23/06 2022 - Stores

"Price should not prevent seeing well"

Specsavers Iso Omena is a lively store in Espoo, Finland. Its owners Maarit Saarikoski and Tarja Tuominen are also the driving forces behind Specsavers Entresse in Espoo centre. Currently, they divide their responsibilities so that the partners manage the daily operations of one store each. Maarit holds the wheel in Iso Omena. Unlike in many other Specsavers stores, where partner responsibilities are divided between an optical and a retail partner, both Maarit and Tarja are optical partners. They had previous experience in entrepreneurship, so the arrangement works well.

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Maarit has never been afraid of taking on new challenges, either. “During my studies to become an optician, a teacher asked if any of us students could see themselves as entrepreneurs. I was the only one who raised a trembling hand”, Maarit remembers. She could not imagine that the “maybe” changed into a “yes” only two years after graduation and that she would become an optical entrepreneur soon after. At the time, she couldn’t imagine, either, that some of her colleagues from the time she did her internship would later become her employees.

Bold moves

The store in Espoo centre was the first of the two stores. The second, in Iso Omena shopping centre, the duo bought a few years later. By chance, both stores were acquired when Maarit was about to go on maternity leave. “It is easy to remember how long we have had the stores because my kids are the same age”, she laughs. The two young women also found it easy to find flexibility in working life and understand that families grow and life situations change.

Becoming an optical partner brought along new challenges and training. Amongst them was a trip to Nottingham in England, where a local partner, Simon Dunn, introduced Maarit to the chain’s practices. From the visit started a friendship that has lasted over the years. Not only has one employee from Simon’s store moved to Espoo and now works at Maarit’s store, but Simon has also visited Finland on holiday.

Great glasses for everyone at reasonable prices

According to Maarit, the business model and the benefits brought about by high volume characterises the Specsavers partnership most. In practice, the production process is so highly automated that Specsavers can offer the glasses at affordable prices. Fast production guarantees that eyeglasses find their way to customers swiftly.

Glasses are manufactured in Europe in areas with long traditions in lens-making, which equals expertise and cooperation. “That benefits our customers directly. Even someone with demanding special needs can have affordable glasses that serve them well and that they don’t have to wait too long for,” Maarit says. “Training and routines guarantee that each customer’s unique needs are met reliably and with expertise. You have to do this job with a heart.”

Maarit has also visited a Specsavers production unit in Hungary, which has helped her understand the big picture further. When production details are clear, it is easier to plan the best possible way to help each customer.

Having competition is beneficial

During Maarit’s ownership of Specsavers Iso Omena, the store has moved to larger premises inside the shopping centre. There are four other optical chains in the same wing. Unlike you would expect, however, increased competition has only helped Maarit’s business. “Customers compare prices and service, and it has turned out to be our win.”

As an optical partner, Maarit has an active role in the management and customer service in her store. According to her, that is the only way of knowing what goes on. The store has five opticians and one optical dispenser. The opticians, therefore, often take care of the customer contact, from eye inspection to choosing frames. As a result, customers feel secure when they deal with the same person all the way, and the opticians get to solve versatile problems. “It is easier to understand the customer’s whole situation when you help them from start to finish”, Maarit says.

Interested in development

Specsavers Iso Omena is situated centrally and gets frequent attention from the media. Maarit has had to jump into unexpected roles, such as an expert commentator on a live tv broadcast on seeing in traffic. According to Maarit, the most interesting part of her job as an optical partner is still developing in-store or chain operations. “I have been a member of various working groups. Right now, I take part in developing the customer journey. It is a collaborative effort involving several Specsavers countries and part of the continuous improvement of our operations”.

On a more personal level, Maarit feels she has evolved most as a manager. Before becoming a store owner, she had no experience in leadership and actively improved her skills with further studies. “Stress tolerance and the ability to grasp larger concepts are also important qualities for a Specsavers partner,” she adds.

Basketball training keeps the family busy in their free time. Closest to Maarit’s heart, however, is dog agility. She has two American hairless terriers that she trains. In the summer, gardening is an effective way to bring balance to the sometimes hectic day of the partner.

Do you think being an optical partner would suit you well? Do you want to evolve and develop in a super interesting job? Read more about Specsavers’ partnership and see what other possibilities we offer right now in Finland!

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