.
As competitors made moves, Black & Lizars was firmly set on delivering clinical excellence at its 11 practices, predominately based in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
John Hare, owner of the optical group, told Optician there were no further changes planned after selling nine of its practices to Duncan and Todd in 2019.
Hare has been at the helm for 15 years and operations were run by the group’s management team, but Covid-19 meant he adopted a more active role in the company.
‘Fundamentally, the focus of Black and Lizars has not changed in the way that we still want to do our best for patients. It’s been going for 193 years and our philosophy has always been service-led. This is what we do and the quality won’t be changing,’ Hare explained.
John Hare, owner of Black & Lizars major changes to the group, he said it had reacted to shifts that had taken place around the optical practice group.
‘We have to acknowledge that the industry has moved and we recognise the company has to recover the time and energy spent on services. We have to start focusing on who wants to pay for it, who appreciates and values it to the the group provided services, rather than the ones who might be looking for an experience that costs less, Hare explained.
SUSTAINABLE PATIENTS Hare described this method as a fine-tuning process that started when the pandemic hit and he became more active in the running of the company. Hare’s background
“We have to acknowledge that the industry has moved and we recognise the company has to recover the time and energy spent on services.”
VALUED SERVICES Hare said optometrists at Black & Lizars performed one-hour eye examinations, which afforded time for a full range of services to be delivered. He said: ‘Opticians are one of the few health providers that spends time regularly with a patient. You spend more physical time at your opticians than you do with a doctor or dentist. We provide lifelong care and deal with all the family. That isn’t going to change. That is ultimately our philosophy.’ While Hare did not anticipate extent that they’re willing to stay with us through to the end of the dispensing process. It’s a change brought about by what others are doing.
‘We have to know who are the givers and who are the takers, which is easy to do. You’ve got to match the capacity we have with the number of loyal givers.’
The concept of ‘loyal givers’ was the patients who Black & Lizars had long-standing and established relationships with. These were the patients who were invested in how in accounting meant he immediately looked at the numbers.
‘We emerged from pandemic more aware of the reality of where things were going commercially. I started going into stats that we’ve never previously looked at,’ Hare commented.
‘In the past, like many businesses, we would look at turnover as an easy thing to track. If turnover goes up everyone assumes it’s a sign of success but the process we’ve started is more sustainable.’
Pandemic restrictions meant the number of people allowed in a practice at one time was reduced and when restrictions eased it was not immediately possible to hit the button on recalling patients. ‘We looked at the people who sustain us,’ Hare explained. ‘We came up with the concept of a sustainable patient, which meant the numbers of sight tests fell by around 50%. We’ve got no desire to get back to 100% because we knew if we did that, we would harm ourselves. It’s more of a partnership to give the best possible service. We have to become more sustainable and the patients gets the value because other service providers do not have the time to provide that level of care.’
The pandemic gave Black & Lizars the opportunity to look at how it operates differently and Hare noted patient attitudes had changed too, such as less desire to travel into city centres.
‘What we’ve seen is that the practices in the suburbs are more resilient than the ones in the city. More people are working from home and those who might have visited for a day out aren’t so keen to do that anymore. There’s a question over whether our city centre sites will be as strong as they were in the past,’ he said.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY Hare explained that 80% of its business came from 20% of its patients, and of that figure, twothirds were over 60. He added that Black & Lizars’ response to the pandemic was not to cast a wide net to bring the masses back but to keep its focus on providing quality service to those who valued it.
‘There’s an opportunity in spending more time with patients and understanding what more we can do to help. That might take us outside of our normal brief into wider healthcare, but it’s not a million miles away,’ he said. •
6 OPTICIAN 20 January 2023
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