In our latest interview with a Caterham Valley character, we meet with Sundip Patel, joint owner of long-established business Specsavers.
Tell us a bit about your business…
While Specsavers is a trusted national brand, each of its shops is run on a partnership basis. This means myself and my business partner, Jay Patel, have complete autonomy when it comes to providing the best patient eye care for Caterham Valley residents, but with the support and guidance from Specsavers.
We have been here for 13 years and have some wonderful loyal customers. We have seen children coming in every year for their spectacle prescriptions and watched them grow into teenagers – it’s great to then help them choose designer glasses or contact lenses before they head off to university. And it’s not just our customers who have been with us for years – at least half our team have been here for more than 10 years and that is something I am quite proud of.
As well as offering eye tests and selling glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses, we have high tech equipment which can spot the early signs of eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
About seven years ago, we introduced hearings tests and now have an audiologist here twice a week which has been very popular.
We are open seven days a week and with our team of 15 staff (full and part-time) you can usually get a same-day appointment if you suddenly find yourself with a spare half hour or a free lunchbreak and in need of an eye test.
Why did you become an optometrist?
I started wearing glasses from the age of 11 (I now wear contact lenses) and became fascinated with the work of an optometrist. I did my degree in optometry at Aston University in Birmingham, which is where I met my wife Amanda, who is also an optometrist, and works part-time here at our Caterham Valley store.
What made you decide to set up in Caterham Valley?
I had been living in Bedfordshire, working as a resident optometrist, but had wanted to have my own shop and was looking for a Specsavers partnership. My then business partner spotted an opportunity in Caterham Valley so I came down for a recce. The area surrounding the town is beautiful which was really refreshing when you have been living and working in places like Brent Cross. The town also didn’t have many big brand names so it felt like it had a different vibe and would be a good place to start a Specsavers.
Is there any advice you would have for other business owners in the town?
Caterham Valley is not a big place and has a village feel so it is easy to build up loyalty if you treat your customers well. Customer service is so important. If you treat people properly and with honesty it pays massive dividends. Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning.
Why should someone visit your business for the first time?
Coming here is more than just about offering sight tests and writing prescriptions for new spectacles. We build a rapport with our customers and offer unhurried appointments, taking the customer from the eye check through to choosing new spectacles. We also have a frame-styler which superimposes various frames onto a scan of your face so you can make the right choice for your face-shape – even if you come on your own.
We are also about looking after eye health and have high tech equipment which can spot health problems early. I am very excited to be taking delivery soon of a new piece of equipment which gives a 3D scan of the back of the eye. Catching eye problems early can halt disease in its tracks and save sight.
Describe your typical lunch break to us…
To be honest, my lunch break is normally spent at my desk with a packed lunch catching up on myself. As I run my own business as well as test people’s eyes, lunchtime is the only chance I have to get on top of the paperwork.
Tell us your favourite thing about the town…
I love Asian food, naturally, and there is not a lot that beats my mum’s cooking, but Crown & Pepper comes very close. It is brilliant and we often hold our staff evenings there as well as at Casa Lola.
And finally, what are your top tips for choosing spectacles in 2019?
The geek-chic is still definitely in, so younger people are going for larger, statement-style frames, and we have plenty more of the rimless and discreet-style frames. And if you are buying sunglasses, then larger frames and polarising lenses are the big thing once again this summer.
- Find out more about Specsavers Caterham in the Caterham Valley business directory.
- Share what you most love about Caterham Valley with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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