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Specsavers was founded by Doug and Dame Mary Perkins in 1984 and is now the largest privately owned opticians in the world. The couple still run the company, along with their three children. Their son John is joint managing director.
Doug and Mary Perkins started the business in their spare bedroom in Guernsey on a table-tennis table. The couple had moved to the Island after selling a small chain of West Country opticians. In the early 1980s, the UK Government deregulated professionals, including opticians, allowing them to advertise their products and services for the first time. They seized the opportunity and opened their first Specsavers, value-for-money, quality eyecare opticians in Guernsey and Bristol, followed shortly by stores in Plymouth, Swansea and Bath. Their aim was to offer a wide range of stylish, fashionable glasses at affordable prices for everyone and they wanted the company to be seen as just as trustworthy as a local independent optician but with the huge buying power of a national company so that savings could be passed on to the customer.
The company has expanded rapidly since then and now has more than 1,600 stores across ten countries; the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Australia and New Zealand and is market leader in six of them. Doug and Mary’s philosophy seems to be working, as Specsavers was voted Britain’s most trusted brand of opticians for the twelfth year running by the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey 2012.
Specsavers optical stores and hearing centres are owned and run by joint venture or franchise partners. Together, they offer both optical and hearing services under one roof. Specsavers' glasses ranges includes Tommy Hilfiger, Red or Dead, fcuk, Bench, Quiksilver, Roxy, Jasper Conran, Karen Millen and Missoni, as well as its own Osiris designer brand.
Specsavers is also the retail market leader in contact lenses, with its own brand of easyvision monthly and daily disposable lenses.
Specsavers is bringing its core offers to its rapidly expanding hearing service, which is now doing for hearing what the retailer has already achieved in optics – dramatically reducing prices and waiting times and making audiology services more accessible for everyone. The company is already the largest retail dispenser of digital hearing aids in the UK and offers a hearing service from more than 400 locations. It is the number one high street provider of adult audiology services to the NHS and is now winning contracts to offer free NHS hearcare to customers from many of its stores in the UK.
A key part of Specsavers philosophy is to give back to the community. In the UK, it raises money for charities including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Sound Seekers, the road safety charity Brake, the anti-bullying charity Kidscape and Vision Aid Overseas, for whom stores have raised enough funds to build a school of optometry in Zambia and open eyecare outreach clinics in much of the country.
The company continues to expand. From just two staff working at that table-tennis table in 1984, more than 30,000 staff now work for the company worldwide.