Lead Forensics

OPINION

Ask the Leader – Frances Rus, Managing Director of Duncan & Todd Group

24 Apr 2020

Duncan & Todd Group is Scotland’s best-loved chain of opticians, with 41 branches across the country. Managing Director Frances Rus, who joined the business back in 1984 as a trainee optician, took over the running of the company when the founders retired. She completed a management buyout in 2007, and has since transformed the business into a national player.

In 2018, Frances secured investment from LDC to fuel the next phase of expansion, creating a new audiology division and accelerating her ‘buy and build’ strategy. “We planned to make five acquisitions a year and ended up doing 16 deals in 13 months,” Rus says. ”This is just the beginning. We’ll be stepping up our game in 2021. If a good deal came up in England, I would now consider it.”

Did you consider a buy and build strategy before partnering with LDC?

Before I took over, the previous owners expanded the business through cashflow. They opened all their new sites from scratch, which was very successful in the north east of Scotland but less so in the south. People don’t tend to move opticians and may stay with one company their whole life.

Buy and build is the best – and safest – way to expand this kind of business. When LDC came on board, that gave me the ability to buy businesses while still investing in our infrastructure, manufacturing and team. They didn’t just want to fund the acquisitions but understood the need to prepare the business for that level of growth.

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When LDC came on board, that gave me the ability to buy businesses while still investing in our infrastructure, manufacturing and team.”
Frances Rus, Managing Director
Duncan & Todd Group

How have you delivered your acquisitive strategy with LDC?

We had tried to raise funds from banks previously, but they just didn’t understand our industry. When we buy businesses, the majority of what we are acquiring is goodwill, such as patient records. Banks struggle to fund deals like that as they find them hard to value. LDC not only got the model, they also gave me the opportunity to look at multiple deals at once – as well as much bigger deals. That could never have happened if I was just using cashflow.

How has the buy and build strategy helped create growth and or resilience in your business?

We now have 41 branches across Scotland, and our corporate eye-care business works with brands like Facebook and M&S across the UK. This is a really good model and highly scalable.

We always buy great businesses – never turnarounds. When we bring them in, we instantly switch to our internal supply of lenses, which brings economies of scale while improving the quality of our service for customers

The deal with LDC did more than fund buy and build, it let us invest in our lab and keep innovating. We just brought out some new anti-fog lenses and they are flying out the door.

What advice would you give to anyone considering private equity?

Make sure you pick the right private equity partner that truly understands your business.

When we are looking at a new acquisition, the owners have often been running that company for 30 years or more. If you go in hard with legal jargon and warranties, you scare them off. LDC understood that and we manage the process so that everybody gets what they need.

LDC is sharing inspirational stories from its current and past portfolio company leaders to mark 40 years of backing ambitious businesses across the UK.