As the pandemic continues to dominate our lives, Braemar Finance commissioned independent research* to find out how Opticians are managing to trade and find a way to live with the virus. We also investigate whether business owners are optimistic – or not - about the prospect of the vaccination rollout and what it means for them and their business.
Click here to download 'What Opticians are thinking…' infographic
Government loan schemes
Much has been said and written about the various government loan schemes. The results returned a mixed bag when we asked Opticians about how clear they were about how the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) works:
- Yes, it's straightforward - 39%
- Yes, but I've had to do a lot of research - 50%
- No, it seems complicated - 5%
- No, we haven't had the chance to research it yet - 6%
One respondent said CBILS did not apply to them because they were newly self-employed, a situation many will have found themselves in.
Digging a little deeper, we questioned Opticians about which of the loan schemes best applied to their business. While 27% had successfully applied for a Bounce Back Loan (BBL), they were strongly considering upgrading to a CBILS loan. A further 12% have already successfully ‘upgraded’.
- Successfully applied for a BBL loan but considering 'upgrading' to a CBILS loan - 27%
- Successfully applied for a BBL loan - 17%
- Have applied for a BBL loan and have since 'upgraded' to a CBILS loan - 12%
- Have not needed to apply for either loan - 3%
- Successfully applied for a CBILS loan and did not apply for a BBL loan - 13%
- Have taken more than one CBILS loan - 11%
- Have applied for a CBILS loan but my application was declined - 7%
- Have not applied for a CBILS loan yet but considering doing so before 31 March - 8%
- Have not applied for a BBL loan yet but seriously considering doing so before 31 March - 4%
- None of the above - 1%
Given the opportunity, will your business pay for your staff to be vaccinated ahead of their NHS call-up should private supplies be made available?
While still a theoretical option, Opticians have overwhelmingly (83%) said they would be prepared to pay for their staff to be vaccinated if it ever became an option against only 13% who would not; the rest were ‘unsure’.
In your personal capacity, will you feel comfortable taking the vaccine?
While around two thirds of Opticians (63%) have no qualms about being vaccinated, a sizeable minority are either not comfortable (31%) or haven’t made up their minds yet (6%). These results are broadly in line with the thoughts and views of business owners across the Professions.
When seeing clients face-to-face, what will your business`s strategy be, if anything?
COVID's impact has already had a profound impact on the way businesses interact with their customers, and it will continue to be the case as 48% of Opticians will continue with PPE/social distancing measures for the foreseeable future.
A further 40% will only agree to see a client if they can produce evidence they have been vaccinated, and 48% will insist on the client providing a negative COVID test result less than 72 hours old before they’re allowed entry into the practice.
Two fifths of Opticians will insist on the client taking a test on their premises prior to the appointment going ahead.
Will your business intend on insisting on mandatory COVID-19 testing for staff?
Over three quarters (77%) of Opticians will make COVID testing mandatory for staff while 19% will not; the remaining respondents are yet to make up their mind.
Of those who responded ‘yes’, the regularity of testing regimes differed fairly widely with ‘2-3 days per week’ the most common option:
- Everyday - 8%
- 4-6 days a week - 18%
- 2-3 days a week - 29%
- Once a week - 19%
- Once every 2 to 3 weeks - 19%
- Once a month - 3%
- Once every 2 months - 2%
- Once every 3 to 5 months - 1%
- Once every 6 to 11 months - 1%
- Once a year - 0%
- Unsure - 1%
While the COVID crisis has dominated the news cycle, the impact of Brexit is starting to be felt, including by Opticians, with three quarters of those polled concerned about the impact Brexit may have on business. A further 70% have had to make ‘special arrangements’ to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU.
The reason for these high levels of anxiety is concern about getting the supplies and goods needed to continue trading – in line with the figures above, 72% of respondents are worried about being able to receive the goods they need to operate without disruption.
Levels of business support
Lenders have taken very different approaches to funding during the pandemic with some closing their doors to new business while others have actively looked to attract new clients.
This has had an impact on the perceived levels of support – in the case of Opticians, our research found that in response to the question ‘how supportive has your business bank been during the pandemic to your requests for assistance (e.g. loans, facilities, forbearance)’, the following results were obtained:
- Very supportive - 35%
- Somewhat supportive - 43%
- Not very supportive - 13%
- Not supportive at all - 8%
- No assistance has been requested - 1%
In terms of customer service, Opticians were, overall, satisfied with the assistance they received, although over one in four felt they only got ‘moderate’ or ‘poor’ service:
- Very high - 34%
- Somewhat high - 46%
- Moderate - 17%
- Somewhat poor - 3%
- Very poor - 0%
Support and service
Taken together, the support and service Opticians received – perhaps surprisingly based on the results above – has made 60% of those polled consider changing business banks, significantly more than those who would not (40%).
Over two thirds (68%) of Opticians have been declined access to finance by a bank in the last six months, which is significantly higher than the Professions average of 50%.
This high figure has directly impacted Opticians’ confidence about accessing the funds needed for investment in the next 12 months, with only 55% feeling certain they will get the required cash.
Does your business feel confident about accessing the funds needed for investment:
- Yes - 55%
- No - 35%
- Unsure - 8%
- We don't need funds - 2%
Despite the many and varied impacts of the pandemic, Opticians are, in the main, very positive about their economic outlook:
- Very positive - 36%
- Somewhat positive - 46%
- Neither positive nor negative - 14%
- Somewhat negative - 3%
- Very negative - 1%
That positivity continues when it comes to recruiting adequately skilled staff, with 78% either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident, compared to 20% who are not.
*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a Censuswide survey conducted in February 2021. The survey canvassed the opinion of over 1200 senior members of the professions across the UK on a range of issues affecting their businesses.