Black & Lizars focuses on England for growth

Mark Ross: hoping for 40 outlets. Picture: Contributed
Mark Ross: hoping for 40 outlets. Picture: Contributed
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BLACK & Lizars, the venerable optometrist business, has its sights focused on England as part of a growth plan that will also see it open a flagship branch in the heart of Edinburgh.

The Glasgow-based firm, which was founded more than 180 years ago, is investing heavily in new technology as it looks to position itself at the cutting edge of eyecare.

Chief executive Mark Ross likened his industry to the grocery market, where those in the middle ground have been squeezed by upmarket players such as Waitrose at one end and discounters Aldi and Lidl at the other. He said he was determined to make his firm “the Waitrose of the sector”.

The company has a 25-strong branch network in Scotland, stretching from Aberdeen to Troon, as well as a practice in Belfast. That total could climb as high as 40 within the next couple of years as it pushes into additional locations.

“We should grow towards 30 practices as the year goes on,” added Ross. “We are focusing on quality rather than quantity, though, and I’d rather fall a bit short of that [40] target if some things don’t work out.

“We are in discussions with a number of parties across the UK, including in England, which should take us well on the way. The industry is polarising like the grocery sector with those in the middle ground feeling the squeeze.”

He described it as an “exciting time” for the business, which has recorded a “substantial uplift” in profits in the first eight months of its financial year, on increased turnover of about £14 million.

The firm is investing some £500,000 opening a flagship branch in the capital’s Frederick Street that will consolidate two older practices, in Rose Street and George Street. The new outlet is due to open in October and the move will preserve existing jobs and may lead to increases in staffing.

Ross added that he was currently agreeing terms on a further central Edinburgh store.

He said: “We are benefiting from the fact that our technology is a lot more advanced than most of our competitors, with wide retinal scanners built by Optos in Scotland.

“We are making a big investment in technology to be health led where much of the competition is price focused.”