Taking on the family mantle

Brother and sister, Mark and Lisa Wymond took over the running of one of Australasia’s best-known independent optometry eyewear firms, Eyes Right Optical, from their parents Gaye and David Wymond last year. Lesley Springall, caught up with Mark to find out what this means for him and the business, and what changes are afoot, other than the newly introduced Eyes Right office veggie patch!

Had you always wanted to join the business?

I joined Eyes Right in 2004 when I was 21, as I needed a job, but I had to apply. (Gaye and David) said, ‘what are you going to bring to the business… we’re not going to sack anyone, so you can have a job.’ But there was a job making, packing and crushing boxes and answering the phones, so I took that. When I started answering the phones, I noticed a number of calls coming from Mildura and Broken Hill, so I asked the Eyes Right ladies, ‘which rep’s area is that?’ They answered, ‘No ones. It’s your area Mark.’ Full of enthusiasm, as you are at 21, I made up some sample bags and I managed to open a number of new accounts; some very good accounts, which are still going strong today. I proved myself and I found my niche, and I got all the places the reps weren’t going to or were difficult to go to. My closest account was 200 kms away.

Was it tricky working with your mum and dad?

It wasn’t because my direct report was always someone else. There was always a level between us. But there were, obviously, some moments, but it always worked out as we had a common goal, to make Eyes Right bigger and better.

You call them Gaye and David, not mum and dad?

It’s the business. You get into the habit of it. At shows, you can’t be calling “Daaaad” from the other end of the stand. But it’s funny, I didn’t love that at the start, but it’s more appropriate when you’re talking to them from a business sense.

When did you move into the management side?

I was a rep for about seven years or so and then in about 2012 we took on Lightec and Nomad and Marius Morel for Australia, and that was my baby to re-build in the Australian market. I employed a team of four, and together we started to grow these ranges. I managed them as well as keeping up my rep role, then in 2013 I became the national sales manager.

So, when did discussions start about you and Lisa taking over?

We started discussions about four years ago. We became a part of Family Business Australia around this time, which allowed us to get insights from other family businesses into best practice in family governance and succession. It’s hard to articulate, but dad had a few health scares and it felt like it was our duty. There’s a real sense of making sure you’re looking after your parents and obviously there’s a lot of people depending on us.

We had Gaye’s retirement plan all scheduled and then Modstyle came up (see below) so we said, ‘well we’re too busy now, so you’re not retiring yet,’ so we put her back to work for another year!

Modstyle was a great learning ground, because I had to set up New Zealand and work through all the red tape and set up bank accounts; all the bits that really go into making a business behind the scenes, and all the things Gaye and David did 25 years ago. So, it was a great to learn from what they did at the start.

But (Lisa and I) still had to make the choice that we wanted to be Eyes Right’s owners. Gaye said, ‘It’s not a walk in the park. You will work 24/7. There are 30 staff to look after. But if you are passionate about the business and really want it, then you can work out how to do the succession’. We have the passion, so we needed to work out how to make it work for everyone.

Gaye and David are still major shareholders and directors until the succession is finalised. They have been a big help for us; they are our sounding board. They have 50 years’ experience in the optical industry between them, so it would be crazy and remiss of us not to tap into that. So, in 2018 we established a Family Business Advisory Board with an independent chair.

What’s the best thing about your new role?

Being able to shape the business the way I want. I’m changing very little apart from some of the internal processes, as there are some things that have been done the same way for 20 years… It’s about introducing some efficiencies. We’ve already won several awards for customer service, but we can’t rest on that, we need to continually improve.

What’s the hardest thing?

It’s busy; all the time. All the Australian and New Zealand questions come during the day and then, come five o’clock, Europe comes online and the emails bounce back and forth as they are working then. That’s the hard bit; when do you stop? Because I can quite easily be emailing until nine o’clock. But we’ve got great suppliers and it’s very stable. All of our suppliers have been with us for more than 18 years. We’ve never lost a range, as we treat each range like it’s our own.

What’s the one message you’d like to share with your customers?

Basically, it’s business as usual. You won’t notice any difference. If anything, it will be even better as there’s quite a few efficiencies taking place which will mean you’ll get your stock quicker. In any business, there’s changes you can make, but I don’t want to make change for change sake.

The feedback so far has been lovely. A number of people called Gaye last year to wish her well on her retirement, and a number of people called me to congratulate me. It was quite humbling in that regard, because we’re just going about our jobs trying to provide really fantastic product and fantastic customer service and if customers like what we’re doing, that’s great!

For more on Lisa, see below.

Eyes Right Optical facts

  • Founded in 1992 by Gaye and David Wymond, now retired, though still directors and shareholders, and members of the Wymond Family Business Advisory Board, chaired by independent advisor, Laura Birley
  • Employs 30 people
  • Managing director, co-owner: Mark Wymond (see above)
  • National brands and business development manager, and joint co-owner: Lisa Wymond. Lisa joined Eyes Right in 2010 at age 23 after working at high-end optometry practices and as a merchandiser for 13 clothing brands across Myer and David Jones, including sales representative for Jump women’s wear. She started as sales rep for Victoria and became one of the company’s top reps before taking on the national brands role in 2017.
  • A member of Family Business Australia
  • Eyes Right brands: Prodesign, Face à Face, WOOW, Lightec, Koali, ÖGA, Nomad, Marius Morel, Dana Buchman, Kensie, Timex, TMX, Zac Posen and Vera Wang
  • Owner of Modstyle, established in 1981 and bought by Mark and Lisa in 2016. The company includes four house brands, Avanti, Eclipse, Kaleyedoscope and My Style, and Danish brands Inface and nifties
  • Represented in New Zealand by MSO (Prodesign, Face à Face, WOOW, Koali, ÖGA, Dana Buchman, Kensie, Timex, TMX, Zac Posen, Vera Wang and Eclipse for Modstyle) and CMI Optical (WOOW, and Avanti and Kaleyedoscope for Modstyle)
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