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Planit vision

OT ’s Emily McCormick finds out how an idea between two work colleagues during a Paris tradeshow led to the opening of Planit Opticians

01 Mar 2016 by Emily McCormick

Established in July 2012, when Planit Opticians opened its doors it did so with a well thought-out concept – to attract customers with structured payment plans and a range of top eyewear brands.

Established in July 2012, when Planit Opticians opened its doors it did so with a well thought-out concept – to attract customers with structured payment plans and a range of top eyewear brands.

“We wanted to create a new brand within the industry that had a corporate feel, but retained the personality of an independent practice,” co-founder of Planit Opticians, Phil Howlett, explained to OT.

The brainchild of dispensing optician Mr Howlett and optometrist partner Mike Procter, the pair initially decided to go into business together following a trip to Paris-based Silmo in 2010.

"We wanted to create a new brand within the industry that had a corporate feel, but retained the personality of an independent practice"

During the annual trade show, the then work colleagues spoke about their shared aspirations to create an opticians that offered desirable eyewear and eye care, tailored to individual eye care plans.

Following the trip, the pair spent a further two years carefully planning and fine-tuning the concept of Planit Opticians. “Like any business strategy, it took time to develop and to meticulously plan a very detailed customer journey, as well as decide what brands we would stock, how we would train staff and develop the systems and processes required,” Mr Howlett said, adding: “What we have created is a complex customer journey process, which ensures our clients feel valued and cared for following their eye test and visit to us.”

He continued: “We understand the power of brands and ensure that we are a fashion focused and forward-thinking practice. Our eye care plans can be individually tailored to suit our clients, giving us a unique selling point. Our whole practice is based around the concept ‘It’s not just an ‘add-on’ we offer’.”

Location, location, location

planitvisioninteriorWith the business strategy in hand, the pair knew that the location of the practice would be important to its success, and, after much research, settled on Colne, a town in East Lancashire which Mr Howlett describes as “up and coming,” which was, in part, selected due to its large population.

“We were actively looking for new premises and visited a number of sites,” explained Mr Howlett. “We wanted a location with a large enough population that would respond to our concept and eventually decided on Colne.”

Colne’s population size, paired with an active local radio station and newspaper, which the business partners utilised to help them spread the word that the practice had opened, made it “an ideal location,” explained Mr Howlett.

The DO still maintains relationships with local press and radio contacts and ultilises their services today, explaining that “regular PR helps keep us visible in the public eye, which is important.”

Continuing its drive to raise awareness of the practice’s presence in the community, on opening, the independent invited local primary schoolchildren to visit and learn about how the eye works. Extending this further, in November the following year, the practice wrote to every school in the area and sent members of its dispensing team to give eye health talks to children in their assemblies.

The practice also benefits from maintaining a presence in the community by supporting local events and donating raffle prizes. In addition, it sponsors the British under-21 fencing champion, Lucy-Belle Williamson, providing her with sports eyewear and contact lenses. “This has helped increase awareness of contact lenses and raised our profile in the community via newspapers, recommendations and social media,” said Mr Howlett.

For Mr Howlett, recommendation from existing clients is the most valuable form of patient retention. With this in mind, Planit Opticians regularly hosts exclusive client events in practice which enable the team to regularly touch base with patients. These include frame viewing days that give clients the opportunity to see an entire range, or preview a new collection that has just been launched in the practice.

For Mr Howlett, the practice’s online presence is also an important tool which enables potential new clients to learn about the practice. “Our website is regularly updated with our latest news and products,” he said.

Investing in the practice

planitopticiansSince opening with a well-devised business plan, the practice has not stood still, with the business partners investing in iPads and lens measuring software to ensure a seamless customer journey.

“We are constantly looking at ways we can improve the customer experience,” said Mr Howlett, highlighting that regularly updating brands and ensuring that stock is “always fresh and up to date with current trends” is key.

Mr Howlett confirms that business has been progressing well over the last three years. “The database is growing as we expected, but we do appreciate that it takes time to grow a database from scratch,” he added.

“We developed our CRM systems so we could regularly review new client reports, demographics such as age and, more importantly, where our clients heard about us,” Mr Howlett reveals. “This means we can clearly define which areas of advertising work and what stock to hold, allowing us to change our focus as required."

The future is Planit

Concluding by asking Mr Howlett what is next for Planit Opticians, the business owner admits: “We want to grow the company through new acquisition and roll out our Plan-it concept to other practices.”

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