New chief executive of Sight Care revealed at its annual business conference

Former dispensing optician Steve Wright introduced to 400 delegates at ‘Better Together’ event

Steve Wright and Gary Hasse shaking hands

Sight Care’s new chief executive will be Steve Wright (pictured left), it was announced at its annual conference for independents (29 February, Hilton Metropole Hotel, Birmingham).

Mr Wright first qualified as a dispending optician and worked at Haines & Smith. Subsequently he owned two Dollond & Aitchison franchises in central London before running a group of David Clulow practices. He has also had senior management and board roles with Swarovski and shoe brand French Sole.

Sight Care’s outgoing chief executive, Paul Surridge, leaves the group on 29 April and will be taking up a new role as chairman of the Hearing Care Manufacturers Association. His successor was briefly introduced to delegates at the conference by Sight Care chairman, Garrey Haase (pictured right), and will join the organisation on 4 April.


At the conference, Mr Haase acknowledged Mr Surridge’s dedication, thanking him for all he has contributed to the group over the past 18 years.

He highlighted that Mr Surridge’s contribution had included changing Sight Care from a buying group into a business and marketing support organisation for independents, as well as introducing the annual business conference, regional meetings and the establishment of the European Ideas Forum.

Mr Surridge told OT: “I have loved every minute of my time at Sight Care and I shall miss all those wonderful people I’ve worked with over the years. I know that Steve will be a great asset to the group and will ensure that independents continue to be served by a great organisation.”

However, Mr Surridge is not planning to leave optics totally. “I hope to play a small role in supporting Sight Care in the future, as well as taking up the role of chairman of the Hearing Care Manufacturers Association,” he added.

This year’s Sight Care conference attracted some 400 registrations from practices around the UK. Although the delegate numbers were slightly down on last year’s event, a similar number of practices were represented, according to the organisers.

Mr Surridge said: “A very busy optical calendar played a part in the slight decline in numbers this year, but we were aware from pre-conference feedback that this would be the case.”

The 2016 conference’s Better Together theme had nothing to do with political lobbying referring to the upcoming EU referendum, Mr Surridge was keen to point out at the event.

The theme was chosen to reinforce the message that independents had a great deal to gain from sharing best practice and networking through an organisation like Sight Care, he told delegates.

Common aims

At the start of the event, Sight Care’s recently elected chairman Mr Haase responded to the conference theme by drawing an analogy with sport, and football in particular. He emphasised that consistent performance was only possible if the team worked together with common aims and objectives.

From outside of optics, the chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, (ACS), James Lowman, talked about the changing face of local shops. The ACS represents over 30,000 members “at the sharp end of everyday retail.”

Mr Lowman asserted that independent opticians, not unlike ACS members, had to be a part of reshaping the shopping experience and this required the business community to come together to ensure that the High Street had a future.

He advised independent practice owners to keep abreast of technological advances and to engage with marketing and promotion, especially social media.

The speaker programme welcomed back international speaker Nigel Risner. His dynamic presentation emphasised that the world is changing fast and that business owners have to keep up and to engage with customers at every level to survive.

Another international speaker, Paul Wearmouth, concentrated on the need to constantly re-invent the patient journey to ensure that practices remained fresh and engaging for consumers.

From the optical profession, John Davidson, who owns an independent practice in Newcastle, concentrated on his experiences of building a successful practice. His talk covered various business processes that had helped him to stay focused on his goals.

From the hearing sector, audiologist Curtis Alcock recounted his experiences when he took on a family hearing practice that was first established in 1840. He explained how he had recognised that, to survive through the recession, he had to adopt new and innovative ways of attracting and retaining clients by changing the perceptions of the hearing-care model.

Speaker Erak Simsson, an ex-army physical training instructor of 22 years, explained how his personal training business had grown through networking with other professions in his local community.

His model of attracting and working with various groups had led to valuable lead generation, he told delegates. Mr Simsson networks at regular meetings with a GP, an audiologist, an optometrist and a dentist, as well as other local health and beauty providers. His approach was being worked up into a model that he planned to roll out across the UK, he told delegates.

Practice owner Nick Rumney closed the conference with a themed presentation, LIP service or IP service. He argued that independents had to change and differentiate their services from the High Street if they were to survive long term and recommended that optometrists become independent prescribers.