What I have learned

“Local services are more important than ever”

Husband and wife team of the newly-rebranded Baird Optometrists, Andrew and Fiona Baird, talk to OT  about pursuing their dream of opening their second practice

Baird optometrists

What learnings did you take from opening your first practice in Callander in 2011, during a recession?

Andrew Baird (AB): What didn’t I learn? Recession or not, opening your first business is a huge learning curve. You quickly learn to ask questions and to get used to feeling stupid. It takes time and patience to build from nothing and there were definitely days when I would panic about being quiet. I wouldn’t say I have learned not to panic, but I am more accepting that there are ups and downs and sometimes it is worth enjoying the quiet times because you will miss them when you are rushed off your feet.

What made you decide to push on with opening the second practice in Dunblane, despite the uncertainty and challenges of coronavirus (COVID-19)?

AB: I have been keen to open a second practice for a few years. We had been looking for the right opportunity and a couple of options have come along during that time and either slipped through our fingers or just not felt right.

The spring lockdown gave us time to discuss our options and we ended up feeling more confident in our decision. Yes, COVID-19 will make life more difficult, but eye care isn’t going to become any less important. If anything, we feel that our role will grow as we pick up the overflow from overstretched secondary care services.

Despite all of the challenges we’ve faced, there is a big opportunity for independent practices like ours to make a good recovery post-COVID-19

Andrew Baird, optometrist and director of Baird Optometrists

How have patient behaviours changed from when you opened your first practice, and have you had to adapt your approach to suit?

AB: We have noticed more interest in online purchasing, though not enough to impact significantly on our business. I think most people appreciate the professional service that goes into their eye exam and spectacle dispense.

I don’t think we have needed to adapt our approach especially. There are always going to be patients who will explore these avenues, but they often come back to us to sort out the problems that they encounter. You have to play the long game, building trust and loyalty through honest, hard work.

What changes do you think COVID-19, and the changes to lifestyles it has caused, will mean for the High Street?

AB: With more people working from home, it is the perfect time for local independent opticians to attract those commuters who are no longer travelling into the cities.

We are seeing more reports of near vision issues as people spend more time on computers. The options of occupational lenses and blue control coatings are areas of potential growth. On the downside, with restaurants closed, there is less footfall on the High Street, which has a negative impact on us. As a new practice, you want people to be walking past and noticing that you are there.

Andrew and Fiona
Andrew and Fiona Baird opened their second practice, in Dunblane, in October.

Have you seen a change in the number of people ‘shopping local’?

AB: In our Callander practice, we have certainly seen a significant increase in new patients since lockdown. With more people working from home and being less inclined to travel, local services are more important than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought communities together and there is that understanding that if local business isn’t supported, it will disappear.

Despite all of the challenges we’ve faced, there is a big opportunity for independent practices like ours to make a good recovery post-COVID-19, but we need to focus on showing our new patients what we are capable of and ensuring that we see them returning for years to come.

The practice will offer teleophthalmology in conjunction with Forth Valley eye clinic. What made you decide to include this as part of the service at Baird Optometrists and how important do you think this will be going forwards?

AB: We signed up to teleophthalmology at the end of 2019. We already had optical coherence tomography (OCT) and a slit-lamp camera, so it made sense, though I had no idea how important it would become.

Fiona and I used teleophthalmology regularly while working in the local emergency eye care treatment centre (EETC) and have built stronger relationships with our colleagues in the Falkirk Eye Clinic. We had some amazing outcomes, including a three-way video call with an ophthalmologist and a neurologist for a patient with papilloedema. The patient was admitted for a lumbar puncture and placed on medication within four hours of being in the test chair.

We see teleophthalmology as an essential piece of kit for the new practice. Life has changed and COVID-19 is likely to be with us for quite some time. Treating patients in the community is going to be increasingly important as we move forward and we see teleophthalmology as the obvious way to achieve this.

What can you tell us about the design of the new practice?

AB: We have kept things simple but stylish. The beech units match our Callander practice; frame bars and a couple of standalone units show off our sunglasses and rimless ranges. Our colour theme has dark blue walls contrasted by light grey and our logo is plastered pretty much everywhere.

The property used to be a bank and it is amazing to see how much it has been transformed. It is a beautiful, light and airy space with windows to the front and rear of the property. We have retained cast iron balustrades on the staircase which leads to a huge lower floor that extends under the neighbouring property. There’s a strong room down there with a foot-thick safe door – dial and everything. It is quite the feature.

And what is this we’ve heard about a resident ghost?

AB: Ahh, the monk! After we had signed the lease on the property, we received messages through Facebook from people who had worked in the bank previously to tell us that the building was haunted by the ghost of a monk. We haven’t had any ghostly goings on yet. I don’t really mind him hanging out so long as he doesn’t expect to be on the payroll.

When COVID-19 hit, it really threw me out of my comfort zone and made me realise you only get one shot at life... In a strange way I think it was COVID-19 that pushed us to just go for it

Fiona Baird, optometrist at Baird Optometrists

Can you describe what made you want to open a second practice this year? What made you continue despite the challenges this year has brought?

Fiona Baird (FB): After working part-time for many years while bringing up our two sons, I had started to look at pushing myself professionally and exploring new challenges. I think that I lacked some confidence and wasn’t quite sure of how I could achieve this. When COVID-19 hit, it really threw me out of my comfort zone and made me realise you only get one shot at life. Knowing how passionate both myself and Andrew are about optometry and patient care, it seemed like the logical next step. In a strange way I think it was COVID-19 that pushed us to just go for it.

What inspired the decision to rebrand the business?

FB: It wasn’t really an inspired decision, more an acceptance of the fact that we are both working together as a team rather than just Andrew fronting the business on his own. As much as Andrew loves seeing his full name above the practice in Callander, it is time for a change.

What will it mean to you to now be working within the same practice, and to be able to run the business as a husband-and-wife team?

FB: In life and business, Andrew and I have always complemented each other’s strengths. I wasn’t too sure how we would get on working together, but so far it has been great. The fact that there is always someone there to share decisions and problem solve with is a big bonus. Although it was exhausting getting to opening day, we can step back and be really proud of what we have achieved and look forward to exciting times ahead. I think our patients and staff quite enjoy the husband and wife banter that goes about.

There is something special about seeing your name on a business in a High Street that you walked up and down hundreds of times growing up

Fiona Baird, optometrist at Baird Optometrists

What are the key things you have learnt about owning a practice in the 10 years since the Callander practice opened?

FB: Be yourself, value your staff, value every patient and enjoy your work. The rest will follow.

How will the new practice utilise technology for patient care and practice efficiency?

FB: The fact that we did a shop fit from the bare walls out, meant that we could ensure all the necessary data points were put in exactly where we needed them. Having a great practice software system in XeyeX means that we are paper-free and efficient from day one. Investing in all the latest technology from Topcon also gives us the best start on getting the most advanced tests to our patients.

What has been a key challenge in establishing the new practice?

FB: The biggest challenge I thought we would have would be to train staff while in the current situation with COVID-19. We had a day booked at our local management centre which had to be cancelled due to tighter social distancing rules. Luckily, all our new staff came from backgrounds in optics and we had many fun sessions training online and in smaller groups.

What are you most looking forward to about establishing the Dunblane practice?

FB: Being the best clinician and employer that I can be. There is something special about seeing your name on a business in a High Street that you walked up and down hundreds of times growing up. After loving being a wife, mum, and dog walker for over a decade, I can’t wait to show my boys what else I am capable of.