Optometrist focuses on expansion in England

Mark Ross, chief of Black & Lizars, right, and Stuart Frame of RBS, which is financing the expansion. Picture: Chris James
Mark Ross, chief of Black & Lizars, right, and Stuart Frame of RBS, which is financing the expansion. Picture: Chris James
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OPTOMETRISTS practice Black & Lizars has sealed a £3 million financing deal with Royal Bank of Scotland that will allow the chain to expand south of the Border for the first time.

The Glasgow-based company, which traces its roots back to 1830, has already snapped up a further four shops in Scotland to take its network up to 27 stores.

All four businesses – located in Ayr, Clarkston in Glasgow, Helensburgh and Troon – were bought from retiring optometrists.

Mark Ross, chief executive at Black & Lizars, said: “We think there is a place in the market for a health focused optometrists – no one is really occupying this space in the market at the moment and so now is the time to take full advantage of the opportunity and grow the business.

“We are preparing to grow the geographic footprint of the business further and are planning for our first acquisition in England to commence mid-2014.”

The chain has taken on 35 staff as part of the expansion and expects to create further jobs in the new year.

RBS is lending the money to the company as part of the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), which was set up earlier this year by the Bank of England and the UK government to offer cheap money to lenders if they make loans to small businesses.

Stuart Frame, a relationship director at RBS, added: “I am so pleased to have been able to support Black & Lizars at such a critical time – we have plans to support further acquisitions.”

Black & Lizars added that its owner, Yorkshire-based John Hare, was “reinvesting 100 per cent of the profits back into the business”, including £3m that has been spent on equipment during the past year. Hare bought the business in 2009, having been part of a European investment consortium led by Iran-based Majid Sadjadi that had bought Black & Lizars in 2008.

Last year the company unveiled plans to become the “John Lewis of opticians” and double in size to nearly 50 branches within two years.

News of the funding deal comes amid a wave of opticians planning to expand.

Aberdeen-based peer Duncan & Todd unveiled a £5.6m funding deal earlier this month with the Business Growth Fund (BGF) to help it expand its network past its current 23 branches. The BGF was set-up in 2011 by Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Standard Chartered to invest in fast-growing 

The £2.5 billion fund invests between £2m and £10m in businesses that turn over between £5m and £100m a year, in return for a minority stake and a seat on the board.

In July, David Mousdale injected fresh cash into his Glasgow-based Optical Express chain to pay off £30m debts owed to RBS.

His chain, which he launched in 1991 and which now has 130 branches, is now expected to expand.