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Centenary celebrations.

Bailey Opticians has marked its 100th anniversary. OT's Emily McCormick speaks to third-generation owner, Nick Bailey, about his family's story and why he supports free sight tests

THE HISTORY of Bailey Opticians can be traced back to November 10, 1913, when the doors of the Dover-based independent were opened by Herbert John Bailey, the great grandfather of the current owner and contact lens specialist, Nick Bailey (pictured above).

As a business rooted in family tradition, Mr Bailey has held the reins of the practice for 33 years. He took over from his father in 1980, having worked for Batemans Opticians for five years previously.

Marking the 100-year milestone last year, the mayor of Dover, Veronica Philpott, joined patients past and present to celebrate the occasion. "It was great to gather patients and people in the local community together to celebrate our 100-year achievement," Mr Bailey said of the event.

In the beginning

Having been born and raised in London, Mr Bailey's great grandfather, Herbert John Bailey, began his optical career in 1901 as an apprentice with the capital's Albert Thomas Harris. Making the journey north to Great Yarmouth for a position with Charles Ledsham and Co Ophthalmic Opticians in 1904, Herbert transferred to the company's Dover branch eight years later (1913).

With dreams of owning his own opticians, he, and his wife Agnes, bought the practice from Ledsham for 135 [pounds sterling], and Bailey Opticians was born.

An aspiring entrepreneur, Herbert opened a second independent, Optics Limited, which was based in Ramsgate. However, this was eventually relinquished, Mr Bailey explained. "I assume that it just didn't do very well."

The flare for business continued though, and Herbert built a name for the practice by placing adverts in the local paper, as well as on the fixture cards of Kent County Cricket Club and score cards of Dover Bowling Club. The practice blossomed, which can be seen in the busy and growing patient record log (pictured top right) which Mr Bailey still has.

Speaking about the benefits of being rooted in the community for so long, Mr Bailey said: "Everyone knows we are here, our patients come to us through word of mouth recommendations."

As a father-of-two, it was Herbert's son and youngest child, also named Herbert, but known as Jack, who was inspired to follow in his father's footsteps, moving to London and qualifying as a dispensing optician. However, his practising of optics was halted when he joined the army during the Second World War.

Fighting in the war between 1939 and 1945, during this period his father, Herbert died. In order to keep the family business open, Jack's mother found a locum who helped run the practice until Jack returned from war and took over.

As the joint owner of a number of businesses in the area, including a hairdressers and a pub, Jack's divided interests saw the business fall into disrepair. However, the practice remained open and afloat.

While only "slightly" inspired to enter the profession by his father, Mr Bailey qualified as a DO. After the death of Mr Bailey's father, Jack, just a year after the family purchased the practice freehold, Mr Bailey left his position at Batemans and took on the family business.

Quickly realising the practice's potential, Mr Bailey began investing heavily and it was full steam ahead, with a revamp which transformed the practice.

One step ahead

Having grown enormously from the one- floor, single testing room practice which Mr Bailey took over, the independent now boosts three consulting rooms, a spacious dispensing area on the first floor, a glazing room and an on-site accounts department. "We now utilise every room in the practice to its full potential," he said.

Through the investment, testing numbers increased, as did staff. Today the practice employees one full-time and three part-time optometrists and several dispensing opticians, while Mr Bailey himself is the practice's contact lens specialist. The business can carry out 40 tests on a busy day, he confirmed.

Having spent an estimated 1m [pounds sterling] on the practice over the last three decades, Mr Bailey believes strongly in investing in clinical technology.

He explained: "It was just horrible when I arrived. The first thing I did when I took over was buy a pupilometer, a Zeiss focimeter and a glazing machine."

The practice was also one of the first to invest in computerised test charts, installing the technology in 2002. "They were very new to market when I purchased one for the practice. Quickly, all of our optometrists wanted one, so I purchased one for each consulting room," he said.

Mr Bailey's emphasis on clinical excellence can be seen early on in his ownership, when the practice became the first to take delivery and fit disposable contact lenses. As an area which Mr Bailey specialises in, he secured the first Johnson & Johnson Acuvue disposable contact lenses after a trip to the BCLA clinical conference in 1988. The result was that Baileys was able to offer the lenses to patients from May that year, when they were not officially launched until the September.

With a strong contact lens focus, the practice currently has a turnover of more than 12,000 [pounds sterling] a month from contact lenses alone. Not one to go with the crowd, Mr Bailey revealed that he caused a stir in the profession in the late 1980s when he continued to offer free eye tests for all, despite the Government's 1989 change in regulation which made sight tests free to under 16s and over 60s only. This is something which he has stood his ground on and still offers today.

Explaining his decision to not charge any patient for a sight test, Mr Bailey said: "I believe that through providing sight tests, I am offering a service to the community, and it is something they shouldn't be charged for."

He added: "It is a decision I made with the patient in mind."

Ever expanding

With ambitions to grow further, Mr Bailey said: "We are still renovating, it always has been, and always will be, continuous for me."

Revealing the practice's next project, Mr Bailey told OT: "Expanding downstairs is our next move. We are currently exploring the possibility of purchasing the small piece of land at the back of the practice so that we can expand the reception area."

Keeping the business in the family is also on the cards. Speaking to OT, Mr Bailey revealed that his eldest daughter Rachel, could be next in line to take over the practice when he retires, having qualified as a DO. "If she wants it, it is here," he said.

Here's to Bailey Opticians and another 100 years in Dover.
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Author:McCormick, Emily
Publication:Optometry Today
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 31, 2014
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