THE Optical Express eyecare business founded by entrepreneur David Moulsdale has said it has increased sales amid tough conditions in the retail sector after investing in staffing to improve the patient experience.

The Cumbernauld-based business grew sales by eight per cent in the first nine months of the year as a decision to increase staff numbers significantly appeared to pay off.

“As everyone knows retail is a tough environment but we are proud to have enhanced our staffing to further improve the patient experience and are now seeing the fruits of that investment hit our bottom line in 2018,” noted Stewart Mein, finance director of the parent Lorena Investments business.

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The company has added 120 full time equivalent employees to its payroll in the year to date.

Writing in the latest accounts for Lorena Investments, directors said the group has boosted its operations and clinical teams and invested significantly in learning and development.

They reckon the investment will help the business achieve double digit growth in full year sales while also increasing underlying earnings.

The accounts show the business faced challenges during the year to December 30.

Total revenues earned from services ranging from the sale of glasses and contact lenses to the provision of laser eye surgery fell by 3% to £101.9 million from £105m. Directors said increasing competition in the retail sector had an impact on turnover.

Earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation fell around 25%, to £3.4m from £4.6m.

However, directors claimed in the accounts that the group was well placed to capitalise “as consumer confidence in refractive surgery returns and new refractive surgery procedures are introduced to the market”.

They said Optical Express performs the majority of refractive surgery procedures in the UK/ Ireland market.

Optical Express invested heavily in growing its position in the market for eye surgery in the face of the rise of online retailers of glasses and contact lenses and competition from giants like Boots.

The business incurred a multi-million pound bill for store closures amid tough trading conditions in 2014 during which an overseas corporation, Insight Global Holding, took a controlling stake in it.

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The Lorena Investments accounts state Insight Global Holding is the ultimate parent company of the firm.

The son of a Glasgow taxi driver, Mr Moulsdale began work in an optician’s when he left school aged 16.

He opened his first outlet in 1991. Optical Express grew rapidly across the UK through takeovers and also expanded overseas and Mr Moulsdale won top billing in the Entrepreneurial Exchange’s awards in 1998.

Optical Express has 126 stores and clinics in the UK, including 45 in Scotland.

The business had around 170 stores in 2012.

There are Optical Express stores in Germany and Croatia.

Lorena Investments increased pre-tax profits to £1.1m in the latest year, from £0.4m last time, helped by an exceptional £1.45m credit.

Directors said exceptional costs in the latest year related to legal fees concerning an action dating from 2015 and VAT Tribunal hearing costs, offset by foreign exchange gains.

Turnover in the UK fell to £91.2m, from £95.7m. Sales in Europe rose to £10.7m, from £9.3m.

The average number of staff members employed by Lorena Investments increased to 1,061 from 1,048.

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