Workers at Blackburn optical firm face uncertain future

Joe Lee, chairman of Crown Eyeglass PLC, with his Rolls Royce at Glenfield Park, Blackburn, in 1997

The Duke of Kent has his eyes tested by Gerry Curtis, left, opthalmic product manager, watched by, from left, finance director Martin Lee, director Harold Stonefield, and Joe Lee

Joe Lee at Contimans in 1981

First published in News Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

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.

Comments (14)

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12:51pm Tue 2 Jul 13

desperatelyneedsajob says...

Wasn't just the techncians - all the accounts and admin staff have gone too!!!! And, what a joke about getting a good redundancy package - government minimum was all that was paid. Couldn't even be bothered to contribute to a leaving party either. Say no more!!!!
Wasn't just the techncians - all the accounts and admin staff have gone too!!!! And, what a joke about getting a good redundancy package - government minimum was all that was paid. Couldn't even be bothered to contribute to a leaving party either. Say no more!!!! desperatelyneedsajob
  • Score: 2

4:52pm Tue 2 Jul 13

M.DANNY says...

They are made so cheaply in China and India that company could not compete at time of online shopping that China and India could ship it more cheaply than the one in UK.
They are made so cheaply in China and India that company could not compete at time of online shopping that China and India could ship it more cheaply than the one in UK. M.DANNY
  • Score: 2

9:00pm Tue 2 Jul 13

willie eckerslike says...

very sad about the people who have lost their jobs, as they are skilled in opticals, then maybe they could apply to eye cee eye.
very sad about the people who have lost their jobs, as they are skilled in opticals, then maybe they could apply to eye cee eye. willie eckerslike
  • Score: -2

9:27pm Tue 2 Jul 13

modan says...

willie eckerslike wrote:
very sad about the people who have lost their jobs, as they are skilled in opticals, then maybe they could apply to eye cee eye.
They could apply for the same jobs in China and India ? salary £400 a month plus food and flat.You might afford a small car or motorbike,tv ,cook and hosemaids too.
[quote][p][bold]willie eckerslike[/bold] wrote: very sad about the people who have lost their jobs, as they are skilled in opticals, then maybe they could apply to eye cee eye.[/p][/quote]They could apply for the same jobs in China and India ? salary £400 a month plus food and flat.You might afford a small car or motorbike,tv ,cook and hosemaids too. modan
  • Score: -2

9:50pm Tue 2 Jul 13

willie eckerslike says...

desperatelyneedsajob wrote:
Wasn't just the techncians - all the accounts and admin staff have gone too!!!! And, what a joke about getting a good redundancy package - government minimum was all that was paid. Couldn't even be bothered to contribute to a leaving party either. Say no more!!!!
sounds like thank you and goodnight .
[quote][p][bold]desperatelyneedsajob[/bold] wrote: Wasn't just the techncians - all the accounts and admin staff have gone too!!!! And, what a joke about getting a good redundancy package - government minimum was all that was paid. Couldn't even be bothered to contribute to a leaving party either. Say no more!!!![/p][/quote]sounds like thank you and goodnight . willie eckerslike
  • Score: -1

11:38pm Mon 15 Jul 13

Overbend03 says...

Discrace pulled a fast one behind all the employees backs good redundancy he said what a joke 1 weeks pay for every year dont know how he could show his face wrecked loads of innocent peoples lifes we be ok he told everyone yes he was when he naffed off in his brand new rolls royce to go on holiday you should be ashamed of yourself old man!
Discrace pulled a fast one behind all the employees backs good redundancy he said what a joke 1 weeks pay for every year dont know how he could show his face wrecked loads of innocent peoples lifes we be ok he told everyone yes he was when he naffed off in his brand new rolls royce to go on holiday you should be ashamed of yourself old man! Overbend03
  • Score: -1

11:49pm Mon 15 Jul 13

Overbend03 says...

extremely bad management thats why the place got sold out nothing else bleeding it dry for years hope there happy now
extremely bad management thats why the place got sold out nothing else bleeding it dry for years hope there happy now Overbend03
  • Score: -1

7:38pm Tue 16 Jul 13

dave63 says...

this is his 4th holiday this year
he did not say good bye to any of his staff
and on the last day they was no directors in or mr lee or son
and he buy his parts from China so he did not help in jobs in uk and most got pay on min wage so he made his money out of his staff

but most have got jobs now only a few who not
this is his 4th holiday this year he did not say good bye to any of his staff and on the last day they was no directors in or mr lee or son and he buy his parts from China so he did not help in jobs in uk and most got pay on min wage so he made his money out of his staff but most have got jobs now only a few who not dave63
  • Score: 0

8:10pm Tue 16 Jul 13

desperatelyneedsajob says...

Only a few who haven't got a job??? - i'm one of them after 25 years
service and now the government expect me to live on minimum wage!!!!
Only a few who haven't got a job??? - i'm one of them after 25 years service and now the government expect me to live on minimum wage!!!! desperatelyneedsajob
  • Score: 0

6:51pm Wed 17 Jul 13

dave63 says...

most on the uk live on minimum wage I have for last 16yrs at crown eyeglasss so no hardship for me
I on the dole now looking for work
most on the uk live on minimum wage I have for last 16yrs at crown eyeglasss so no hardship for me I on the dole now looking for work dave63
  • Score: 0

10:42pm Wed 17 Jul 13

Kperk1 says...

Few of the management sucked there way to the top now there at rock botto blame yourself !!
Few of the management sucked there way to the top now there at rock botto blame yourself !! Kperk1
  • Score: 0

10:55pm Wed 17 Jul 13

desperatelyneedsajob says...

Some of us just got far by working hard!
Some of us just got far by working hard! desperatelyneedsajob
  • Score: 0

9:25pm Wed 24 Jul 13

Joker1 says...

What a sad time for genuine employees who worked hard for the business but what a massive joke that 1 former employee has brought Back crown eyeglass from the ashes ha a close friend of mine worked there for 25 years he said the so called person in question was given everything on a plate from the owners from machines to cars he only paid around ten thousand pounds for the lot turned the place inside out so why did he scrounge nine thousand pounds from the government discrace
What a sad time for genuine employees who worked hard for the business but what a massive joke that 1 former employee has brought Back crown eyeglass from the ashes ha a close friend of mine worked there for 25 years he said the so called person in question was given everything on a plate from the owners from machines to cars he only paid around ten thousand pounds for the lot turned the place inside out so why did he scrounge nine thousand pounds from the government discrace Joker1
  • Score: 0

11:09pm Wed 24 Jul 13

desperatelyneedsajob says...

I could name him!
I could name him! desperatelyneedsajob
  • Score: 0

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