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Founded: 1984
Founder(s): Doug and Mary Perkins
Currently owned by: The Perkins family

Husband and wife team Doug and Mary Perkins started the business around a ping pong table in their spare room in 1983, opening their first store a year later. A change in UK regulations meant that, as professional opticians, they could advertise their products and services for the first time. They had the idea of making the opticians like going to the shop rather than going to the doctor.

The pair had already set up an established opticians by this point. In 1967, Doug borrowed money to buy Mary’s father’s optician’s business in Bristol. They built up a local chain of 23 opticians in the west of the UK under the name of Bebbington (Mary’s maiden name) and Perkins.

“We had 15 years in optics before we started Specsavers, so we’ve learned a lot and we knew exactly what we needed to do in the market we were in.” Mary told Business West. In fact, the pair have a combined 100 years working in optometry.

Reaching this goal wasn’t without its difficulties. “I’m not teaching physics to girls” Mary was told when she wanted to study science at A-Level. She “won the battle” with the headmaster insisting that she and the other girl in her physics A-Level were taught, according to The Times.

The first Specsavers store was opened in Guernsey – now there are 1,300 stores across the UK, Europe and New Zealand.

“When we started, we thought we would end up with 100 businesses – enough to cover England perhaps,” Mary told Inspired magazine. “We never, ever thought we would get to the huge scale we are now.” She reportedly dresses up and goes undercover to inspect stores from time to time.

Doug and son John are joint CEO but each store is part-owned and managed by its own directors.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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