”Employees are genuinely valued”

08/01 2024 - Stores

”Employees are genuinely valued”

Riikka Yli-Kohtamäki is one of the owners of Specsavers Jumbo in Vantaa. Most other stores have a combination consisting of a retail partner and an optical partner, but in Jumbo, there are two optometrists who share responsibility for all sides of their business, including commercial. Both Riikka and her partner, Jähjä Bapiiri, are also relatively new business owners – Riikka bought her part of the store in March 2022, Jähjä a couple of months later.

Riikka’s journey into the world of optometry was an unexpected one. Initially working at a pharmacy, she felt a pull towards further education. A suggestion from her spouse led her to optometry school in Oulu. Today, as a store owner, her journey exemplifies the unexpected beauty of following one’s calling, standing as an inspiration for others to venture into the world of optometry with Specsavers.

Rocky start of a career

At first, Riikka had a summer job at Specsavers Seinäjoki and, later on, worked evenings and weekends at one of the Specsavers stores in Oulu. Riikka attended a Specsavers student event during her final spring semester. Her goal was to secure a job in Helsinki, so she inquired about available positions. When a job opening became available at Specsavers Itäkeskus, the support office reached out to her. Riikka and her spouse then made the move to Helsinki right after graduation.

After working at the Itäkeskus store for a period, Riikka decided to move on to another chain. However, her experience there left her feeling disrespected as an employee. The socioeconomic challenges in the area were reflected in the work environment, and without support from the chain, Riikka found her job difficult and isolating. Just as she was considering a career change, Specsavers reached out to her for an interview.

Respect changes everything

What seems like an unbelievable coincidence was no coincidence at all. The network Riikka cultivated during her studies became the driving force behind her path. Her participation in various Specsavers events had caught the attention of the support office, positioning her as a potential future store owner. Following a successful interview, an opening emerged at Specsavers Tripla, leading Riikka to step into the role of store manager at Specsavers Myyrmäki. A mere two years later, the stars aligned, presenting Riikka with the remarkable opportunity to take ownership of her own store.

After returning to Specsavers, the career crises quickly dissolved, and Riikka began to flourish professionally. She credits the company’s values for this success. “From the beginning at Specsavers, I have felt genuinely valued. Leadership was never a distant figure in a watch tower looking down on us, but something completely different. You held a value beyond mere costs."

Also, the fact that Specsavers was interested in Riikka and trusted her enough to allow her to become a store owner warms her heart. “That’s what I’m most proud of. I'm not from a family of entrepreneurs, and achieving this has surprised even those closest to me. The notion of owning my own store hadn't occurred to me, despite my spouse's unwavering support."

Everyone takes care of each other

Running the store has taught Riikka a lot, like getting better at decisions. When you're always making choices, it gets easier, and even if they're not perfect, they're often fixable. Her time as a store manager helped her get ready too. "I had a lot of responsibility as a manager, so moving to ownership wasn't too hard. And the support office is there for routine stuff," Riikka explains.

Being the owner makes workdays versatile and engaging, and the team at the store respects and supports each other. Riikka's network, especially other Specsavers store owners, gives her advice and encouragement. The support office is like family, too, she adds. "We're like one big family," Riikka concludes.

Responsibilities are divided naturally

In a two-optical ownership setup, the distribution of roles isn't as simple as with a retail partner, according to Riikka. They rely on each other's strengths. The more outgoing partner, skilled in numbers, takes a prominent role on the store floor and in business growth. Riikka, on the other hand, concentrates on day-to-day tasks such as invoicing, reporting, and administrative work. There are collaborative efforts, too, like recruitment, where both partners join forces.

During quieter moments at the store, Riikka dedicates herself to paperwork. At busier times, she conducts sight tests and assists customers. Engaging in optical work remains gratifying for her, a constant avenue for learning. A memorable instance involved a young customer who suffered headaches and vision issues. While unfamiliar with prism lenses to correct double vision, Riikka took a leap of faith and prescribed them, believing they would help. The outcome was heartening – the prism lenses resolved the issue so effectively that the overjoyed customer hugged the optometrist.

Young optical partner stands behind the mission

Riikka strongly supports Specsavers' principle that everyone should have affordable access to high-quality eye care and glasses. "I don't think glasses should have a price tag of €1500. Our pricing is down-to-earth and reachable," she asserts. The brand identity also centres on accessibility, with a touch of humour and a laid-back feel. "We're not about being exclusive; we're about being stylish and modern," Riikka concludes.

When she's not in the sauna or practising karate, Riikka enjoys writing poems and dreams of being a self-published author. Her spiritual side is a big part of her life, and she often has deep conversations about it with her supportive spouse, the same person who encouraged her to pursue optometry in the first place.

Riikka's career journey shows how important it is to follow your heart and purpose.

Do you want to be part of a family that cares for one another and supports you on your way towards development and success? Read more about the Specsavers business model and see our current job openings.

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