“Our ethos is to embrace all that an independent practice stands for”
Luke Wren, head of business development at the Hakim Group, outlines the steps taken to purchase the retail arm of the historic Norville Opticians
1. Initial approachWe were working through the challenges of post-lockdown with our independent practices when we were contacted by agents acting on behalf of the Norville retail practices. This wasn't a business that we had looked at before and was completely out of the blue.
The company has over one hundred years of heritage and the brand name is iconic to the industry. This, along with Norville’s reputation for quality products and service, were the main triggers in our decision to take a closer look at the practices. Like many people in the industry, I grew up with the Norville name and learning the trade, especially the more technical jobs, from the Norville catalogue.
2. Making the decision to buyThe optical retail practices had always operated as a standalone business and were run independently to the Norville laboratory. This retail division was where we felt we could add value and saw an opportunity to add them to the Hakim Group family of independent practices. Our ethos has always been to embrace all that an independent practice stands for, rather than rebrand and create a ‘one size fits all’ model. This is why we felt the Norville Group of practices would be a perfect fit for the group; all of our practices that join the group retain their independent name, as that is one of the ingredients that makes them unique, special and individual.
Like many in the industry, I grew up with the Norville name and learning the trade from the Norville catalogue
We made a decision to look at the optical practices in more detail and what became very apparent early on is that the practices had great teams who had been serving the local communities for many decades and had built up a very loyal customer base in each of their locations.
3. Any challenges that needed to be addressed?
Given the situation around COVID, with some staff on furlough within the Norville practices, it was quite a challenge to ascertain all the details in relation to the practices. However, the team at Norville were excellent in helping us quickly establish an accurate view of the business. Most of the work was done remotely via Zoom calls as we were still in lockdown at that stage. This was quite a challenge, however, it is testament to both the team at Hakim Group, as well as the management team at Norville Opticians, that there was a strong appetite to find a sustainable future for the practices. It was the chemistry between the teams that ensured we got things concluded within the tight timescales and it was a very quick process which took around ten days, from initial contact, to conclude.
4. Next stepsIt was important that we made an announcement as soon as things concluded so that staff and patients weren't concerned about their jobs or their eye care respectively. In parallel, the administrators were also looking for a suitable buyer for the lab business, however this process ran slightly behind the sale of the opticians. There was a huge amount of support for the lab from those within the industry as well as the Gloucestershire community, who all joined together to try and find a willing buyer. It was great to see that Inspecs eventually acquired the lab, saving jobs whilst ensuring that the technical expertise at Norville was retained within the profession.
5. Planning for the future
The initial reaction has been extremely positive both within the sector and at a local level. There has been great support within the local communities for the retail opticians, and the practice teams have been fantastic in dealing with these challenging times. From our perspective, a full investment and transformation programme is planned to ensure that the business is on a strong footing for the next decade and beyond.
There will be some restructuring that will naturally be required to achieve this, however, the one thing that won't change is the Norville Opticians name above the door, so that we can celebrate the heritage that has served the Gloucestershire people for many years to come. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to build on the fantastic work of Frank Norville and his team and we are delighted that we will be working with them to build a successful future for Norville Opticians.
- As told to Lucy Miller.