'Pivotal phase of growth' - Duncan and Todd Group's new CEO has a clear vision for historic Scottish eyecare business
Can you provide a bit on your background before joining Duncan and Todd Group:
I was formerly the CEO of Aqualisa, with a background in technical consumer products, complemented by leadership roles at Titon and directorial positions at Jim Lawrence Lighting, Johnson Matthey and Philips. I worked with Duncan and Todd earlier this year during the relocation of its lens manufacturing arm, Caledonian Optical, into the new, £1.5 million state-of-the-art optical manufacturing facility in Dyce, Aberdeen. During this time, I was impressed with the expertise of the team and saw the opportunities for growth which attracted me to the role.
You’re just getting your feet under the desk but what do you see as the main challenges that need to be addressed over the coming year?
Duncan and Todd Group is currently in a pivotal phase of its growth. Over the next few weeks and months, I am actively engaging in a comprehensive analysis of our business, identifying how our strengths can be further enhanced and fine tuned to maximise our growth opportunities and exploring ways to apply these consistently across all areas of our operations. This includes gaining deeper customer insight to shape our strategies with a focus on clinical excellence, patient care, and enhancing our accessibility in local communities.
We are committed to ongoing investment in our people – both teams and customers, aiming for a consistent “best in class” standard across our operations. This ensures that our staff remain at the forefront of industry expertise and that our facilities maintain the highest standards of quality and innovation. We recognise the importance of our environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities. As part of our commitment to ESG, we are proud to be a living wage employer, further underlining our dedication to social responsibility.
In what ways has the industry changed over the 50 years since the business was founded?
Looking back to 50 years ago, when Duncan and Todd opened its very first branch, there have been significant changes across the industry. Traditionally, optometrists would largely be involved in assessing someone’s need for spectacles or contact lenses, providing these and detecting any disease or abnormality, with a view to referring to an eye clinic. Over time, this role has evolved and optometrists can now offer a wealth of services. More eye conditions can be diagnosed and managed within a community practice setting, alleviating pressure from GPs and hospitals wherever possible.
Of course, as with any industry, technology has had the biggest impact on the business. Lenses have changed significantly, moving from heavy glass to plastic, which were not only lighter and safer, but offered a larger choice too. Clinical technologies have also advanced, improving the quality of care and optical and audio solutions, driven by modern living placing a higher demand on our vision.
However, against all the changes Duncan and Todd has retained its values - priding themselves on providing an accessible, personalised, quality service in high streets of towns and cities across the country.
Tell me a bit about the Caledonian Optical business, the investment made in it, and how you see it growing in the future:
At the start of the year, we opened our lab, close to Aberdeen International Airport. Following around £1.5m of investment, the move came after we outgrew the former site in Aberdeen city centre. The new site has tripled our capacity, enabling us to supply technically advanced lenses to a greater number of independent opticians throughout the UK. This expansion reflects our commitment to supporting UK independent optical businesses delivering high-quality products and services to our clients.
After more than 40 years at the previous site, we moved all 66 employees including lab workers, and head office staff of Duncan and Todd Group, as well as the team from our corporate offering Smart Employee Eyecare. The new lab strengthens our offering and will see us continue to provide clients the quality service they have been accustomed to, while offering them even more innovative solutions and the capability to accept larger volumes of work.
How has the cost-of-living crisis and inflationary pressures affected the business?
Just like everyone else, including our suppliers and patients, we are not immune to challenges of cost-of-living and inflationary pressures. However, we are proud to be a vertically integrated manufacturing business, with our lenses developed, produced and delivered locally, giving us an advantage in managing our costs and quality of products and services. Recently, we invested in an all-in-one ear health check and ear wax removal service, HearSmart.
How is new technology such as Internet of Things and AI making its mark on the industry and can you benefit from it?
The advances in technology in the industry have come a long way in the last few years, and are making a huge difference in the lives of people globally. We work closely with our partners to ensure we are utilising technology advancements to improve clinical excellence. This includes the latest technology in enhanced eye exams offering deeper insight into the patient's eye health to being able to virtually try on our frames. Armed with this customer intelligence, Duncan and Todd Group can effectively adapt to changing market dynamics and evolving consumer preferences.
How do you relax away from the world of business?
I’m kept busy by my two teenage children (while I can still convince them to hang out with me!) In my spare time, I enjoy hands-on-hobbies that involve being practical and creative, and have a keen interest in traditional building work, and restoring old cars.
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