DOZENS of workers at an international optical manufacturing business are thought to have been made redundant after owners apparently failed to sell it as a going concern.
Technicians at the Blackburn laboratory of opticians Crown Eyeglass had been warned that their jobs were at risk in April when chief executive and founder Joseph Lee said he was struggling to save the business from closure.
The company, which once owned around 60 retail outlets across Britain and mainland Europe, sold its 12 national shops that employed 331 staff in May to competitor Vision Express.
Eight sites were closed, with services redirected to nearby Vision Express shops, while the four others, including one in the Iron Market, in Chorley, were rebranded in the move, retaining its three staff.
Dutch firm Hans Anders Retail Group acquired its international retail portfolio of 36 shops in Sweden and Spain, which traded under the name Direkt Optik in February this year. The company is thought to have ceased operations at its Blackburn manufacturing premises in Glenfield Business Park last Friday evening.
Last week directors of the company refused to comment, and yesterday director Kathleen Thompson would say only that Mr Lee, 81, and his son were ‘on holiday’.
A man at the offices, who declined to be named, confirmed that Crown Eyeglass technicians were no longer working at the laboratory.
In April Mr Lee, 81, said the business which he owned with son Martin Lee was no longer able to compete with the low-cost price of glasses offered by Chinese manufacturers.
Crown Eyeglass had been at the forefront of eyewear manufacturing since it opened its laboratory in Glenfield Business Park in 1984, and was one of the pioneers of affordable eyewear.
Jack Straw, MP for Blackburn said: “It’s bad news for the staff, for the owners and for the area. I remember it being established and have watched it being built up by Mr Lee.
“He did a fantastic job, not just in terms of creating a successful company, but in doing something good for the community.
Coun Maureen Bateson, head of regeneration at Blackburn with Darwen Council said: “I knew they were likely to be closing and that staff would probably would be made redundant.”
CROWN EYEGLASS TIMELINE:
1984 - Crown Eyeglass was founded in Blackburn by Joseph Lee. Son Martin Lee later joined the business.
1992 - Established its first European retail store under the name of Direkt Optik in Sweden. European arm later grew to 38 stores in Sweden, Norway and Spain.
1996 - Share prices rose by 42% pushing it into 17th place in the Coopers & Lybrand Sharewatch regional league.
1999 - Large private stake bought in firm by unnamed investor who believed its shares had been undervalued.
2000 - Crown Eyeglass becomes a private listed company with shares at 90p each.
2006 - Won Gold Star Employer award for local companies signing up to a set of standards in the disability discrimination act and the borough’s employers’ charter scheme.
2001 - Its retail offshoot handed over two hundred pairs of ready-made new reading glasses in Bolton to a Vision Aid campaign to give glasses to people in developing countries 2012 - According to ICD Research, Crown Eyeglass had 254 employees and a retail portfolio of 14 British and 35 mainland European stores, and made an operating profit of just over £54,000 on turnover of £8.7m.
February 2013 - Its international arm, Direkt Optik, is bought up by Dutch firm Hans Anders.
April 2013 - Chief Executive Joe Lee announces he will sell, or close, the business after 29 years because of price cutting by Chinese competitors.
May 2013 - Vision Express buy the company’s 12 British retail outlets.