My priority: securing practice finances

Director and optometrist, Kim Durden, and practice manager, Lynn Carson, on how they’re levelling up their finances across five optical practices

Kettering Team

As practices continue to operate with social distancing and other safety measures in place, OT is speaking to practice owners about a singular priority they have for the next few months. If you want to be featured, get in touch with [email protected] 

Kim Durden: Davis Optometrists was founded by my father Rodney in 1963 and, over time, the business has grown to five practices, across Northants, Leicestershire and Buckinghamshire. Whilst the practice has certainly evolved over those years, I don’t think any years will compare to 2020, in how quickly the business has had to change.

Although we officially joined the Hakim Group in June, we were treated as members many months previously, during the first few weeks of the pandemic, and we absolutely felt part of the team, which was amazing. It was very difficult in the beginning to know, as optometrists, what we were supposed to do. As support and advice elsewhere was hard to come by, we felt so much safer with the support we were given by Hakim Group HQ, particularly from the webinars and the financial plans. We had that security we needed to move forward and plan for the immediate future.

We came out of lockdown surprisingly well, onto almost solid ground, helped in the most part by the furlough scheme. I think the government and local authorities should be praised for rolling that out in an effective way. Apart from the directors and a few managers, everyone was furloughed and we were left with a skeleton staff; when it looked rather bleak that was a good positive step as managing our staff was the biggest cost saving. We also took advantage of the rates grants, which I have to say were delivered quickly and efficiently, along with the NHS grant.

We came out of lockdown surprisingly well, onto almost solid ground, helped in the most part by the furlough scheme

Kim Durden, director and optometrist

We were also fortunate in the fact that our landlords gave us rent holidays, along with the bounce back loans, which were achieved through the help of quick responses from the banks. All of that assistance left us in a strong position to get started again. Whilst there are many more challenges ahead, we feel fortunate that, in a tough period, we weren’t left to soldier on without any help.

Our direct debit scheme, Total Eyecare, was also so important. This is normally about 30% of our overall turnover, so during a time when we weren’t able to see patients it was a life saver. That 30% really kept us going, which contributed to us being in a safe position as we came out of the first lockdown. Even now, more and more people are still signing up for the scheme across the practices, which is a really reassuring sign.

As we’re a family practice, patients know us and are reassured we will look after them… that kind of atmosphere is so important to securing the future of the business

Lynn Carson, practice manager

Lynn Carson: It’s important to mention that the teamwork of everyone in the practices was also vital to securing our finances. All of us bent over backwards to look after every single person who phoned us during those months, whether it be if they wanted their contact lenses or their dry eye drops. We drove all over the local area, delivering to those who needed it most, late in the evenings and at weekends. Throughout lockdown I think it was really important that we worked hard to look after those core patients who we normally see regularly.

I think it’s also the hard work of our team members that means, even during the second lockdown, we were fully booked up and extremely busy. Our reception staff have also noted that we’ve seen a lot of new patients ringing up to book, who have said they want to go somewhere that they can really trust, to an independent. One patient recently said they had hardly been out for months but she felt really safe in practice, and knew that we would look after her. Many patients have told us that it is nice to go somewhere where they know the faces that are hidden behind our masks. As we’re a family practice through-and-through, they know us and are reassured we will look after them. I think fostering that kind of atmosphere is so important to securing the future of the business in the current climate.

KD: It's all been a massive learning curve, but there are changes we have had to make that we will definitely continue when all of this is behind us. Before the pandemic, we could be empty for one moment and then the next, we would have a rush of patients through the door. That was not the most efficient system. Now, with the locked-door policy in place, we have made appointments for everything, even collections, fittings and adjustments, which makes a massive difference to the flow of the day. It also means we can manage the staff more effectively, as now there is less chance of there being too few, or too many, bodies in the practice. I’ve always been an advocate for longer testing times, and as that has been almost forced upon us, we have found it means more conversions and improved dispenses.

This experience has definitely taught me how loyal our team are

Lynn Carson, practice manager

LC: For the most part, this experience has definitely taught me how loyal our team are. They have all worked their socks off to support the business; even during the first lockdown some were almost volunteering to stay in work. We’ve always been a business that has evolved over time, never staying the same. It’s proved to me how agile we can be. We’ve changed everything to accommodate what we have to do in a short space of time, which has taken a lot of work and a lot of training. It’s reinforced how amazing the team are in all of our practices. Not that I’m saying I would ever want to go through it again, but this year has been a valuable exercise in displaying what we’re capable of.