Focus on retail – Cambridge

Kam Dhillon, optometrist director in two Cambridge stores, told Spectrum why this vibrant university city is such a special place to work.

‘The ancient buildings, green spaces and the River Cam all combine to make Cambridge a truly beautiful city. Having two universities (one being one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world) in a relatively small city means there are festivals and events all year round. The international students and tourists give the city a cosmopolitan feel, which makes it a vibrant place to work.

There are two Specsavers stores in Cambridge of which I am one of the directors. The first opened in 1999 and is now located in the Lion Yard shopping centre. The second, which is also a Hearing Centre, opened in 2005 and is located in Fitzroy Street, just outside The Grafton shopping centre. My business partner, Henry Churchill, has been a Specsavers director in Cambridge since 1999. I joined as optometrist director for both stores in 2011.

What are your customers like?
Cambridge is an affluent city with a relatively high employment rate, but we see patients from all walks of life. Our clinics are very diverse due to the numbers of international students and European workers. A lot of our patients attend, or work at, the universities. We also see a lot of people who work in research or IT, or at local biotechnology companies from ‘Silicon Fen’. We also see a lot of children in our after-school kids’ clinics.

What about your staff?
We have 57 staff across both stores. Anglia Ruskin University is situated close by and we have a good relationship with their optics and audiology departments. We employ a lot of optometry and dispensing students, many of whom stay on after qualifying. There are lots of international students, so our retail and professional teams have a very international feel. We have staff from all over Europe and even Canada. We’ll even have a pre-registration optometrist from Mauritius joining us in August.

What’s your range of frames like?
We have a huge number of frames – more than 1,350 in each store. Given the size and variety of our range, choosing the right glasses can be daunting for customers, so our Virtual Try On app is very popular. It uses facial recognition software to make recommendations on frame shape and style, taking into account what sort of statement the customer wants to make. Quite often the customer actually ends up being dispensed with the frames suggested by the app. At the moment our most popular range of frames for women is the Kylie range. Other popular ranges include the FLEXI range, GANT, Hackett and Timberland.

What facilities and equipment do you have?
Both stores have five consulting rooms. Our Lion Yard store has an OCT scanner, a visual field analyser and an FDT. It also has a TearLab and BlephEx, which are used in the store’s private dry eye clinics. The OCT is proving popular with our patients, with a significant proportion deciding to have scans taken as part of their eye examination. It has greatly enhanced the quality of care we are able to offer and has become an invaluable tool for our optometrists.

Do you encourage your staff to pursue further qualifications?
Yes, we do. Three of our Optometry team now have the Professional Certificate in Glaucoma and one team member is currently working towards the Professional Certificate in Medical Retina. Optometrists have always played a key role in detecting eye disease but, given the ever-increasing burden on the Hospital Eye Service, our role is likely to become increasingly clinical. It’s actually a really exciting time for optometry, and Enhanced Optical Services (EOS) provide opportunities to enhance both the role of our professional staff and the range of care our stores can offer to our patients.

What EOS do you offer?
Through the collaborative work of the Local Optical Committee, hospital eye departments and local optometry practices, Cambridge has some very successful shared care schemes. Both our stores participate in the Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) and cataract schemes (both pre- and post-operative). Our Lion Yard store is also part of the Cambridge Community Optometry Glaucoma Scheme. Dry eye is a prevalent issue and makes up a significant proportion of the MECS patients we see. That’s why the Lion Yard store also offers patients the option of a private dry eye clinic, which includes tear osmolarity assessment using a TearLab, and BlephEx treatment if required. This allows a more comprehensive investigation of their symptoms, allowing a tailored management plan.’

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