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Optical Express

Optical Express is a retail optical services company in the United Kingdom.

The Optical Express group of companies, subsidiaries of DCM (Optical Holdings) Ltd, operate in a wide range of healthcare services including the optical, dental and cosmetic industries.

Optical Express is the fourth largest high street retail optician in the UK, which, combined, account for 55% of the optical goods market, of which Optical Express has a 6% share.[1] The company provides eye tests, spectacles, contact lenses and laser eye surgery. It claims to be the UK's number one provider of laser eye surgery, with more than 1,000,000 laser eye surgery procedures performed.[2]


Overview and history


An Optical Express store on Princes Street, Edinburgh

Optical Express is part of the Optical Express Group, which aside from opticians, also operates in the optical, dental and cosmetic industries under the brand names The Cosmetic Clinic, The Dental Clinic and the Bridgewater Hospital. The group was founded in 1991 by David Moulsdale[3] with one Optical Express branch based in Leith, Edinburgh.[4] The company grew steadily following its establishment. It acquired Remocker Shapiro in 1995, and took over the latter's 11 stores.[5] In January 1997, the group acquired Specialeyes Plc, including a UK-wide chain of 65 optical retail outlets, thus expanding into England for the first time.[6]

In 1998, the Sunday Herald reported that Optical Express had 32 court judgements against it for failure to settle debts owed to a wide number of companies. A senior financial analyst at the time commented that it appeared to be a policy of Optical Express to pay debts late, however "since the company has been trading without interruption, most of these amounts must by now have been paid." An Optical Express spokesperson implied that the company's problems stemmed from the January 1997 takeover of Specialeyes, in which the accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers were claimed to have underestimated the true level of debt at Specialeyes that Optical Express had adopted. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers spokeperson denied this was the case.[7]


Optical Express has been growing its presence on the high street. Its spectacle ranges cover the mid-market. It has also expanded into other healthcare sectors including cosmetic treatments and dentistry.[8] Laser eye surgery in the UK is dominated by three main players Optical Express, Ultralase and Optimax which, in total, account for approximately 56% of clinics in the UK[9]

In 2001, Optical Express acquired the Co-op Eyecare chain of 34 shops,[10] followed by the purchase of Specdeals in 2002 with a further 14 Scottish stores.[11]

In 2004 and early 2005, Optical Express acquired the dentistry and laser eye surgery services of Alliance Boots. The dental services business trades under the name The Dental Clinic. , there are 13 locations advertised on the company website.[12]

Optical Express moved into the international market with the acquisition of Free Vision Euro Eyes laser vision correction clinics in Amsterdam and The Hague.[13] The deal marked the first large-scale UK optical chain to extend its laser vision correction business in Holland.[14]

Since 2007

Optical Express experienced a 48% growth in UK retail distribution of optical goods and eyecare in the period 2007 to 2009, the largest increase of all the four large UK opticians.[15]

In 2007, Optical Express formed a partnership with Glasgow-based charity organisation, The Caring City.[16] Donated spectacles are categorised, tested and distributed free of charge via local clinics returning sight to the most at risk communities within Burundi.[17]

Since 2007 Optical Express has been engaged in a dispute with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about VAT. A figure of 10.9 million pounds was quoted as the disputed amount. An appeal to the original case dismissal is scheduled for September 2011.[18][19][20]

In 2007, the Optical Express store at Cross Street in Manchester was given the largest ever fine for city centre fly tipping by Manchester City council after a large amount of rubbish was dumped behind the store. The company did not turn up to the court case, and was assessed a 25,000 fine. An Optical Express spokesperson said 'This is a ludicrous case. We were never served a summons so it's hardly surprising we weren't in court. Our lawyers are lodging an immediate appeal.'.[21] A legal appeal overturned the decision and the fine was subsequently dropped.

In 2008, Optical Express announced a 10 million investment to increase its number of Irish operations to six creating up to 60 new jobs.[22]

In August 2009, Optical Express revealed its working practices to its refractive surgery competitors in a supplement published in the July edition of the Journal of Refractive Surgery[23][24] the first of its kind by a corporate provider.[25]

In 2009, Optical Express, along with fellow laser eye surgery providers Optimax and Ultralase, were criticized by Which?, a consumer organisation, who investigated the consultations customers received prior to potential laser eye surgery. The main focus of concern was that laser councillors consistently downplayed the risks of surgery[26]

In 2010, Optical Express invested US$12 million ( 8.1 million) installing iFS Femtosecond laser technology in all its laser clinics.[27][28][29][30]

In October 2010 Optical Express offered shared venture partnerships (SVP) for many of their retail outlets.[31][32]

In January 2011 Optical Express opened its flagship Sports Vision clinic in Renfield Street, Glasgow City Centre.[33]

In May 2011, the BBC Watchdog programme ran a feature on Optical Express including hidden camera footage of laser eye surgery consultations in ten different Optical Express clinic locations.[34] Although it is standard procedure adopted by laser eye clinics worldwide that the surgeon is seen on day of surgery, the programme was critical of Optical Express and particularly emphasised that in seven out of ten consultations, the prospective patient was not offered the opportunity to see the surgeon before the day of surgery, contrary to Royal College of Ophthalmologists guidelines, which its member surgeons can choose whether to adopt on an individual basis. The expert witness that appeared on Watchdog, as well as being a consultant at the NHS Moorfields Eye Hospital, and the hospital's director of refractive surgery, is also employed by the hospital's private clinic and therefore a direct competitor to Optical Express.[35] Optical Express responded to the allegations made in this programme on the programme website.[34]

In 2011 the consumer magazine Which? rated Optical Express as the worst performing optical chain after an undercover investigation into the quality of general high street eye examinations. An Optical Express spokesperson said they were unable to comment on the allegations without more information.[36]

In 2012 Royal Bank of Scotland appointed former head of PWC, Frank Blin to the Optical Express board. [37]

Jack Wilson McConnell is a non-executive director on the board of DCM Optical Holdings,[38] Chairman and CEO David Moulsdale's Cumbernauld-based parent company.


In 2007, the Advertising Standards Authority rejected a complaint that the claim "from only 395 per eye" featured in an Optical Express TV and leaflet campaign was misleading.[39]

In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld 23 out of 25 complaints made by Ultralase about an Optical Express brochure and television advert featuring P draig Harrington. This is the fourth judgement against Optical Express by the ASA since 2007.[40][41][42] In response to the ruling, P draig Harrington was reported to address the controversy.[43] The ASA dismissed Optical Express' appeal on this adjudication on 17 August 2011.[44] Optical Express created and ran a new advertisement featuring the voice of British actor Michael Gambon, it replaced the Padraig Harrington advertisement.[45]


In January 2011 Optical Express donated an Oculus Pentacam (worth 45,000) to optometry and dispensing optician students in Glasgow Caledonian University, which was the first of its kind in Scotland and allows students to use the technology as part of their optometry degree.[46]

In September 2011 Optical Express donated the use of their customer contact centre to support the STV Appeal to collect public donations in support of children in Scotland affected by poverty.[47]


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