Life-long glasses wearer David McMillan had the original idea to sell prescription glasses online back in 2004. Looking at the monopoly of optical chains he believed the choice was too limited and grossly over-priced.
David, a serial entrepreneur having already established a successful online diamond and jewellery business since 1998 approached Tony, a Dispensing Optician for Specsavers just engaged to David’s daughter and looking for business opportunities in the optical industry together with Jason McMillan, David’s son who was working at Baring Asset Managment and experienced in computer/network management and web design, having gained knowledge and grounding when working in London during the dot-com boom. With their pooled talents, it was a perfect match.
Call it a family-business if you will, but David’s business acumen, Tony’s essential optical knowledge and Jason’s web and computer expertise was the ideal combination to create SelectSpecs.com; a website that would go on to sell the largest range of designer eye brands and in-house frames online, including the ‘World’s Cheapest Glasses’ at just £6.00 (complete with prescription lenses and lens treatments)!
Putting the choice in the customer's hands and cutting out all unnecessary costs SelectSpecs.com pride themselves in being the modern optical store.
When you first start a business, you need to start it somewhere and somewhere relatively cheap, and where better than from a bedroom of a house - David's house to be precise! Here, we commandeered several bedrooms of the house with enough room for the 3 of us to build a website, provide customer support, process orders and prepare orders ready for dispatch. 2005 was all about establishing the business online and making a name for ourselves. One of the advantages of being one of the first eyewear retailers to operate solely through the internet was that competition was limited, the downside however was that the number of customers was also limited as it was not seen as normal to buy glasses online at this early stage.
By 2007 the business had grown enough to require 2 additional support employees. Chris and James both joined us to manage the products on the website, help with customer support, and dispatch, it was a whirlwind time! Both are still with us now although James has progressed to manage the design and development of the website while Chris manages a team of admin staff to ensure the product databases are kept right up to date with the latest eyewear collections.
MAKING AN IMPACT
We were beginning to make our mark on the online world, but the breakthrough came in May 2009 when we formulated a plan to offer the cheapest full prescription glasses in the world, for £5.00 (yes, you read that correctly, prescription glasses including lenses and coatings for five of your English pounds!), a deal unheard of when customers were used to paying £100's of pounds for a similar product. With a little work we managed to get this offer picked up by MoneySavingExpert.com and fed out to over 3 million of their email subscribers with a follow up mention by Martin Lewis on GMTV (see below) - as you can imagine, this pretty much launched our business to the stratosphere and put our name on the internet!
Due to this success, we were required to take on another employee to manage our dispatch department. Say hello to Keith, who is also still with us, he can be a bit grumpy but generally gets the job done and makes sure you get your order.
By 2011, the business was standing on it's own two feet but we had outgrown the space available in the house and needed more space to allow for the expansion we had planned. We looked at many properties in Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Birchington, and more. We eventually settled on a lovely building just yards from the train station on Westgate on Sea's high street that had enough space for offices and our very first high street optical store that we planned to open in 2012.
It may come as a surprise to see an online store want to branch out to the high street when working online provides such a huge worldwide reach, but since the successful launch of our £5.00 glasses in 2009, we were finding that a number of customers were asking us where our store was, or just knocking on David's front door asking to see our eyewear collections! To cater for this growing demand and because we felt that having a high street presence strengthened our brand and would give our local customers a better value alternative to the large high street chain opticians, we decided to open our first 'bricks n mortar' store.
Our Westgate on Sea store was opened in April 2012 by Mayoress Iris Johnston and has built up a great local reputation with many local (and not so local) customers returning annually for retests. As always, we're keeping our eyes open for further high street expansion opportunities!More about our store »
We admit, customer service wasn't our strong point early on but we listened to our customers and we changed and improved dramatically. We employed a team of email support and call center staff to manage your enquiries and over the phone sales and now have over 10 super talented customer service staff.
Now in to our 10th year of business with more staff than ever, our current offices were beginning to burst at the seams and we needed more space. Fortunately, in 2013 we had the opportunity to purchase an old builders yard that had come up for auction, this building was perfect with over 4,000sq ft of floor space available - enough room for a large call center, offices, stock warehouse, an on-site lab, and any other future expansion with land available to develop further. We grabbed it with both hands!
After nearly 2 years of renovation and building a new lab, and increasing floor space to over 6,000sq ft, we moved in.
With our new offices completed and occupied, we kitted out our new laboratory with the latest cutting edge equipment. Now in operation with a number of experienced lab technicians we have the capacity to complete 1000's of orders per day at the highest possible standard!
For over the last 10 years, we've strived to offer the best possible service and products to our customers and 2018 will be no different. We'll be looking to improve the overall experience by continually developing the website and our internal processes, we're also looking to expand our operations to accommodate a faster turnaround whilst keeping costs down for the consumer. 2018 certainly looks to be an exciting one with some exciting plans for website development - make sure you sign up to our email for further announcements in due course.
Last updated: January 2018