SPEAKING to Michelle Le Prevost just a couple of days after she signed off Black and Lizar’s accounts, she is optimistic, chatting vibrantly about the current year and the optical firm’s expansion plans.

She even compares the day of filing to Hogmanay – then spends a full ten minutes rattling through a dizzying list of initiatives and projects put together by senior management as part of a 600 day plan for the business.

These include the geographic spread of the company, the relocation of one unnamed practice, a move into the general healthcare market, an expansion of its audiology business, an expansion of its nocturnal lenses business, continued investment in technology (including the launch of a dry eye clinic), a consolidation of its domiciliary offering, growing its corporate eyewear book, and launching a new marketing drive.

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Just more than 18 months into the job and Ms Le Prevost is thinking big.

“[After I started] there was a period of taking stock and reviewing the level of investment needed in the business to support it well and we are now seeing some of those plans come to fruition, in terms of coming forward in some of these initiatives,” she says.

Ms Le Prevost arrived at Black and Lizar’s Govan headquarters from Oasis Dental Care, a provider of NHS and private care with more than 300 practices, where she was mergers and acquisitions manager.

She also had a spell at Specsavers, so has an idea of how the larger chains operate.

In the first accounts she signed, for the year to September 2106, revenue was £14m, with profits at £472,000. Returning to those accounts for 2017 and she says revenue is around the same, but declined to share the profit number.

“We’d like to see [turnover] increase but what is more important, we’re in business to make money, but whatever we deliver, it should be a good service, that’s more important,” she says.

“That’s why we’ve taken the time to take stock and consolidate a bit, to make sure whatever we are taking forward we’ve got a service we’re comfortable with.”

These other services will set the company further apart from the major high street chains, with patients able to have their eyes and hearing tested, along with the option for more specialist examinations – and even have a general health check, similar to those carried out as part of private healthcare insurance policies.

Additionally, a recent advertising campaign has highlighted that prices start from £99. “The biggest challenge for us is people recognising why they should come to us as an optometrist instead of going to the high street [chains],” she says.

Part of this challenge is communicating that the eye examinations available in 11 of Black and Lizars’ 24 branches use cutting-edge machines which more thoroughly gauge the health of the eye.

At about £80,000 for the two machines required, installing them has been a near £1m investment.

“It is really intangible, it’s difficult, that messaging,” she says. “The perception is that an optician is an optician and they don’t always understand the health element of looking in more detail at the eye.”

The company’s equipment sees 80 per cent of the back of the eye, and keeps these scans on file, enabling clinicians to keep records and identify any health issues with the eye quicker.

Black and Lizars was created in 1992 through the merger of Glasgow businesses Lizars and C Jeffrey Black, the latter of which had previously merged with OD Black in 1982, having been founded by Colin Black and Shereef Taher in 1973.

The merger created a business with a platform for growth in a changing industry, and Black and Lizars became among the biggest names in the Scottish optical industry, its logo present in many of the country’s high streets.

Ms Le Prevost said any new additions to its portfolio would come through acquisition or consolidation. A favoured route is to buy up the book of a retiring physician in a town where the company is already present. That worked last year with the acquisition of Jack Brown’s nocturnal lense business, which is a sector that could be expanded.

The business is also looking at initiatives with healthcare providers, by way of a space-sharing agreement which would “work off each other’s footfall”.

“The convenience of having different healthcare under one roof is a very positive thing,” she says. “We’ve been doing the optical thing for a long time and we see the benefits of extending that into other areas to the benefit of our customers.”

This will build slowly as the company sees how much of an appetite, if any, exists for such a crossover. “It’s about taking a holistic view to people’s healthcare – you’re not just a pair of eyes or a pair of ears,” says Ms Le Prevost.

Knowing where to push and where to consolidate is crucial, particularly in the current economic and political climate.

And Ms Le Prevost acknowledges that present conditions on the high street are difficult. “Retail is tough, people have reservations about what Brexit means, people might feel they want to put off a purchase because of uncertainty and we’re seeing that a little bit. Our core business is really strong [but] people are price-sensitive, hence our new campaign. We’re able to provide from NHS vouchers sales to the premium end so we cover a wide spectrum, that helps us. But consumers are sensitive, there is uncertainty, so it is a difficult trading environment.”

Fundamentally of course, Black and Lizars is an optometry business, and even as it diversifies further over the 600 days its management are planning for, Ms Le Prevost says service will remain the priority for the business.

“We’re known for high quality, clinical excellence in our optometry, and my feeling is that if we’re going to bring in these other services then they equally need to be gold standard to sit alongside that,” she says.