Born into optics
Scrivens Opticians & Hearing Care chairman Nicholas Georgevic, shares his reflections on optics and audiology
How did you get into optics?
My grandfather, Solomon Scriven, founded Scrivens Opticians in Birmingham in 1938. My father, Sasha Georgevic, worked in the business from 1960, becoming chairman in 1987.
Although I trained as an accountant, I always thought that moving into the family business was a likely option. In 1991, my father asked me to move back to Birmingham from London to join Scrivens as finance director and help prepare the business for the next phase of its development.
What changes have you seen in the profession during your 26 years in optics?
There has been a sharp rise in the number of women joining the profession, which is extremely positive. There is also more comprehensive training and a growing requirement for greater knowledge and continuous professional development to keep pace with technological advances.
In terms of retail, competition has increased significantly over the years, with new entrants coming in to the market, together with the advent of the Internet and online shopping and corrective surgery all seeking to divert customers away from traditional High Street opticians.
However, I am a strong believer that the High Street will continue to survive – thrive even – and provide the ideal forum that best meets the increasing and more diverse needs of our optical and hearing care customers.
As a business, Scrivens particularly focuses on providing the very best professional, clinical advice and tailor-made personal service to every single customer. That’s something we do particularly well and that our customers truly value.
Why did you develop the hearing side of the business?
My grandfather introduced a hearing care service in the late 1950s. He was a visionary on thinking that hearing care should have the same vital and important status in society as eye care.
Audiology patients have long been the poor relation compared to optical patients, and the opportunity for greater independence and significantly increased quality of life from wearing the right hearing aid has taken too long to become a reality for the hard of hearing.
It has taken Scrivens almost seven decades of campaigning, but in the last couple of years, hearing is finally enjoying the same NHS access on the High Street as optics in many clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas. I look forward to the time when all CCGs provide this access, as this service is far too important to be the subject of a postcode lottery.
While my grandfather would be happy that hearing has finally broken through, he would also perhaps be rather disappointed that it has taken so long. There were certainly times in the last 26 years where we almost gave up on hearing due to the structural and political pressures that weighed us down on sales and profits, but we knew that customers wanted to have the choice of accessing NHS hearing care on their local High Street, rather than endure the hassle of hospital appointments, often impersonal service, lengthy waiting times and poor accessibility.
We delivered our 100,000th NHS hearing aid last year and our customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We are now recruiting more hearing aid dispensers and support staff as the demand for our hearing care service continues to grow.
How has Scrivens changed over the years?
Scrivens is much bigger today and offers a totally integrated optical and hearing service, which certainly was not the case back in the early 1990s. In 1991, we had 30 branches, primarily located in the Midlands, whereas today we have 177 High Street stores from Hartlepool in the north to Penzance in the south, and from Rhyl in the west to North Walsham and Harwich in the east.
We now employ over 1000 people. This is certainly the statistic that I am most proud of. It is a wonderful and humbling responsibility, but fortunately we have delivered the most successful trading year in our 78-year history. Despite increasing the width and breadth of our business, we have worked hard to ensure the culture and philosophy of the business remains the same.
“The opportunity for greater independence and significantly increased quality of life from wearing the right hearing aid has taken too long to become a reality”
Everyone at Scrivens strives to be the very best they can be, constantly seeking to exceed the expectations both of our customers, but also of our colleagues and of ourselves in delivering a uniquely personal and high-quality service for our customers.
What does the future hold for you and the business?
We will continue to focus on delivering the highest possible standards of optical and hearing care on the High Street. Having made strides in NHS hearing, we will not rest on our laurels but continue to lobby for a voucher system that mirrors the optical NHS model.
This makes sense. We’re an ageing population and we know consumer demand for better hearing is increasing. Removing the management of simple age-related hearing loss from time and budget-pressured GPs and acute care hospitals makes sense for the Government and the medical profession, as well as, more importantly, the customer for whom the service is so much more convenient and immediate.
From an optical perspective, the future may well see the transfer of enhanced services from hospitals to the High Street, which is a positive opportunity for the profession.
To drive this forward and ensure its consistent and successful delivery, we will need to see a more solid base of employed optometrists for whom we can provide the best training and support to broaden their skill base within structured pathways. We are always looking for optometrists with this mind-set.
Further expansion is also on the cards, both in terms of organic growth and by acquisition, but for the latter to be successful, the cultural fit has to be absolutely right.
However, we are always looking for talented, passionate and driven people to join the business, so perhaps, like my father before me, I may one day make the same call to one or two from the next Scrivens generation in the hope that they may choose to join the business. Yet they will have to have proved themselves elsewhere in business first.
Scrivens remains a family company whose strength I have always felt lies principally in the quality of its staff and management, almost 50 of whom have, like me, completed over 25 years of service.
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