Taking vision seriously is the driving purpose of Vision Express. Now that mission has been backed by the creation of a cutting-edge Technical Centre, which means every customer can benefit from equal, unprecedented levels of expertise and care, wherever they are in the country.
While Vision Express still retains labs in 120 of its stores, the Technical Centre, which cost more than £4 million to establish, has opened its doors in Nottingham, employing 134 people in a high-spec lens production hub which turns out more than one million pairs of glasses a year.
We’ve always been determined to deliver the best eye examinations, now we can offer an unrivalled level of bespoke expertise
But what makes the centre truly special, says Jonathan Lawson, chief executive at Vision Express, is how it results in a near bespoke service for every customer. “We’ve always been determined to deliver the best eye examinations in every one of our 390-plus stores across the country, now with the centre supporting our branches, we can offer an unrivalled level of bespoke expertise
“From spectacles to sunglasses and contact lenses, we can offer an absolutely tailored solution, from fit to appearance to vision correction. Moreover, the new system is so sophisticated it’s almost interactive with the optometrist; the computer software is able to advise the best possible lenses depending on a customer’s prescription, measurements and any additional factors. It’s an additional service check.”
“A project of this size has not been without teething problems and we would like to thank our customers for their patience while we have worked to improve our technical expertise.”
Dan Robinson, who heads up the Technical Centre, which is located a short distance from the recently opened Vision Express headquarters, explains that the former distribution centre site has undergone extensive works, including a 60 per cent expansion.
Mr Robinson says: “At the Technical Centre, which is dominated by ten state-of-the-art machines on five production lines, automated production and supply processes enable 450 orders to be processed an hour at maximum capacity – more than 6,000 a day. The combination of customer requirements, from frames to lens, measurements to prescription, means every single prescription is different and unlikely to be replicated even once a year.
“Orders are automatically pushed to the centre from stores every seven minutes, with a computerised function instantly determining stock levels and location. Product moves around the site timed to within tenths of a second, ensuring stock is always continuing its journey to the customer.
“And specially written software keeps quality standards high – spectacles can be failed at several places in the process, not just in the final check. Moreover the intelligent systems process means paperwork checks are becoming obsolete. We don’t need manual references any more.”
Then final quality assurance comes with a human touch when glasses are hand assembled by a skilled team of personnel. “It’s vital to hit the highest standards with every pair we produce,” says Mr Lawson.
Drawing all the company’s technical know-how into one centre also means that lens and frame technology can be combined to solve the most difficult issues. “We can handle extremes with relative ease, still giving customers the style they prefer,” says the Vision Express chief executive. “So you might have a high prescription, say -30, which would be difficult to solve in itself, let alone making a lens which could then fit in a fashionable curving frame. Now we can solve that sort of technical challenge and make sure they are a perfect fit too.”
Specialised projects comprise approximately 2 per cent of orders and can include lenses of a +17 prescription. Contact lens lovers are well catered for too. Direct customer orders for contact lenses are also prepared and dispatched for home delivery, with the contact lens operation representing the most productive facility in Europe.
There have been benefits to the environment too, such as reduced water consumption. More than 70 litres of water are used for each pair of lenses edged on-site, but he centre’s sustainable design will save around 100,000 gallons of water every year. This is partly due to a newer form of process called dry milling, which makes lenses easier to handle and allows for new improved types of coating.
Most rewarding is producing the best possible children’s spectacles, Mr Lawson says. “Parents are really concerned about how their children feel and look, so it’s important we can produce eyewear that is practical and effective. The best lens technology delivered in the best way. That way we know parents will feel confident to bring their children back regularly for sight tests and adjustments to spectacles; and that the children too will enjoy the experience and set up a good habit for life,” he says.
“So when you see the team in the Technical Centre making these small glasses to a really high standard, there’s a very good ‘feel good’ factor for the whole Vision Express team.”
Mr Lawson adds: “Even some adults find the whole idea of an eye test intimidating. We all react differently to an eye examination. And everybody has unique needs. But even if you don’t require a prescription, we can help, whether that’s by offering choice in sunglasses, or protective glasses for driving or sport. Or even if it is reassurance from an optometrist. We enjoy making a positive difference to people’s lives.
“Setting up the Technical Centre has been a huge leap forward for us – it has increased our ability to deliver the best quality products for our customers with an unrivalled consistency.”
People up and down the country will be able to take advantage of the Vision Express mobile eye examination centre – the Vision Van – as the leading opticians takes its commitment to vision out on the road during National Eye Health Week 2015.
Experienced optometrists will offer free comprehensive 30-minute examinations for short and long sight, and check existing prescriptions. They will also demonstrate how common health concerns, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can be detected as well as specific eye conditions, including macular degeneration, glaucoma and even cancer.
The Vision Van, which first travelled the UK last autumn, will visit:
London on September 21
Bournemouth on September 22
Cardiff on September 23
Hull on September 24
and Manchester on September 25.
Jonathan Lawson, chief executive at Vision Express, says: “It’s very worrying that 85 per cent of adults admit having problems with their vision, and 40 per cent have noticed deterioration of vision and done nothing about it.
“Almost two million are living with sight loss, despite more than 50 per cent being preventable. We need to help these people – we want everyone to get used to having an eye exam at all ages.
“While the NHS recommends a sight test at least every two years, over half of adults only visit an optician every five years, with 8 per cent never having had a test.”
Last year, the Vision Van was a huge success covering 870 miles in one week. Information about the van and the importance of eye examinations reached almost ten million people. Of those tested, 85 per cent needed help with their vision and one in ten were referred to a GP.