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Becoming a business owner

“It’s a bit scarier when it‘s your name above the door”

Daniel Jackson, of Jackson & Co, explains how his two-decade optometry journey led to practice ownership

Dan Jackson

Kent-based dispensing optician, Daniel Jackson, had wanted to own his own practice ever since he first qualified. After 23 years in optics, and after finally getting his family on board, August 2020 was finally the right time to take the plunge.

His new practice, Jackson & Co, in New Romney, is “perfect in terms of location and demographic,” he told OT. “We know the area quite well. It’s a bit of a trek from home, a roundtrip of 100 miles a day to and from the practice, but that’s dedication for you.”

Jackson lives near the Dartford Tunnel, but explains that after a career spent travelling into London he’s relishing that the similar length journey is now spent in his own car, on his own time.

The practice has existed for four decades, and came to him after the previous owner, who was retiring, responded well to Jackson’s “dreams and aspirations” for what it could be.

“They picked me to buy the practice,” he said. “They had a couple of offers, and I wasn’t offering anything more on the financial front. I think it was just that he and I were on a very similar page with our approach. I think he saw a bit of himself from 20 years ago in me, so that’s quite nice.”

A new approach

As the third owner in the practice’s 40-year history, Jackson was keen to bring in up-to-date equipment and an improved offering for the town’s residents. “We’ve now got probably one of the most advanced testing rooms in in the area, with a full suite of Zeiss equipment,” he said. “We have optomap, optical coherence tomography, and a Humphrey Fields Analyser. A lot of the patients have been coming here for 30 or 40 years, and they’ve never had any anything like it.

“The response has been fantastic. We’ve had lots of new business off the back of word-of-mouth recommendations.”

He has also employed a resident optometrist, who he had worked with previously and knew well, and ensured that the cosy feel of the practice was retained alongside redecoration and the implementation of the high-tech equipment.

I teach my kids that you can achieve anything if you work hard, and set yourself on a path that you choose and you determine for yourself

 

“It feels like a living room when you go into the practice,” he said, and “even in the testing room, although we have all the new equipment.

“I set up the Tom Davies store, in Sloane Square, and that’s very clinical, it feels like a spaceship. We’ve got the same equipment here, but it’s more like you’re in your nan’s living room. It feels relaxed, and it’s appropriate to the age group and the kind of patients that we’re seeing.”

Jackson has also added new services over the past year, including a dedicated contact lens optician, hearing care, a dry eye clinic, and the ability to monitor patients for glaucoma and macular changes. “All of these services are now available in the local area,” he said, “and they weren’t before.”

With an older population in a rural town, Jackson explains that helping patients to avoid public transport and hospital visits for conditions such as dry eye, especially during the pandemic, has been a key theme since the practice opened. “To have it all here now is fantastic,” he said. “They don’t have to travel out of the area. We’ve done a huge amount in our first year.”

A personal journey

Jackson admitted that he is naturally shy, and that putting himself out there publicly as a business owner was a big decision.

“People wouldn’t assume that I’m shy, I don’t think, when they talk to me,” he said. “It’s something I hide pretty well, but it’s not natural for me.”

He added: “Somebody said to me yesterday that I come across as fearless. We’ve made changes to a place that has been here, established, for a long time. It did need to be done. People are always worried about change, but actually the local community has been very supportive.

“It’s a great environment to work in. You can pop across the road and have a chat to your retail neighbour, and they’re having the same sort of issues or they’re seeing the same sort of people. You can offload about all sorts of things. It’s not a big town; it’s very close knit.”

Does he have any words of advice for people who are about to open a practice or maybe want to, but are worried about becoming known publicly in the local area?

“I sought advice from a lot of people,” he said. “People who know me were the ones who pushed me to do what I thought was right. They gave me a boost and confirmation that, if you’ve got an idea that you think is going to work, then do it, because you can. I’ve proven over the years in several other places that it works, it’s just a bit scarier when it’s your name above the door.”

Jackson has closing words on what the optical industry has given him, after starting as a ‘Saturday boy’ at Specsavers over two decades ago.

“I don’t tend to be too sentimental,” he said, “but my life before optics was a messy one. At 16 or 17, starting a job at a Specsavers at the weekend saved me. This moment, buying the practice, is the culmination of all of that. I worked so hard to get out of a bad situation. I've got good support around me. That is where I started, and this profession, for all its ups and downs, is supportive at the core. It is what got me to where I am. I teach my kids that you can achieve anything if you work hard, and set yourself on a path that you choose and you determine for yourself.”

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