Mark Blankstone shares his experience of almost 3 decades in the eye care game
I am a proud Liverpudlian born into a city that’s always loved its labels. In the so-called ‘militant 80s’, whilst national media were busy focusing on Derek Hatton and Liverpool’s politics, i was busy planning on launching a boutique practice aimed at the city’s office market and discerning shoppers.
To say we’ve never looked back would be to hide all the ‘swings and roundabouts’ of running a successful business, especially given the last 8 months!
We opened for business in 1992 and have seen the wealth creation in the city…from when urban living was first mooted to the present day where (thankfully), some customers buy specs and sunglasses like they buy shoes.
The world of optics is a very different place too. The quality threshold all around has improved markedly and we’ve been at the forefront of the industry ruffling a few feathers!
For example, we’ve run media campaigns educating the public on the health, safety and frequency of check-ups required for contact lens wearers highlighting what the multiples don’t tell you.
We’ve also spent a great deal of time and money travelling in Europe over the last two and a half decades continuously seeking products that are substantially higher in quality.
As a result, we now have more than a dozen brands on our books that are household names in luxury lifestyle and we are the only store in Liverpool to have these brands…some are exclusive to the North West of England. For example, we are in the 3% of suppliers in the UK authorised to sell Chanel!
Now, technology and innovation, affordability and flexible (i.e. longer!) working hours means the products and service customers get from their optician match those of their favourite other shopping destinations, stores and showrooms.
We’ve also spent a huge amount of time helping customers identify us as much more than a place to get their eyes checked out.
Of course, the competition has grown and that creates its own pressures on running a business but that’s the beauty of longevity. There are 25% more dispensing opticians out there in the UK market now than compared with the 90s. That has affected us because of our reach but it’s all positive…we now attract customers within a 100 mile radius these days!
We’ve built up a good reputation for being discreet in our approach to helping customers whether it’s a member of the public or the many office-based businesses we supply our services too for e.g. VDU health checks.
It’s definitely the secret of our success.
We are also a big fan of affinity partnerships with other local businesses and our location in the business district coupled with being close to Liverpool One has really complemented our growth. I guess we got a touch lucky there! Outside of strict lockdown, lots of new restaurants open for business on Castle Street with al fresco dining has also helped our business. Such an activity requires the most desirable sunglasses to be seen in!
Excluding mid-March to July 2020 and the more recent Tier 3 imposition, we have continued our pattern of growth experienced over the last three years with a 20% increase in like for like sales across sunglasses, spectacles and contact lenses.
Our emphasis on health, luxury lifestyle and customer service as a proud independent business in Liverpool has paid great dividends. We’ve been able to increase our volume of business across all departments by focusing on the exclusivity we enjoy with global brand suppliers across Europe. These messages have attracted strong customer enquiries and we have been able to explain more about our wider business offer and how we are different from the multiples on the high street.
We have invested heavily in technology in the last 18 months too including a substantial five figure sum in a highly advanced screening process called OCT which uses a painless light beam to enable early diagnosis of potential underlying sight problems.
O.C.T. stands for Ocular Coherence Tomography and is on another level of screening with huge benefits for patients, enabling us to look under the surface of the back of the eye and create a 3D model on a computer screen. This in turn, can help us diagnose potential problems like Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, Diabetes, Macular Holes and Vitreous Detachments at a very early stage.
Our endeavour has always been to strive for setting gold standards of eye care and we would highly recommend O.C.T. to all our patients as part of their regular eye examination.
In spite of this being our 28th year in business, we have no plans to slow down and investments undertaken are a testament to this. What’s more, roll on 2021, you’ve got to keep looking at the world through rose-tinted specs, albeit of course, in a very Covid-safe environment, given the year many businesses and people around us have had!
Call Blankstone Opticians on 0151 236 5392 with any concerns about your own or your family or friend’s eyesight and of course, for all your luxury shopping needs.