Meet the family-run opticians bucking the trend on the high-street
As we leave the festive period behind and arrive in the middle of January sales season, the decline of the British high-street has never been more apparent. From Penzance to Perth, Land’s End to Luton, the town centre experience is becoming less vibrant, and more identikit, as consumers moves towards multi-outlet complexes on the edge of town, and, of course, the internet.
But in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the heart of Shakespeare country, one particular business appears to be thriving on good old-fashioned family values and personal service. CG Optical, which takes its name from proprietor Claire Gough, seems to embody the quintessential community enterprise – right the way down to the physical properties of the opticians, which is housed in a listed 18th century building on one of Stratford-upon-Avon’s busiest roads – Ely Street.
CG Optical had a complete makeover in recent times, having formerly been known to locals as Harrisons, and put the company’s heart and soul, Claire, at the centre of the brand. Doubling-down on the outstanding reputation of Ms Gough in the face of stiff competition from corporate powerhouses like Specsavers, Vision Express and Boots (and that’s just in the immediate area), has re-invigorated the business – which also employs Claire’s daughter, Becky, as a dispensing assistant, and long-time colleague and friend Tasha, as the friendly face at reception.
It seems to be working, too, with the local community really appreciating the traditional approach to service in the area. A quick look across social media shows CG Optical with a customer rating of 5/5 on both Google Search and Facebook, and their website is awash with glowing testimonials.
Rebecca Guise, one such reviewer, says: “Claire and the team provide excellent customer service. Unlike the conveyer belt of most high street chain opticians, they really care about your experience. Beautiful and unusual selection of glasses and won’t leave you unhappy. Would recommend their services and modern store all day long. Thank you.”
Helena Hughes, too, waxed lyrical about the personal service offered by CG: “Claire and her team made me feel very welcome and took their time helping me find frames that best suited me, unlike other high street companies that just want to get the most money out of you.”
Rachel Ingram agreed: “Lovely friendly service and I’m really happy with my new glasses! So much better than going to one of the big chain opticians, as it’s much more personal and they take the time to advise on which frames will suit your face.”
We could go on sharing reviews of CG, but you get the idea. What is clear, though, is that they all find the company’s personal and bespoke service a unique selling point, and have each identified the difference in service compared to that of the bigger optical retailers.
And, right now it seems, there has never been a more important time to find an optician one can trust. Research suggests that those aged 15 to 24 spend, on average, four hours a day on their phone, compared with two hours and 49 minutes for all adults. The same body of research suggests that the young also check their phones every 8.6 minutes, more frequently than any other age group. Society has now, too, moved to a point where the majority of adults spend up to 8 hours a day looking at a computer screen.
The impact on both physical and mental health of this sedentary lifestyle is well-documented, but what does it mean for our eyes? Well, the true effect of this very recent cultural development is still being investigated – but the bad news for those office-dwellers among us is that most experts agree looking at bright screens for lengthy periods of time can cause significant, and sometimes irreversible, damage to our eyes.
And, again, that’s perhaps where CG Optical beats out the competition from the bigger beasts in the eye-care industry. CG is one of the few opticians in the country to stock a particular type of lens, produced by French company Essilor, that mitigates some of the damage from staring at screens for extended periods of time. Crizal Prevencia, as this particular lens coating is called, cuts out the harmful blue violet light emitted by contemporary bright computer screens, meaning less strain for the lens-wearer. Crizal Prevencia is also scratch and smudge resistant, allowing for better durability.
While you can also find more of the standard fare associated with opticians at CG, the cutting-edge technology doesn’t end with the coating. Another of Essilor’s best-selling developments is the Varilux X series varifocal, a type of bespoke lens that not only takes into account your prescription, but also the way that your head and eyes move – resulting in the closest-imitation of natural vision that money can buy.
As you might expect, the technology to prescribe these lenses doesn’t come cheap, though, and again, CG Optical is one of the few practices in the UK that holds the in-house technology required for Varilux. It’s all part of the bigger picture for Claire and her team, who regularly support customers through every step of their corrective lens journey – whether they choose the super hi-tech products or more of your everyday pair of spectacles.
In uncertain economic times, it’s never been more important to buy local. If Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, is really interested in reinvigorating the British high-street, he could do a lot worse than to make this quaint-but-unique opticians, in the heart of one of Britain’s historic medieval towns, a case study in local service done right.
Address: 57 Ely St, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6LN
Phone: 01789 268828