Spectrum caught up with Mark Willis – dispensing director at Specsavers King’s Lynn compares town centre and retail park locations.
We are located in the centre of the town. Kings Lynn is a town of over 40,000 people but has a large rural catchment area. It is a relatively remote town. We are opening at an ‘out of town’ retail site in October to enable the rural population to access us more easily.
What are your local customers like?
Our customers vary from age three to more than 100. We have seen a large increase in over 60’s that visit us in the last six months.
How far do people typically travel to the store?
This varies quite a lot. The majority of our customers live within a 10 mile radius. We see some customers who travel 30-40 miles to see us.
What is the price of private eye examination in your store? £20
What is the ratio of NHS customers to private? Around 75% of our customers have an NHS test.
What makes working in the eye care profession in your community a pleasure?
We have a great team who are live in and rooted in the local community and the staff know a lot of the customers who come in. The customers are more laid back than other locations I’ve worked in and as they are in less of a rush, we can build relationships with them.
What are your challenges specific to your location? Professional recruitment in Norfolk can be a problem. Trying to attract qualified professionals is difficult although we are a gateway to North Norfolk which has a beautiful coastline. The cost of living is also relatively cheap. We work hard to attract pre-reg recruits to the area but this is often a temporary solution.
Having most of our services running on the first floor in the existing town centre practice, can be tricky for some customers too.
How has the eye care service you can provide to your patients in n been improved by the resources?
We have worked with our marketing department to actively increase our over 45’s market share with great results. Our business development team have been fantastic in helping set up our new Hardwick store, which is located within the local Sainsburys store. This is all ground floor with free parking available, so customers can be dropped off within a few metres of the door. It will be a great location to promote our ability to do EOS in the future.
What type of frames from your practice collections are most popular dispenses?
We tend to sell more than average from the £69/£85/£99 ranges and compared to the rest of the country we sell less designer brands. Our customers look for value for money and because our client base is generally older the designer brands appeal less. Our best-selling frame is a lilac metallic ladies frame called Amata but generally our most popular frames are plastic, square or rectangular and between £69 and £99.
The recent release of the Comfit range with silicone nose pads, lighter weight metals and rubber tips has really worked well with our customers and sums up their requirements.
How many staff do you have, how many test rooms and how many optoms / Dos do you have?
With the new practice opening and with our hearcare team we employ around 50 staff. Including pre regs we have 7 employed optoms and 5 DO’s.
When I joined two years ago we used locums quite heavily (around 50% of our clinics), but we have tried to recruit employed optoms and we now only use locums occasionally (about 7% of clinics).
Is any training planned for the remainder of the year?
We are very keen to develop our staff and set a minimum standard of certificate 3 for all staff to reach and then each person has their own training development. We run regular training on a Monday morning with an added monthly evening training session. Our new store means we’re starting an all staff two week training programme in preparation for opening. We currently have optical assistant staff on the Specsavers certificate 3 and certificate 4 courses, another team member on a Dispensing Optician course, one attending a Hearcare Assistant course, and on Hearing Aid Dispensing courses, as well as regular attendance on the latest minor eye conditions courses, Specsavers courses retail and management courses. We have staff who are just about to start the Pathway course to become joint venture partners.
What enhanced service contracts are secured locally and which further contracts will be important to secure in the near future?
We don’t have any enhanced services yet as the local CCG are relatively inactive in this area compared to other local CCG’s. We have had conversations around providing some enhanced services and have planned a dedicated EOS room in the new practice. We currently provide NHS hearing services across a lot of Norfolk and are hoping to be involved in the contract for West Norfolk from next year.
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