Shirley Lai knows she is making the right decision to sell her successful Western Australian store in Belmont Forum. We caught up with Shirley, to explore why she became an Audiology partner, her store at Belmont Forum which is now available for partnership, and why this is the beginning of a new chapter for Shirley with Specsavers.
After completing her university degree, Shirley found out that her grandfather had been diagnosed with an inherited hearing disorder and was severely deaf. Although he had been prescribed hearing aids, he often didn’t wear them. When he did, Shirley realised there was an instant sense of connection and communication.
“Audiology intrigued me as I knew I wanted a career that helped others and when I investigated audiology as a profession, I realised it ticked all the boxes. I know it sounds quite cliched – but helping people and making a difference to people’s lives is important to me,” she says.
“Sometimes people forget how essential communication and connection is for mental health, and in these current times, it’s particularly important.”
Prior to joining Specsavers, Shirley says she struggled with the amount people had to pay for hearing aids.
“Ethically pricing is an issue for me. Hearing aids are a medical device to help people, and they should be affordable for everyone.”
She admits that at first, she was sceptical about the Specsavers model. After seeing the difference Specsavers were having on the industry, and understanding the products on offer, she said it was an easy decision to join Specsavers.
“The Specsavers partnership model and all the support that is provided by the team, made it easy for me to make the transition to business owner easily and quite quickly,” she says.
“I opened up Belmont Forum and at the same time, I took on the Yokine store. I spend 3 days a week at Belmont Forum as the partner, and manage the Yokine store for 2 days a week.”
“During these tough COVID times, my partner and I have decided to relocate back to Victoria to be with our family, so I will be leaving Western Australia and my stores. I will be selling my Belmont Forum store as I will be looking at partnership opportunities in Victoria.”
“Essentially, I still want to stay with Specsavers. My whole plan is to grow my businesses, build a cluster and run them until the day I retire.”
Whilst she will be sad to leave her Belmont Forum and Yokine communities, she knows that audiology professionals considering buying the store will soon realise it’s an exceptional opportunity – one which they will not regret.
“Belmont Forum and Yokine are lovely communities, and everyone who works in these stores wants to help others. The Belmont Forum store is an established store with a loyal customer base. Many customers have been with us from the beginning and some even dropped off gifts when I was pregnant.”
“Many customers have come into the store not expecting that they would have any hearing issues. We’ve picked up infections, wax conditions and assisted customers with serious health conditions, such as strokes and cancer, who didn’t realise that their health issues had actually affected their hearing.”
“Some other customers have come instore to price compare, and we’ve been able to save them thousands of dollars,” says Shirley.
Her store at Belmont Forum is a large store and expansion is on the horizon to include a sole-use audiology room. She has also recently hired an Audiology Assistant to work across both stores to help support the growing business.
When reflecting on the support provided by the Specsavers team, Shirley shares:
“I really appreciated all the support Specsavers provided for my maternity leave. They prioritised finding cover for both stores, and I never felt pressured to come back to work. In fact, the team made returning to work a breeze. If I needed to do reduced hours they responded positively with ‘we’ll make it work for you’.”
“Plus, the way that COVID has been managed by Specsavers has been incredible. Plans were put in place quickly and effectively and these were communicated to all partners promptly. They made sure that we had time to essentially triage our appointments and see customers for care during lockdown. I am also happy to report that despite COVID lockdown, both my businesses have continued to grow year on year”.
Thinking back on her time at Belmont Forum, Shirley recalls one customer, in her forties, always in denial that she had hearing loss. Eventually her friends insisted she come in for a hearing check.
“We fitted her with hearing aids, and they have completely changed her life, for the better. She is no longer tired at the end of the day, and according to her customer – now knows her housemate is stealing her food, because she can now hear the wrappers crinkling.”
Over the coming weeks we will be working closely with Shirley, supporting her move to Victoria, and seeking expressions of interest for audiology professionals to take on her stores in Belmont Forum and Yokine.