Prescription safety eyewear market grows

TAMLYN STEWART
Last updated 09:27 17/11/2012
T & S Opticians
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ

REBUILDING A PRACTICE: T & S Opticians, family owned and operated by Vanessa Forsyth, left, with parents Jim and Evelyn Tritschler.

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T & S Opticians is one small business which is recovering from the earthquake by branching out into another segment of the market.

Jim Tritschler and colleague Anthony Galbraith spotted a gap in the prescription safety eyewear market and are using that to help rebuild the practice started in 1974 by Canadian-born Tritschler.

The family-run Christchurch firm which was based in the CBD on the corner of Hereford St and Oxford Tce when the February earthquake hit, has adapted well to new opportunities.

Initially Jim, wife Evelyn and daughter Vanessa Forsyth were offered a boardroom at colleague Anthony Galbraith's office in Addington and they were able to refer work to another optometrist.

While they had business interruption insurance they found themselves "hitting a brick wall" with the insurance company.

With some assistance from Recover Canterbury, the practice relocated to premises in Northwood on June 1 last year.

"We knew very quickly after February that things were a lot worse than September and we didn't have the luxury of time on our side. Business interruption insurance was not going to be particularly supportive of us," Forsyth said.

Forsyth, who had seen the building under construction near to where she lives before the February quake, had asked her father if he had ever considered adding a satellite branch in Northwood. He wasn't enthusiastic back then.

"And Jim gruffed at me: 'I'm too old and long in the tooth for that sort of thing'."

At the time of the quake, Galbraith was a brand and laboratory manager for the Nikon opthalmic brand in New Zealand but after the February quake, and being stuck in Tokyo after the tsunami struck Japan, he decided a change of job was in order so he could spend more time with his family, and joined T & S Opticians as a dispensing optician.

Happily, prescription safety eyewear was a mutual interest for Tritschler and Galbraith and they decided to pursue that market.

One stumbling block to securing contracts with large firms in the past had been the firm's lack of national reach.

Galbraith used his national network of contacts with opticians around the country and asked if they were interested in forming an independent opticians' organisation so that if the practice secured contracts with large firms that wanted national coverage, another independent optician could service them.

The response, from 34 independent practices was a resounding "yes". Now the practices have formed Independent Optical Partners, a group of independent optical retailers from around the country which co-operate to serve customers nationwide.

Prescription safety eyewear is a big expense for companies, Forsyth says, but as one company representative said to her, he would rather pay the tens of thousands of dollars for his staff to have the correct eyewear so they can safely operate the equipment which may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The firm, with support from other members of the organisation, now has a contract to supply Gough staff with certified safety prescription eyewear. The firm would not have been able to secure that contract with Gough if it were acting on its own, as a practice with one branch in Christchurch, Tritschler said.

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"The wheels have just started rolling."

The practice has been invited to Site Safe, an industry safety organisation, and business had "snowballed" from there.

It has also been invited to attend monthly safety meetings in Christchurch around the rebuild.

Tritschler said while the safety eyewear was a new part of the business, he hoped a larger spin-off would result as the staff from contracted firms visited the practice and then brought their families in as well for eyewear.

Trade at Northwood had been "up and down" Tritschler said, but it was picking up now.

The firm's staff numbers are back up to seven, one less than when the February quake hit. Another plus was that rent in their new premises was cheaper than in town, and the practice had bigger offices and more carparks. And many of their former patients have found them again.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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