Specsavers to double NZ stores

BY JENNY KEOWN
Last updated 12:21 27/11/2009

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UK eyewear giant Specsavers aims to double its stores around the country in the next year on claims its cheap offers are revolutionary in New Zealand's highly priced optical market.

The company, which sells lenses for $79 a pair, has pulled in $50 million in revenue since it's entry in to the New Zealand market in November last year.

It has 30 stores and expects to increase to 60 stores in the next year.

Leading up to Christmas, it plans to open stores in Invercargill, Dunedin, Nelson, and Hastings.

The company forecasts revenue of between $70m to $80m next year, which would give it a 28 per cent stake of the market in competition with OPSM, Visque and independent operators.

Specsavers outlets are owned by local optometrists under a franchise or partnership structure, and the company is looking for more independent optometrists who wish to convert their stores.

Specsavers founder Doug Perkins, who was in Auckland yesterday, said it has between 400 to 500 retail staff in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Perkins and his wife Mary launched the company from a table tennis table in their home in Guernsey, Channel Islands in 1984. The group's turnover for 2007/08 was 1.02b pounds, forecast to reach 1.05b pounds by financial year 2008/09.

The company provides a support team in every region to give advice to Specsavers franchisee operators about how to run their business, and develop management skills.

Mr Perkins attributed the unprecedented take-up of the Specsavers offer to the absence of value for kiwi consumers.

"We think there is a strong customer need because of the lack of government support in New Zealand for eye care wearers."

"You would think because there is no government subsidy, then this market would make more of an effort to be competitive but in fact New Zealand is one the most expensive place in the world to buy glasses."

 New Zealand Association of Optometrists national director Dr Lesley Frederikson said the market in New Zealand was competitive.

"There are around 650 optometrists registered in NZ and mostly they are independent, and in competition with each other."

Specsaver's claims that consumers don't have good access to affordable eyecare doesn't wash with Dr Frederikson.

"New Zealand optometrists have been providing good quality affordable eye health care to the people of New Zealand for many years and spectacles have long been available at a range of prices so it is not clear how Specsavers is any different,"she said..

As part of the asssociation's "Save our Sight'' campaign it has run Children's Eyecare week where members saw needy kids for free and they were supplied with glasses at no charge if they needed them, she said.

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This was specifically aimed at helping kids who were not eligible for the government's children's glasses subsidy, she said.

Local independent optometrists in Wellington, who didn't wish to be named, said they were threatened by Specsavers's development and predicted operators would cut margins and staff.

One optometrist said that Specsavers provided eyecare using old technology sourced from China and Europe, and trained staff to aggressively upsell consumers to more expensive lenses.

"What happens is people go in to a Specsavers shop and ask for the $299 deal and they come out with a $1000 bill," a Wellington optometrist said.

- BusinessDay

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