As Opticians begin to better understand what the post-pandemic world looks like, Braemar Finance commissioned wide-ranging independent research to determine how Opticians are dealing with the new challenges facing businesses, ranging from coping with rising costs to filling the skills gap.
Despite the setbacks of the past 18 months (and more), positivity about future prospects is running very high among Opticians, with only 2.5% pessimistic about their future prospects; 12% are ‘very optimistic’ and a further 76% ‘somewhat optimistic’ about what the coming months will hold.
From a turnover perspective, 91.5% of Opticians expect their income to either ‘significantly’ (30.5%) or ‘somewhat’ (61%) improve – only 5.5% think it will stay the same with just 3% saying it will decline.
Government loan schemes
Opticians are equally as bullish about being able to repay their Government loans, with 93% either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident about being able to make their repayments; only a small minority (1.5%) are unsure.
The Optical sector remained largely open – with careful restrictions in place and prioritising urgent and emergency care - during much of the pandemic, helping and serving their clients, which is testament to both the resilience and professionalism of Opticians and their teams.
Having traded through the pandemic and come out the other side in good shape, Opticians are very positive about their investment plans, with a strong response to our question ‘are you considering investing in your business in the next 12 months’ – 87% answered ‘yes’.
But what will Opticians be investing in? A lot, as it turns out, ranging from capital equipment to office refurbishments (we asked respondents to select all options that applied):
Opticians are largely unconcerned about accessing the funds their practice needs for investment in the next 12 months – 97% are either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident of getting hold of the finance they need.
Investment funds are likely to come from a range of sources, including – in order of most selected:
Rising fuel and inflation
In spite of the positivity about their prospects and accessing funds, 91% of Opticians surveyed have expressed significant concern about the impact rising fuel prices and the increase in inflation will have on their customers' disposable incomes.
However, how to deal with these extra costs is split between absorbing them or passing them onto customers:
When borrowing for general business purposes, vets have a number of main priorities when selecting who to borrow from with the most important being ‘a lender with a strong brand and reputation for customer service’ closely followed by ‘a lender that provides personal, face-to-face service’, and ‘a lender with the simplest online application process’.
Optical equipment can be a significant capital expense and a key decision is which supplier to choose. We asked Opticians what was most important when making this choice – and it was a close-run thing, with ‘a local supplier able to offer fast service narrowly edging out ‘a good brand for reliability’ and ‘personal service’.
Filling the skills gap
Much has been said and written about filling the skills gap in the UK’s labour market, and Opticians are no different, with 87% concerned about attracting employees to their practice.
Tax bills can be, for many firms, difficult to afford – 80% of Opticians surveyed said they expect to need to borrow funds to pay their 2022 tax bill.
It is well known the pandemic affected many people’s mental health, and our own research strongly supports these findings – it’s instructive to note only 1% of respondents stated: ‘during the pandemic my mental health has not been impacted’.
All other respondents admitted the pandemic had had a significant impact on their mental health, ranging from – in order of their impact (respondents could select more than one option):
Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce has been near the top of many firms’ agenda and Opticians, for the most part, believe their workforce is as diverse as it should or could be:
Opticians are also convinced about the proven creative and associated financial benefits of a diverse workforce with 93% of survey participants agreeing.