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Covid-19: thoughts of the Optical sector

Every sector, without exception, has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. To determine how opticians are coping and what their thoughts are about the future, Braemar Finance commissioned *independent research in July, the results of which are outlined, below.

Click here to download 'Covid-19: thoughts of the Optical sector' infographic 

When, if at all, do you believe/expect your business will be fully operational again?

On balance, many (36%) opticians feel it will take between 3 – 6 months before being fully operational; more optimistically, 25% are of the opinion it will only take them up to 3 months. One in 10 opticians are taking the longer view and think it will take anything up to a year before things are properly back to normal. 

Do you expect your business to expand or contract over the next 12 months?

Given the current circumstances, opticians are remarkably positive about their prospects in the coming year, with 32% expecting to expand, although a sizeable minority (18%) anticipate contracting; exactly half will be ‘staying the same’.

How do you think your revenue during the next 12 months will compare (in % terms) to levels prior to COVID-19 lockdown?

From a revenue perspective, opticians are among the most positive of the professions, with 39% expecting to see an increase in revenue in the coming year against 60% who are planning for a decrease.    

Have you made use of the government’s furlough scheme for staff?

85% of opticians polled have made use of the government’s furlough scheme, which is among the highest in the professions (professions average: 81%) and ahead of vets (79%), accountants (78%) and pharmacists (83%).

In terms of future staffing, will your business operate with more or less staff?

Half of opticians say they will operate with the same number of staff when business returns to normal, contrasting with the 38% who will be employing fewer people. A sizeable minority (12%) will be hiring more staff.

Which of the following government schemes, if any, have you made use of? (select all that apply)

With the government having acted to make funding schemes available early on during the pandemic, many opticians have applied for at least one of the schemes, or even a combination, as seen from the results:

  • CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) - 62%
  • Grants - 48.5%
  • Bounceback loans  - 46%
  • Non of the above - 1%

Thinking about the future, what, if anything, are your priorities in terms of financial support? (tick up to three)

While opticians are looking to government funding to see them through the pandemic they are also looking at other ways to ensure they can keep their practice viable, including:

  • Government support and advice - 61.5%
  • New funding - 48.5%
  • Consolidation of loans - 45.5%
  • Payment holidays - 39.5%
  • Other - 14%

Going forward which of the following, if any, are you likely to rely on funding for? (tick all that apply)
In common with many other sectors and professions, opticians’ funding priorities have seen a necessitated shift towards, for example, re-fits and PPE; however, the need to invest in equipment remains high on the list.

  • IT - 52%
  • Equipment - 45%
  • PPE - 50.5%
  • Cashflow - 38.5%
  • Hiring new staff - 29%
  • Re-fit - 30.5%

What, if anything, is your business’s current primary source of financial support?

While opticians are looking to the government for assistance, bank / funder loans are the main source of finance for 33% of opticians, followed by savings (25%) and government grants and family and friends (both 22%).

What, if anything, is your attitude towards debt?

Opticians have contrasting views about debt and what it means – 50% feel it’s part and parcel of running a business while 46% have the opposite opinion and think it’s a sign of a poorly run business.

What steps, if any, have you taken to reduce your stress or anxiety? (Select all that apply)

Every optician who took part in our research has relied on at least one coping mechanism to address their mental wellbeing since the start of the pandemic, ranging from maintaining a routine and remaining organised to being more flexible and giving themselves regular breaks.

  • I have tried to maintain a routine - 44.5%

  • I share concerns with colleagues or friends and family - 48%

  • I give myself regular breaks - 36.5%

  • I'm more flexible with my working day - 45%

  • I am staying organised - 45%

How supported do you feel by your professional body?

The large majority of opticians (33% ‘very supported’; 63% ‘somewhat supported’) feel their professional body has done a good during the pandemic. Just 4% have felt let down.

How would you best describe your business's current economic outlook?

Opticians are fairly evenly split about the prospects for the UK’s economy, with just over a fifth expecting a quick path to full recovery while a further fifth think the economy is still declining, with worse to come.

  • The economy is still declining – there is worse to come - 21%
  • The worst is behind us but it will be a slow path to full recovery - 20%
  • The worst is behind us but I'm concerned the economy could decline again - 26.5%
  • The worst is behind us but it will be a quick path to full recovery - 21.5%
  • I don't think there will be any true economic growth for the foreseeable future - 11%

Methodology

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a Censuswide survey conducted in late July 2020. The survey canvassed the opinion of over 1200 senior members of the professions across the UK on a range of issues affecting their businesses.