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HomemibusinessA Big Outlook for Big W

A Big Outlook for Big W

For most consumers, in the past, heading to Big W for an eye test and a pair of specs would never have crossed their mind. Yet in the wake of the GFC, there have been intense online price wars and battles for customers by the larger corporates. Because of this, people now expect to pay a lot less for their eyewear and eye care.

For the consumer, to have another optical retailer positioning themselves “where quality optometry costs less” has become a viable option.

Big W Vision was established in 2006 with the familiar ‘Big W’ customer promise of ‘lowest prices everyday’. Backed by an established brand, a qualified customer base, and with retail space in key locations around the country, the Vision Centres roll out was pretty much a given. Yet despite this, the company’s management has chosen to take its growth strategy one step at a time.

“Big W has been targeted and deliberate to build a sustainable business. We’ve added sites in a cost effective manner and at a pace which has enabled us to attract good local staff with great customer service and optical knowledge,” Rowan Carson, Big W Queensland’s Regional Optical Operations Manager, told mivision.

“We have been growing at a rate of approximately nine to 10 stores per year… and have our sights set on additional opportunities both in existing Big W stores and within our planned Big W stores.”

Graduate Attraction

Each Big W Vision Centre operates as a separate business within the Big W department store and has a basic staffing model that includes a practice manager, an optometrist and one or two part-time and/or casual team members.

As a seven-day a week business, it’s necessary to support full time teams with a ready back up of locum optometrists who can to step in for holiday cover and extra testing days.

This provides good job opportunities for experienced optometrists in search of part-time work.

There are also plenty of opportunities for graduates, who are being wooed by the corporates. While the Big W Vision option may not include a future within the business as a franchise owner, Mr. Carson says it does provide professional support, a ready clientele and the chance to become a practice manager or even pursue a career that extends beyond optical, all of which, he says, are attractive to graduates.

“Woolworth’s (the parent company of the Big W brand) is focused on fostering talent to ensure that the business leaders of the future are in the organisation,” said Mr. Carson.

“In our Big W Vision Centres, we have a mix of very senior and experienced dispensers plus we offer an optical training program for new optical team members whether they are sourced from the existing workforce in the Big W store or from external sources. Obviously there is a period of learning where a new team member is always supported by an optically experienced person.”

The first graduate to join the company in January 2011 has already secured a position as a permanent full-time optometrist. The group’s second and third graduates, started their optical careers with Big W Vision on a part-time basis while completing their degrees. According to Mr. Carson, the company encourages this approach because “it provides them with much more confidence when it comes to embarking on their fulltime careers.”

Eager for Success

He said the graduates who are attracted to Big W Vision are “enthusiastic, energised and innovative. They are also drawn to the bright new premises of Big W Vision Centres, brimming with brand new equipment plus a supportive and flexible working environment.”

“They want to be part of a growing business where open knowledge sharing is encouraged… our organisational structure is uncluttered with layers of management and therefore everyone can access their business leaders. This is encouraged because as we know, no one person has all the answers. So whether a person comes to us with many years of experience or is brand new to the industry, they can all contribute to the development of this business and be a part of its ongoing success,” said Mr. Carson.

He added that many have aspirations of becoming leaders in the business.

“We already have several optometrists performing dual roles as a professional service provider and practice manager very effectively.”

Customer Attraction

Big W has a large customer base attracted to its ‘live big for less ’ strategy, where they can stock up on their basic everyday needs as well as seek out well-known brands for items that include clothing, cosmetics and electronics. Now they can have their eyes tested and purchase spectacles while in store as well.

“Our customers appreciate our store experience, our low prices, our service and the transparent pricing for lenses and extras. We offer customers big brand names that are known and trusted at remarkably low prices – there are no hidden costs,” said Mr. Carson.

He added that while it is difficult to compare optical customer profiles with those frequenting the competition, market surveys conducted by independent researchers have revealed that when a customer visits Big W Vision they are pleasantly surprised by the prices, quality of service and choice available to them.