Blankstones to celebrate 25 years

Our Managing director Mark Blankstone is celebrating 25 years in business this year. Here he sets out how he established and grew the business and why he’s as enthusiastic as ever about the future…

I am a proud Liverpudlian born into a city that’s always loved its labels. In the so-called ‘militant 80s’, whilst national media were busy focusing on Derek Hatton and Liverpool’s politics, i was busy planning on launching a boutique practice aimed at the city’s office market and discerning shoppers.

To say we’ve never looked back would be to hide all the ‘swings and roundabouts’ of running a successful business! 

We opened for business in 1992 and have seen the wealth creation in the city…from when urban living was first mooted to the present day where (thankfully), some customers buy specs and sunglasses from us like they buy shoes.

The world of optics is a very different place too. The quality threshold all around has improved markedly and we’ve been at the forefront of the industry ruffling a few feathers!

For example, our recent media campaign educated the public on the health, safety and frequency of check ups required for contact lens wearers highlighting what the multiples don’t tell you.

We’ve also spent a great deal of time and money travelling in Europe over the last two and a half decades continuously seeking products that are substantially higher in quality.

As a result, we now have approaching ten brands on our books that are household names in luxury lifestyle and we are the only store in Liverpool to have these brands…some are exclusive to the North West of England. For example, we are in the illustrious 3% of companies in the UK authorised to sell Chanel!

Now, technology and innovation, affordability and flexible (i.e. longer!) working hours means the products and service customers get from their optician match those of their favourite other shopping destinations, stores and showrooms.

We’ve also spent a huge amount of time helping customers identify us as much more than a place to get their eyes checked out. 

Of course, the competition has grown and that creates its own pressures on running a business but that’s the beauty of longevity. There are 25% more dispensing opticians out there in the UK market now than compared with the 90s. That has affected us because of our reach but it’s all positive…we now attract customers within a 100 mile radius these days!

We’ve built up a good reputation for being discreet in our approach to helping customers whether it’s a member of the public or the many office-based businesses we supply our services too for e.g. VDU health checks.

It’s definitely the secret of our success.

We are also a big fan of affinity partnerships with other local businesses and our location in the business district coupled with being close to Liverpool One has really complemented our growth. I guess we got a touch lucky there! Not many opticians have had the good fortune to eventually be located next to the largest shopping centre of its kind in Western Europe but I do believe that the harder you work the luckier you get.

Lots of new restaurants opening too, on nearby Castle Street with al fresco dining is also helping our business. Such an activity requires the most desirable sunglasses to be seen in!

In the last 12 months we have continued the pattern of growth experienced over the last three years with a 20% increase in like for like sales across sunglasses, spectacles and contact lenses. We’ve also just had our best ever Christmas with a 40% increase.

It’s our emphasis on luxury lifestyle and customer service as a proud independent business in Liverpool that has brough this and has paid great dividends. We’ve been able to increase our volume of business across all departments by focusing on the exclusivity we enjoy with global brand suppliers across Europe. These messages have attracted strong customer enquiries and we have been able to explain more about our wider business offer and how we are different from the multiples on the high street.

We have invested heavily in technology in the last three years including a substantial five figure sum in a digital retinal scanner and have just purchased a new piece of optical equipment which we will use as a state-of-the-art piece of kit for eye tests, again a substantial five figure sum has been invested.

In spite of this being our 25th year in business, we have no plans to slow down and these investments are a testament to this.