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Black & Lizars eyes further growth

INDEPENDENT optical chain Black & Lizars has defied the tough trading conditions on the high street by posting a 54% hike in profits and signalling it is on course to continue growing.

Accounts soon to be filed at Companies House will show the Glasgow business saw its turnover grow 12% from £11.6 million to more than £13m in the 12 months to the end of September 2013.

Its existing operations saw revenue increase from £11.6m to £11.9m, but the total figure was boosted by £1.13m following the acquisition of the Kilgour practice, which had outlets in Ayr and Troon.

That overall rise in turnover helped pre-tax profits go from £465,703 to £719,306.

Chief executive Mark Ross said the business was benefiting from its upmarket positioning and a focus on clinical eyecare.

The older customer demographic it traditionally serves are also said to be more likely to be willing to pay for additional services.

The business has already invested in four Daytona devices, built by Dunfermline business Optos, and 10 3D scanners in order to offer enhanced eye tests which cover a wider field than the standard NHS one and are more likely to pick up potential problems earlier.

Mr Ross said two further Daytona machines will be installed shortly and he hopes to have 10 running by this September.

He said: "Most of the growth is coming through from the fact a lot of patients, particularly the older ones, are more health-conscious and are willing to pay for these new services.

"They also appreciate good clinical service. It is all part of a strategy to be more health-focused rather than just a retailer, like many of our high street competitors are."

Mr Ross said over and above the spend on scanners, the business, which runs from 25 locations in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, had invested around £1m in further testing equipment.

He believes reinvesting profits in new technology and shop fit-outs would continue to benefit the company in the long-term.

Another area Mr Ross highlighted was the company's partnership with Nikon, whereby

using mobile device apps they can show customers different lens combinations and the potential benefits of those in real time.

Black & Lizars is still heavily involved in talks with a number of independent optical practices across Scotland and England.

In October last year, the company, which can trace its roots back to 1830 and now employs more than 240 people, added sites in Clarkston in Glasgow and Helensburgh, with £100,000 revamps of those premises recently completed.

Mr Ross expressed a desire to have a bigger presence in Aberdeenshire as well as to get into Dundee, St Andrews and Inverness. A first move into England is also being discussed and he said: "It is mainly the north and central parts of England. London and the south east and south west are not really an option in terms of the logistics of managing."

Mr Ross confirmed acquisition rather than start-up high street stores will form the main basis of expansion in the next few years. He said: There is lots of opportunity for us to grow and there is a pipeline of good-quality independents, perhaps looking to retire, looking to pass their investment on to someone they can trust.

"We are very patient and I think there will be a steady pipeline of acquisitions in the next two to three years."

Mr Ross is targeting £14m of turnover and pre-tax profit of £1m in the current trading year.

The company is owned by investor John Hare.

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