The supply chain supporting optometrists
Frame and glazing suppliers have continued to fulfil orders to support optometrists through the lockdown, and are now considering what the future may look like for the supply chain
The outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown in the UK had a ripple effect through supply chains, with suppliers maintaining reduced operations to support the delivery of urgent and essential eye care.
The lockdown has created a challenging business environment for suppliers, as demand has dropped and supply chains have been impacted.
Despite the challenges, a number of those operating have expressed their desire to “contribute as best we can” to provide a service and support optometrists, even just to “be a voice at the end of the line” for customers.
For the first two weeks of lockdown in the UK, Eyespace Eyewear fulfilled essential and emergency orders through its sample cases, with co-owners Jayne and Julie Abel both dispatching orders through their local post services, or with one of the two attending the office once every few days to dispatch further orders for urgent parts until they could be sure it was safe and appropriate to re-open on a daily basis.
Jayne Abel told OT: “Being a family business has certainly helped at this very difficult time; it’s made us agile, sensitive and highly reactive to the current climate.”
Like at many businesses the majority of staff have been furloughed, with a skeleton staff remaining to fulfil orders at the head office. Operating with a minimal team, the company has maintained communication with customers through Zoom calls, diverting phone lines, monitoring the website and sharing updates of available services through social media and emails.
“Never before have we had to reshape and adapt so quickly to protect our business and provide our colleagues with the products they need, as they themselves work under the most difficult and hazardous of circumstances known to the profession in modern history,” Ms Abel said.
With a halt to routine appointments and non-essential trips, demand for frames has reduced significantly, increasing the pressure on suppliers.
“For frame suppliers I’m afraid it’s an economic 'perfect storm': with the vast majority of optical practices throughout the UK either closed or working on severely reduced services, demand has all but fallen off the side of a cliff,” commented Ms Abel. “Combine this with the fact that we design and order products and new models up to six to nine months in advance, it’s been a logistical nightmare and extremely financially challenging to control.”
Over the lockdown period, the company has worked to reschedule product shipments where possible or put payment plans in place to honour commitments with suppliers.
Speaking to practice owners, factories and global partners, there is a quiet sense of hope that the tide is turning
“This is a period of time where we have found that business relationships have strengthened, not faltered,” said Ms Abel, adding: “As an industry, we need to pull together, keep talking and bouncing ideas off each other, help each other work our way through issues – from HMRC and employment regulations to NHS guidelines – and support our colleagues, staff and suppliers to limit the damage when we finally emerge from this unprecedented crisis.”
Describing the work the company has done to fulfil orders during the crisis, Ms Abel said: “At Eyespace, in some ways we’ve felt quite helpless. But hopefully we’ve contributed as best we can, providing a continual essential service for our profession, providing PPE for local doctors, hospices and nursing homes and celebrating acts of selflessness and kindness all over the country through our #EyespaceHeroes social media campaign.”
“Our next challenge over the forthcoming weeks and indeed months will be to transition back to optimum capacity in a safe and measured manner, controlling the working environment and navigating the furlough system whilst protecting the cashflow of the business,” Ms Abel continued.
Preparing for the future beyond lockdown the company has put together a comprehensive ‘Eyespace Route Map’, covering plans from return to work strategies to the cleaning and sterilising of eyewear – a topic the company plans to outline to customers soon.
“Speaking to practice owners, factories and global partners there is a quiet sense of hope that the tide is turning, and although the industry has taken a major blow, friends and colleagues in the profession are ‘gearing up’ tentatively as more information filters through,” Ms Abel suggested, adding: “Realistically there is general talk of up to a six-month bounce back for the industry as a whole, but amidst all the grey clouds there are blue skies and a secret ripple of people mentioning the word ‘uplift' when full sight-testing resumes. At Eyespace we remain cautious but optimistic.”
For glazing laboratory, Birchgrove Optical, the decision to stay open during the lockdown came from the desire to support those customers delivering essential or urgent care.
“We’re just here to support people,” commented Chris Andrews, owner-partner of the business. “It was all well and good for the government to tell opticians to remain open, but it is tricky if you don’t have the supply chain behind that. We remained open to try to help our customers to get around some of these issues.”
“We are also here just to be a voice at the end of the phone sometimes,” Mr Andrews added, “Just so our customers don’t feel they are on their own.”
The husband and wife-run business has remained open throughout the lockdown, and with staff furloughed, the couple have been working to offer a skeleton service.
Many of the orders in the past few weeks have been simple repairs and a lot of single vision requests, Mr Andrew explained: “Many of these have been for keyworkers who just need a basic spare pair of glasses that they can perhaps leave on site, if they are at hospital for example, and that will enable them to do their key roles.”
The laboratory has also seen several orders for children, Mr Andrews said: “Parents have been stuck at home with little children with very high prescriptions and they are going to break their glasses so we need to make sure we can still get hold of those prescriptions.”
“Initially there was an issue with supply, but over time those suppliers have put measures in place that have allowed us to get by. Though it is not the same levels that it was previously, and there is just no guarantee in this present climate of how long things will take,” Mr Andrews added.
We’re just doing our bit to make it easier for people, and trying to give them something that makes them feel a bit more comfortable in the working environment
Considering the future beyond lockdown, Mr Andrews commented: “I don’t think we’re just going to turn the tap back on and go back to what we had before.”
“My business can operate to near enough where we were before; we have enough distance between people that we can operate a safe environment for the staff to work in,” Mr Andrews said. “The challenges are going to be the numbers of opticians and the amount of patients they can have in the practice at one time. This limits what can be done in a working day, which will make it very hard for them as well.
“I think this will be the same for all of us in the sector and will come down the supply chain. If the chain hasn’t got enough demand to be viable business, then the long-term effects could be quite catastrophic,” he added.
In the meantime, between fulfilling orders, Birchgrove Optical has also been using its 3D printers to produce face shields and slit lamp breath guards to send out, free of charge, to customers. The company hopes to help relieve some of the supply pressures optometrists have been facing when sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Describing the decision to begin producing PPE, Mr Andrews simply said: “We have the equipment here, why not use it?”
“We’re just doing our bit to make it a bit easier for people, and trying to give them something that makes them feel a bit more comfortable in the working environment,” Mr Andrews continued.
Despite the challenges and the uncertainties of the future, Mr Andrews concluded: “It has been nice to be able to stay open and do something for people. That has been quite rewarding.”
The Federation of Manufacturing Opticians (FMO) has put together an updated list of member and non-member glazing and frame suppliers operating during COVID-19, following the launch of the resource last month.
FMO member frame suppliers
|CentroStyle (Optical Centre Supplies)||01923 239267||[email protected]|
|Continental Eyewear (Millmead Optical)||0151 426 3907||[email protected]|
|Eyespace Eyewear||01527 870550||[email protected]|
|FGX UK||01782 813 000||[email protected]|
|Hilco Europe||01969 667 688||[email protected]|
|Norville Eyewear||01452 528 686||[email protected]|
|One Optical (Bluesky)||0141 643 0639||[email protected]|
|Rodenstock||01452 531 122||[email protected]|
|Spec-Care/Erin's World Frames||01392 460 806||[email protected]|
FMO member surfacing and glazing labs
|Caledonian||01224 596 006||[email protected]|
|Dunelm||01388 420 420||[email protected]|
|Essilor||01454 281 281||[email protected]|
|Hoya||0844 873 1110||[email protected]|
|Eye Index||01480 499 600||[email protected]|
|Itec||01582 594 405||[email protected]|
|Leith Optical||07801 036581||[email protected]|
|Norville Group||01452 510 332||[email protected]|
|One Optical||0141 643 0639||[email protected]|
|Quincey Eyewear||01872 571 615||[email protected]|
|Rodenstock||01474 531 122||[email protected]|
|Zeiss Vision||0845 300 7788||[email protected]|
More frame suppliers currently operating
|Anglo American Optcal||0208 340 0888||[email protected]
|Banton Frameworks||N/A||[email protected]|
|Britalian (for customer breakages, warranties etc)||N/A|| [email protected]
|Dibble Optical||01634 880 885
|Einar||01423 859003||[email protected]|
|Emporium Eyewear||0208 902 6211||[email protected]|
|Hilton Eyewear||0208 451 7800||[email protected]|
|Marchon UK||01483 302 882|
|Marcolin||0203 927 4400||[email protected]|
|Max Eyewear||N/A||[email protected]|
|MC2 eyewear||N/A||[email protected]|
|Mondottica UK (limited)||01159 677 912||[email protected]|
|Murano (for emergencies)||0844 8542777||[email protected]|
|Olympus Eyewear and Ultra Ltd||0116 289 2711||[email protected]|
|Optical Service||(01579) 347-878||[email protected]|
|Peter Allen||0207 272 2088||[email protected]|
|Pro – Optic||01884 266130||[email protected]|
|Red Eyewear||07823 44 1957||[email protected]|
|Silhouette UK||07821 692 951||[email protected]|
|The Eyewear Company||01453 791 600||[email protected]|
|Waterside Labs||023 8042 9660||[email protected]|
|William Morris||01279 732 424||[email protected]|
|White Designs/Funk Optics||0191 587 3604||[email protected]|
More surfacing and glazing labs currently open
|Advanced Optical||01494 726 037||N/A|
|Anthony Optical||0208 617 1532||[email protected]|
|Barnsley Optical||01226 390 481||[email protected]|
|Basecurve||01254 705 402||[email protected]|
|Berkshire Labs||01635 865 050||N/A|
|Birchgrove Optical||0292 0520651||[email protected]|
|Butterworths||0131 661 4555||[email protected]|
|Independent Optics||01954 231 545||[email protected]|
|Industrial Eyecare||01695 581 222||[email protected]|
|Jai Kudo||020 8732 9600||[email protected]|
|JLL Optics||0141 763 1558||[email protected]|
|JS Optical||01562 862 409||N/A|
|Lenstec||029 2088 3009||[email protected]|
|Lumley||0191 271 5050||N/A|
|MBOS||0151 420 4080||[email protected]|
|Optimum Coatings||01524 541 540||[email protected]|
|PKP Optics||01892 837 979||N/A|
|Pollard Optical||07722 011 914||[email protected]|
|Sales Optical||01722 331 544||N/A|
|Seiko||01452 610 033||[email protected]|
|Tant Labs||N/A||[email protected]|
|Waterside||02380 429 600||[email protected]|
OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding the novel coronavirus is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage the latest news and guidance on coronavirus.