Becoming a business owner

“I can see myself here for the long term”

Waseem Afzal, new owner of Gardiners of Denny, in Stirlingshire, on fulfilling a long-term ambition and starting his IP in the same month

Gardiners of Denny practice

For Waseem Afzal, the new owner of Gardiners of Denny in Stirlingshire, practice ownership is the culmination of a long-held ambition – in fact, being his own boss is something he has had in mind ever since he entered the profession in 2008.

When we speak, Afzal has been at the helm of the historic independent for less than two months. The previous owner had been around for almost two decades and before that the practice was run by the founder, the eponymous Mr Gardiner – and Afzal is conscious that some of his new patients remember being treated by the original owner.

The practice, Afzal said, “Has been around a long time,” and “the initial aim is to continue in the same vein, to provide local people with a quality service and products to match.”

I’m hoping to make the practice more clinically-focused, so completing the IP qualification is going to help with that


After planning to move into business ownership for a number of years, fate colluded so that everything happened at once, Afzal explained: “I took over 1 September. On 18 September, around two weeks later, I started my independent prescriber (IP) training.”

Although taking over a practice and starting IP in the same month is a challenge, the timing does at least coincide with Afzal’s longer-term plans for his business. “I’m hoping to make the practice more clinically-focused, so completing the IP qualification is going to help with that,” he said. “I’m looking to invest in new equipment to try and improve the quality of care for patients.”

With a mixed demographic, Afzal is also looking to incorporate myopia management, “to try and build long term relationships with patients, children, parents and extended families. We want to try to appeal to a younger clientele, including families.”

He is planning to invest in a computerised test chart and an optical coherence tomography device, as well as a practice redecoration and the addition of some contemporary artwork.

He added: “It’s about trying to build rapport with the patients, making them feel comfortable when they come in. I think a lot of the patients are quite interested to see how things will change. It’s exciting times. There will be incremental changes, and things will be a bit more modern and, hopefully, a bit more high-tech.”

Balancing priorities

Afzal explained that the thought of being his own boss was the thing that led him into optometry in the first place. After qualification he worked in practice and, after a short stint in domiciliary practice, became a locum in 2010 – something that he has done ever since, valuing flexibility while keeping an eye on his ultimate goal.

“After three or four years of locuming, because I’d worked in so many different places and experienced dozens of practices, I thought, ‘you know, what, I can do this for myself,’” he said.

“There were other practices that came up over the years, but they were too expensive, or I didn't get a good feeling from them. It just didn’t happen, for whatever reason. I was always on the lookout for a practice.”

Finding Gardiners of Denny this spring was the opportunity Afzal had waited over a decade for. He notes that the location was a key aspect: “There has been a lot of investment in the town: there are new houses, they’ve just had a brand-new library built, and there are other things that are happening,” he said. “It’s a good place for growth, and that’s really what I was looking for: somewhere where I could make a decent income, to match my locum income or increase it. This practice seemed to tick a lot of boxes. I can see myself here for the long term.”

He now plans to run the practice part-time while keeping one foot in locuming, allowing for the work life balance that he sees as essential. Part of this is completing his IP qualification - something that he had signed up for before COVID-19.

“The first day I walked into the practice, I was just looking around, and my brain was going at 200 miles per hour,” he said. “Now, I think it’s about 100 miles per hour. My IP is in the back of my head. We’ve got our first assignment due in a couple of weeks, but I haven’t started that yet because I’ve been so busy.”

Things are settling down after the first few weeks, though: “I've got to a place, now, where I can tick along: I can work in the practice and test whatever days I can, and I’ve still got time to do my IP,” Afzal said. “I applied for it just before the lockdown, so I've waited nearly three years to start. But it has all just happened at the same time.”

I’d rather be busy. It's another additional service that we'll provide that nobody else around here does. It's another string to our bow


Still, he said, “I’d rather be busy. It's another additional service that we'll provide that nobody else around here does. It's another string to our bow.”

He added: “I couldn't see myself working in a job where I was working for somebody else my whole life. It was always one of my aims to have a practice of my own, whether through the independent route or a franchise. I always wanted to have my own business. Having a young family, I can organise my own hours to work around my family also.

“It was always in the back of my mind that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be my own boss. I kind of experienced it being a locum, but you’re still restricted within the bounds of whichever practices you are working in. You are still working for somebody. This way, I’m working for myself, and at the end of the day, the buck stops with me.”

Is there anything he has learnt in his undoubtedly hectic recent months?

In short, the answer is about having support around you: “I knew it was going to be hard work,” Afzal said. “I think if you’ve got a good support system, in terms of your family being understanding and your staff knowing what to do and the ins and outs of the practice, that helps a lot. It’s hard work, but hopefully, it’ll be worth it at the end. It is a rewarding thing to do, to be your own boss and to work for yourself.”