Robson & Co Opticians

Jonathan Leech is the managing partner at Robson & Co Opticians, a long-established practice based in Newcastle city centre.

“We are in our third year in the opticians marketing programme now,” Jonathan said.

“I think for me the biggest improvement I’ve seen is in myself – in terms of feeling more confident about what to do with the business. A lot of opticians are not managers or business specialists. We trained in optometry and are good at running eye tests, but running a business can be very difficult and I think by being in the opticians programme you get a lot of benefit from talking with other opticians at regional meetings.

“There are plenty of other companies that run one-day marketing meetings and so forth, but the regional meetings have developed a community of people who are not competitors and that’s important. If I go to a business or marketing meeting in the north-east, the other optom owners there will be my direct competitors so I’m not going to talk about my ideas with them. At the Scenicus regional meetings you can share and work on ideas with the other opticians there with total confidence that you’re not giving anything away about your own business.

“So I guess I now feel a lot more confident in myself about how to handle the business. For example, staff issues I’d never felt very comfortable dealing with – things like staff discipline and staff behaviour, them doing stuff you’re not happy about. We’ve actually had a lot of staff changes over the last 12 months because things needed to be changed.

“Some of the staff were getting close to retirement age and we were implementing a lot of changes. They decided they’d like to leave – previously, I would have panicked and perhaps tried to convince them to stay because that would have appeared the easiest option, but since working with Scenicus I’ve realised that I was happy to let them go as that was best for the business and the direction we were heading in.

“Another thing we’ve picked up from Scenicus is how to conduct recruitment interviews. When hiring reception staff for our Edinburgh practice we followed their advice and invited all the shortlisted candidates to a recruitment morning involving group exercises before individual interviews. We ended up recruiting three people from that day – one at the time and two later on when suitable positions opened up.

“The group exercises were very interesting and a big help in us picking the right people. The people who we thought were initially good on first impression weren’t necessarily the most impressive in the group tasks. One of the exercises was to have the candidates interviewing each other one-to-one, and one person who was quiet at first really impressed by asking a lot of good questions and being very engaging – we could tell then that she’d be really good on our reception dealing with an anxious or difficult patient. We’ll definitely be following that process again for any further interviews for reception staff.”

Jonathan says his experience of working with Scenicus has also helped him define his future vision for the business.

“I think in my first meeting I was asked “what’s your long-term plan?” and it really hadn’t occurred to me to think about that until then. My plan had just been to turn up for work the following week! Not having a long-term goal can in fact be quite stressful, so to realise I should have a plan was important. Being encouraged to think about an exit strategy is also something I hadn’t considered but is important – even if it will be a long time into the future.

“We’ve also picked up other things, like how to plan and properly analyse what we stock and how we present it, and thinking more strategically about whether the frames a rep is selling us will fit into our range and whether they are right for our customers. When you really measure things like stocks and sales you know your customers better.

“By getting involved with Scenicus, we’ve been able to look more carefully at every aspect of the business in order to grow it, and it’s basically been a question of getting the tools and encouragement to do it, which happens on the implementation days in particular, and keeps you motivated.”