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Home / Latest News / Specsavers co-founder calls on landlords to cut the rent for shops

Specsavers co-founder calls on landlords to cut the rent for shops

Specsavers co-founder Dame Mary Perkins has called for an end to “greedy landlords” who she said were a contributing factor to the growing number of empty shops on the high street.

Dame Mary, who met her Llanelli-born husband Doug Perkins at Cardiff University, said landlords need to be more realistic with rents if high streets are to survive.

The Specsavers co-founder also supports the idea of converting empty shops into accommodation in order to make more vibrant town centres rather than deserted streets after 5pm.

Speaking as she unveiled Specsavers’ 34th store in Wales at Talbot Green she said: “I know when the recession came in I said to people all we are going to do is bump along the bottom and for a long time I think that it what has been happening.

“It is not going to recover quickly, I’m pretty sure about that.

“In South Wales a lot of the manufacturing and industrial strengths keeping everything going so well have disappeared.

“I think we have to live in the real world. Regarding Specsavers we could see this all coming and we have always been there to be affordable for people.”

She said: “We have done very well out of the recession but I’m not looking for a quick climb out of it.

“People must make a concrete base to put things on and grow carefully rather than too quickly.

“It’s taking things steady and building on the little growth that’s there.”

The Specsavers co-founder said she has always supported a mixed use of town centres and added: “In places like Holland they have got a mix of shops and houses.

“Their high streets and town centres are not dead at night, they are quite fun places to be.

“People living in town centres keep them vibrant right through the evening.

“I wouldn’t want to see every shop being converted into apartments.

“There may be a few high streets that are not feasible but you still need shops and local communities.

“[Landlords] have got to be realistic with rents.

“We need free parking and better transport and business rates need to be looked at by local councils.

“Landlords should not be too greedy. For years and years rents have been going up and up but there’s no reason why they can’t be more realistic. Some of these rents may have to come down.

“It is better to have some money coming in than no money. Rather than landlords having empty shops, why not lower rents and make sure those shops are filled.”

Dame Mary also supports lowering corporation tax in Wales and said: “Everyone is looking at their outgoing and their costs.

“I think lower corporation tax would help tremendously. Any tax that’s lower would encourage people to start up businesses.”

On the issue of devolution she said: “I wouldn’t support complete devolution.

“On a more local level I think Wales could have a bigger voice on what is necessary to bring life back into the Valleys.

“Older people can remember what it was like in the 1950s, it’s very different now. To separate ourselves off completely from England would not be the way to go. I think that would be a bit of a struggle. It would be a struggle money-wise for Wales to go its own way.”

Dame Mary is originally from Bristol and trained as an optometrist at Cardiff University.

She and her husband built up Specsavers from one Bristol store into the largest chain in the south-west of England and Wales.

The couple spent some time touring the USA and studying how opticians operated there, before opening up the first Specsavers outlets in 1984 in Bristol, Bath and Swansea. The company now has 1,687 stores and operates throughout the UK and six European countries, as well as Australasia.

It operates a joint venture partnership model meaning each store is owned and run by local directors who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the store and the services provided.

Specsavers also now has over 400 hearing centres in the UK.

Looking to the future of the chain Dame Mary said she has no plans of retiring from the chain which now has more than 800 outlets across the UK.

She added: “It is built to carry on forever. Each store is owned by the resident optometrist. They own it with a retail partner.

“Every store is like that. All we do is make sure they are under the umbrella of Specsavers and have all the support services they need to run the business.

“People always ask me when I’m going to retire but I don’t know what else I would do.

“If you enjoy doing something and you do it every day then you don’t look at it as work.”

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