This Q&A session is with Dr Stewart Mitchell (Eyecare) who are based in Bradford City centre. Stewart talks about the skills required for a customer base with an age range of 3 months to mid 90s and the specialist contact lens work he carries out for a local hospital.
1. What is the name of your practice and where is it based?
Dr Stewart Mitchell (Eyecare) LLP but we still get called by the old name of Sidney Fraser. Old habits die hard here. We are based in Bradford city centre.
2. How would you best describe your practice ethos?
Our strap line is “Eyecare for all the family”. Simple message and focuses on the fact we are small, Apart from an occasional locum I care for all my patient base. Its a simple play on words. We will see anyone. My youngest patient is 3 months old and my oldest is just short of a century. This patient was active well into their mid 90’s, walking the 2 miles from home to town. And remember Bradford is hilly. So we genuinely care for all, from Cradle to Grave.
3. What makes your practice unique from other independent opticians?
That is a difficult one to answer. Independents all have to carve a niche for themselves.
I do some specialist contact lens work on a contract to my local hospital so my USP is probably that locally I’m the person who will try fitting a contact lens to almost any eye. And also dealing with what would be best describes as the outlier spectacle prescriptions. Making these complex jobs affordable is a different challenge.
4. What is your own background?
I studied Optometry straight from A levels, having grown up in North Northumberland. I did my Pre Registration year in Alnwick and could have stayed there but I decided I wanted to do a PhD. This took me back to Bradford University where I did a PhD on Visual Performance in Contact Lens wear then did a couple of years as a research assistant. After that I did locum work for the practice I now own, as well as a Rayners. I then had the opportunity to buy the practice and took the decision that being my own boss was the right one.
5. What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?
Patience, A caring attitude too. The skill of explaining quite complex eye health concepts to a patient base of all abilities and ages. And you also need an eye for spectacle styles. These are life skills.
6. Describe a typical working day in your life.
The working day day starts with a coffee, nothing fancy but milk need scalding by the water!. The appointments dairy is checked so I know who I’m seeing. Deliveries are matched to patients and if I’ve time, I’ll check some of these off. I check to see if there are any important messages or telephone queries from patients or colleagues that the staff cant deal with. I then see my appointments, We are a small practice so work to 30 minute or 60 minute appointments with a space mid morning and mid afternoon for dealing with repairs, collections and general admin. Oh, And coffee or tea. Ordering is left to the staff unless its something quite complex when I’ll either explain to the staff what we need or speak to the supplier direct. Usually this is some of the specialist contact lens work we do. Once the last patient is seen and dispensed (or not) I check there are no outstanding issues from the days business and deal with these things on the whole that day. Then it’s cash up and lock up. On really busy days we we will finalise the orders and referrals the next day.
7. What challenges do you see facing the optical industry in the coming years?
On line sales of spectacles & contact lenses are an ever bigger threat. There are refracting apps out there which can only get more and more accurate. Technology needs to be embraced but Optics must try and keep some control. We can’t and don’t compete with the multiple & Joint Venture practices. We get enough business from patients who have been disappointed tp be happy that some folk still want a personal touch. The value added should come at a premium but with a patient base with not the best of spending power the value added is good value to the clientele.
8. What factors do you consider when buying frames, contact lenses and equipment?
We have to cater for patients from a wide income range, so we need budget frames as well as high quality brands. Mid range frames are mainly Arena Eyewear and I do try and go for those brands that are not seen in the larger groups. I really like Thomsen Eyewear and Wolf Eyewear frames. We also stock a small range of sports glasses from the Sunwise range. This is quite niche but there is a growing interest in spectacles for specific hobbies and leisure.
We will fit almost any type of contact lens and go for what is likely to work so whilst we use Cooper vision and Alcon for our standard fittings we are a very big user of the Ultravision Kerasoft lenses as well and RGP’s. We fit a design called Wave Contact Lenses. http://www.wavecontactlenses.com/start.html These are manufactured in the UK by Northern Lenses. Wave lenses use topographical data to custom lathe a lens, the aim being an almost perfect match to the corneal shape.
Equipment purchases are always a more considered purchase. We look at cost, how the equipment would work for the practice and what finance deals are around. The last item we bought was a Medmont visual field analyser. The software that came with it, I felt, had the edge over other VFA’s. I now prefer it to our spare VFA, a Humphrey.
9. What is your proudest career achievement in the last 12 months?
I’ve been an AOP councillor since 2012 and am proud to have recently been re-elected for a third term. Its a privilege and honour to represent AOP members in the area I work in.
10. What are people in the industry saying about 100% Optical?
100% has become the must go to industry show. It has great CET, A good choice of equipment suppliers and some fantastic frame suppliers. The Various Hubs, eg Learning and Business makes things easier to navigate. Its got a great feel to it.
Google maps walk through of practice here https://tinyurl.com/y8kdtnf7
Facebook Sidney Fraser.
Dr Stewart Mitchell (Eyecare) LLP
81 Godwin Street