David Moulsdale, the Scottish entrepreneur who runs Optical Express, believes in the future development of eye laser surgery and in the value of providing various options for vision correction to its customers, some of whom are clinically suitable for laser surgery, and others are not. His company spends a lot of money to train optometrists who can work closely with the eye doctors before and after a laser operation.

Moulsdale, who is also chairman of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, is convinced that he can make money with laser surgery, a business that caused the Boots Group to lose £3.8 million (€ m-$m) on revenues of £19.4 million (€ m-$m) in its latest financial year. Optical Express runs its own 10 laser clinics in the UK and two others in The Netherlands profitably. All of them, except for one stand-alone clinic in Manchester, are housed in the same facilities as the company's own retail stores.

In its first foray outside the UK, Optical Express acquired a few months ago the two Free Vision Euro Eyes refractory surgery clinics in Amsterdam and The Hague. They have both been converted into full-service operations offering also conventional lens-based vision correction, with a total surface of 500 and 350 square meters. Moulsdale wants to check how this business evolves, learning to adapt to the local culture, before contemplating other foreign investments. He is still negotiating with the landlords for a possible start-up of laser surgery clinic in Dublin, Ireland.

In his deal with Boots, whose terms are kept confidential, Moulsdale has agreed to take over most of the employees, the equipment and the clientele of Boots' 9 eye laser clinics, starting next Monday, and also of Boots' 54 dental practices across the country, effective Dec. 31. Optical Express has guaranteed that it will provide comparable clinical care to Boots' patients at existing and new sites around the country.

Boots had announced last Sept. 14 (see previous issue) its intention to get out of laser eye correction and dentistry as well as chiropody and laser hair removal, which together made losses of £16.3 (€ m-$m) million last year, writing these businesses off for £55 million (€ m-$m), but it stressed that it will keep its optical retail business, Boots Opticians. Boots had moved into laser eye correction in December 2000, but it got bad publicity recently from some surgical failures.

Without including its latest acquisitions, Optical Express stands to reach total sales of more than £100 million (€ m-$m) for the financial year ending next March, with a growth of close to 10 percent in absolute terms and of more than 5 percent on a same-store basis, outperforming the market. The addition of 20-22 more optical retail outlets and some more laser eye surgery and dentistry clinics will contribute to the growth for the year.

With a network of 166 stores at the moment, Optical Express ranks as the UK's 5th largest optical retailer. It recently acquired three Pagan Eyecare stores, which have been converted to the Optical Express banner and format, and Moulsdale is still open for new acquisition opportunities. The chain recently launched its own joint venture store franchising program, imitating the other leaders in the market. Moulsdale also made a personal investment in a small chain of children's shops in Scotland. They are called OK Kids.