Optimum Coatings moves to employee ownership

OT  heard from director, Mark Marland, on the choice to transition the lens supplier into an Employee Ownership Trust company

Mark Marland, sales director, presents sales manager, Rayna Greenfield with her ownership pack
Optimum Coatings
Ophthalmic lens and coatings manufacturer and supplier, Optimum Coatings, has become an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) company.

As a result of the change, more than 70 staff at Optimum Coatings, based in Morecambe, have become employee owners.

On the milestone transition, the directors of Optimum Coatings, Paul Bailey and Mark Marland, shared: “Our team is hardworking, committed, and leaders in the field, and now, they are owners of Optimum, too.”

Members of staff who have been with the business for more than six months automatically become employee owners.

In EOTs, employee owners do not own shares directly, instead the shareholdings in the company are transferred to an all-employee trust, held for the benefit of employees.

The structure means employees, as stakeholders, play a “pivotal role in the company’s decision-making process, strengthening the company’s resilience in the face of economic challenges,” Marland said, and bringing with it “heightened job security.”

The move also marks a commitment to the local community.

Bailey shared: “Our transition to an EOT is a testament to the potential that lies within Morecambe, and we’re excited to be part of this positive narrative.”

Deciding the future of the business

OT asked Marland about the decision to become an EOT, and how the news was shared with the Optimum Coatings staff.

The directors had spent the past two years considering the long-term future of the business and how they might go about reducing their own commitments to the firm over time.

Considering options of investment or selling, Marland explained: “Nothing really felt right for us, in terms of what we set out to do 10 years ago, what we’ve achieved, and the loyal staff who have worked really hard to help us get to where we are as a successful business.”

In addition to wanting to maintain the culture that Optimum Coatings has created, the directors wanted to ensure that employee jobs would be protected.

Marland commented: “We’ve seen lots of acquisitions in the marketplace over the years and when you look at some of those businesses that have been acquired, they are no longer there, because the resources have been moved somewhere else and people have lost jobs. We didn’t want that.”

The directors were introduced to the concept of EOT 12 months ago, and Marland shared: “The more we looked at it, the more we knew it was right for us; it was right for the business and staff.”

Becoming an EOT

On 28 March 2024, the directors completed the deal to create an EOT, releasing 100% of their shares.

“We announced it to the staff the following Tuesday in a presentation,” Marland explained. “We had balloons and cupcakes, information packs and certificates saying, ‘Welcome to the Owners Club.’”

The reaction of the now employee-owners was one of “shock and delight,” he shared, with many commenting that they are glad to have a say in the future of the business.

“More importantly, they know that it’s secured jobs for the community,” Marland said.

A number of new starters were welcomed to the business on the day, adding to the excitement. Marland shared: “Their first day of work and they are thinking ‘Blimey, in six months I'm a co-owner of the business. I didn’t expect that on my first day.’”

Reflecting on the moment of announcing the news to employees, Marland said: “I’ve been in optics 39 years and it’s probably one of the proudest moments of my career, to give our staff a say in the business and a stake in it.”

The most difficult part of the process has been keeping the secret, he added: “We had to keep really tight lipped.”

Future plans

The directors have confirmed that there will be no change or disruption to services, with the directors and senior team continuing to “steer the ship” and ensure smooth operations.

A new board of directors is in place, including two members of the senior management team who have taken the roles of employee representative directors, and in time, there are plans to establish an employee council who will attend meetings and present ideas and improvements.

“Me and Paul have always told anyone who joins us: we want this place to be the best place you’ve ever worked, and if it’s not, tell us why. That’s how we’ve always worked, and I’d like to think people do think it’s the best place they’ve ever worked,” Marland shared.

Becoming an EOT was the right move for Optimum Coatings, he continued: “Every order has been touched by an owner of the company. They are all playing a part to deliver the best quality of service that we can.”