... was when I decided to start Specsavers in 1984. I'm an optometrist and had a small optical business, but I sold that in 1980. How I started Specsavers in '84 was slightly different. It was based on a joint-venture partnership with optometrists owning their own stores but using Specsavers' services such as marketing and products.
At the time, the joint-venture partnership was unique to Specsavers, and it has revolutionised retail optics. It was good to give a support system to everybody, particularly young opticians who wanted to own and run their own practices. Women as well, because up until then, optometry was considered a bit of a male thing. It fits very well with family life because if you're boss of a business, you work how you need to.
I also kept the firm private. Optical companies or chains are usually run by corporate finance concerns or investment companies - big global players - but ours is still a private company with a family culture, rather than a global head office dictating according to shareholder needs.
We're now the biggest supplier of digital hearing aids in the UK and we started that business only three years ago. In hindsight, it would have been great to have started it earlier. I'm very risk-averse because, in a joint-venture partnership, you don't want to risk the optometrists' livelihood.
I concentrate on our core business, but hearing does fit very well with eyecare - it's the same sort of older customer. If we had started it earlier in the UK, we could have rolled it out quicker in other countries.
Another bad decision: when we started in the Netherlands 10 years ago, we were advised by consultants that Specsavers wasn't a good name, so we entered the Dutch market under another name. Within two months, I realised it was a huge mistake and reverted to the Specsavers name. When you're a marketing company, to bring in another brand is ridiculous; half the people there knew the Specsavers name anyway. Since then we have gone into all the other countries as Specsavers and it has been fine. I should have gone on my gut instinct.