Lisa Walsh, optical retail director

A conversation with… Lisa Walsh, optical retail director

Spectrum skips across the pond to Ireland to interview optical retail ‘lifer’ Lisa Walsh. Well known in Ireland for her extensive retailing experience and focus on customers, Lisa is the perfect example of recruiting from within to store directorship. Starting as an optical assistant 25 years ago, she has risen to be one of the most experienced partners around.

How long have you been in optics? 

I began my career as an optical assistant in the Aberdeen Specsavers store in 1992 when I was 21. I had a short career break when I first moved to Dublin, but returned in 2001 when we opened the Tallaght store.

How many stores have you owned and where? 

My first store ownership was Aberdeen. I’d been working as the store manager when I was given the opportunity to become the retail director. After my move to Ireland I became director in Tallaght in 2001. Since then we’ve opened the Clondalkin store, Tallaght and Dun Laoghaire. We sold Tallaght in 2014 and opened Liffey Valley in the same year.

What is the biggest challenges your businesses have overcome? 

From an Irish perspective the biggest challenge was the crash of the Celtic Tiger in 2008. Its impact was almost immediate and it affected every part of the business. We really had to go back to basics and rebuild our business model. Looking back, I’m extremely proud of our region. Although an incredibly difficult period, we all worked closely together and supported each other through the challenges we were all facing.

During this period we formed our formidable Leading Partners Forum of which I’m extremely honoured to be a founding member. This forum allowed the region to work more closely during decision-making processes, ensuring the Irish agenda was always front and centre.

What do you see as our future challenges? 

I feel Brexit is going to be a challenge. There is so much uncertainty around future trade agreements between Ireland and the UK and how they will be negotiated, the border in the north and the fear that our economy will be hit once again.

Our other major challenge, lke many places is going to be optometrist cover within our stores. In Ireland the number of students qualifying each year is dropping and some stores may struggle to meet the demands of the test room in the future.

What are the top three mistakes you see being made?

  1. Working too much IN the business and not always ON the business
  2.  Thinking we can do it all by ourselves
  3. Getting your work/life balance right for you and your family

What are the common traits of successful business partners? 

I’ve met so many partners that have been successful with the Specsavers business model. Each person has a unique set of skills, but the collective similarities are:

  1. They’re driven – the partners that achieve the most success are always innovating and focused on improving areas of their business. They don’t get distracted with external events or noise.
  2. They’re ambitious – the best partners usually want more stores, more profit, and more challenges. They do not get comfortable with the way the store is running (which can breed complacency).
  3. They’re passionate – this is a common thread in our company. You really have to live and breathe your business objectives to have a sustainable store.

What is your proudest achievement? 

Getting where I am today. I left school at 15 with very few qualifications. I’ve achieved success through hard work, determination and capitalising on progression opportunities. I learnt very early on to surround myself with the very best people and I believe I’ve definitely achieved this objective.

So at this point I believe a ‘shout out’ is most definitely required. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my business partners Emma, Orla, Peter, Donal and my two newest partners Patrick and Conor. I’m also hugely grateful and still find it difficult to believe how anyone in their right mind would give a mouthy and opinionated 24-year-old the chance to run her own store.

What tips do you have for other business partners? 

Future proof your business. If, like me, you’ve owned a store for a number of years, start thinking about succession planning. Succession planning is vitally important for ensuring the continued success of any business. Our store in Liffey Valley now boasts two new optometrist partners and I have little doubt that their energy and enthusiasm will safeguard the future of our store.

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