In 1984, Dame Mary Perkins and her husband Doug founded Specsavers in their spare bedroom in Guernsey. Today, the eyewear company has stores in the UK, Europe, and Australasia. While it has grown to become one of the UK’s leading eyeglass retailers, Specsavers is still very much “a private company with family values,” with absolutely no outside investments or loans. And despite the success of the company, Perkins remains humble about her achievements, believing that a good business leader is someone who knows how to listen to others as well. “I am willing to lead from the front and will muck in when needed,” she says. “I treat others as I would like to be treated – whoever they are, staff, suppliers, anyone I meet.”
Specsavers didn’t take off right away, though. The first year was a slow one, but thanks to “careful appraisal of everything,” the business has expanded since then. Headquarters maintains a close working relationship with all of its stores, with a board member meeting with opticians every eight weeks. Under Perkins’ leadership, Specsavers has managed to keep a steady growth rate. In 2010/2011, the company’s revenue reached £1.5 billion.
Perkins stresses the importance of being true to one’s vision, values, and culture when building a business. According to her, people often approach Specsavers with an idea for a new market or activity, but it’s best to ask first if those suggestions are actually going to help the company, no matter how glamorous they may sound. Perkins describes this as “sticking to the knitting,” i.e., sticking to the core activities that go with one’s existing skills and customer base.
Speaking of customers, Perkins regards Specsavers’ clients as her best friends. “I never lose sight of the customers,” she says. “We wouldn’t have a business if it wasn’t for them.”