AS he reflected on his 40-plus years in the Scottish optometry industry, Colin Black was not short of big themes to expand upon.

Mr Black retired as a full-time clinical optometrist last year, 43 years after his own role in the story of Black & Lizars, one of the sector’s best known names, began.

The way consumers buy glasses and have their eyes tested is just one of the many dramatic changes that have occurred in that time, with Mr Black citing the arrival of the multi-site chains on the high street about 30 years ago among the most disruptive events he has witnessed. That, ultimately, meant the process of acquiring spectacles became a lot quicker, and in some cases, considerably cheaper.

Mr Black, who merged the C Jeffrey Black practice he founded with Shereef Taher in 1973 with his father’s OD Black business in 1982 (it went on to merge with fellow Glasgow practice Lizars in 1992), said this sea-change paved the way for a more competitive marketplace.

“It created a wider market and a lot of people came in at the lower end,” said Mr Black, who continues to work for the firm as its senior clinical adviser. “We made a decision to go down the quality and clinical excellence route. It has been difficult, but it has brought rewards.”

In its most recent accounts, the directors note its strategy is to “carefully acquire further independent practices that have a similar patient profile in key geographic locations throughout Scotland and, indeed, England if the right opportunities arise”.

It currently has 23 practices in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, but has shied away building store numbers for the sake of it, responding to the competition by positioning itself as a “premium healthcare provider with an emphasis on technology and eyecare expertise”.

Mr Black said Black & Lizars had, about 20 years ago, contemplated whether to embark on an “offer-led strategy”, but decided to opt out of the price war in favour of building long-term relationships with clients.

“It seems to me that it is an extremely congested marketplace with a number of commercial firms fighting it out,” he said. “At the top end of the market, at the clinical and premium end, it’s competitive, but it is not dog eat dog.”

Of course, consumers have to pay a premium for the kind of service offered by Black & Lizars compared with the mainstream players. However Mr Black refutes the notion that the chain, which was sold by the founders to a European investment consortium in 2008, is a preserve for the affluent only.

“Yes, you need to be able to afford premium services, but it never fails to astound me the effort people will make to access these services, even if it’s taking up a significant chunk [of their money]. It is not money that they have got to burn,” he said. “We get people from all walks of life.”

Moreover, he feels the quality of eyecare people need has stepped up in response to changing lifestyles, notably with the advance of consumer technology. He said the ubiquity of devices such as smartphones and big screen televisions means there are “greater demands on eyesight”. But he adds: “There is no point in having all that technology if you can’t use it comfortably and adequately.”

Mr Black, the last remaining family member to be involved in the firm, added: “Also, as people get older, the eye disease range becomes more relevant. Everyone will develop a cataract eventually, [and] more than a few unfortunate people will get macular degeneration, but we can do something about that in a lot of cases now. The treatment options have progressed at the same time, so early detection and targeted referral becomes more important.”

That optometrists are now the first port of call for secondary eye care has been one of the other big changes Mr Black has seen during his career. There was a time when people with eye complaints would report to their nearest “walk-in” NHS facility, similar to accident and emergency departments.

But that changed when the pressure on the health service became unmanageable, with Mr Black noting that people who needed urgent, immediate and sophisticated intervention often did not receive it. Now those services are provided by optometrists and Mr Black said it has been a welcome change. But it has brought more demands on practitioners.

“One of the other strings to my bow is that I’m involved in the examination systems for our professional body, and the curriculum [and] syllabus for what the undergraduates have to go through is now quite frightening because of the breadth and its technical excellence,” said Mr Black. “It’s just quite incredible.”

As someone who has long been involved in optometry education and training, Mr Black said it has been hugely rewarding to see eyecare evolve the way it has in Scotland. It’s a sentiment that can be applied to his whole career.

“I’m just very fortunate to have had a group of similarly interested, diverse and talented partners throughout my whole time in work, otherwise I could not have done it,” Mr Black said.

“I’m still friendly with the chap I went into partnership with from university, even though he is a wee bit older and retired a few years ago. In the 40 years I worked with him we never had a cross word – not many people can say that.”