Faith, love, clear vision behind Bay power couple’s success
GIVING away 100 hours of work for free or spending $10,000 per person to put team members through training may seem like surprising business choices.
For Richard and Gwen Watt, however, it's all part of "the rent we pay for living on God's earth".
The optometry legends and loved Hervey Bay identities spoke to the Chronicle on the eve of Richard Watt Optometrist's 31st anniversary.
From its early days as one of the first established businesses on Main St to now, the couple revealed how their unshakeable Christian faith and love for each other underpinned their emergence as a Hervey Bay power couple.
While Richard's eponymous business has been a Bay fixture since August 1 1989, it was when his love story with Gwen started that things really took off.
The pair met later in life, marrying in 2007 when Gwen already had four children.
She was living in Gympie at the time and meeting Richard changed her life in more ways than she could have expected.
Not only had she found the love of her life but a new career awaited.
"I had no optical background at all. I was a mum of four but Richard found himself in a position back then where he had a lab tech that had been with him for more than a decade who was moving on just before Christmas," Gwen said.
"I said 'I reckon I can do this, I'm not afraid of a bit of hard work' and I jumped in."
Since then, Gwen has been an integral part of the business.
"The business has doubled in size since we met," Richard said.
"Prior to that, I was the boss and the owner and making all the decisions by myself.
"Then Gwen and I got married in 2007 and she's completely integrated herself into the business.
"Everything we do now, we decide as a team. That's really made a huge difference to having the right staff and choosing the right training for our staff."
The business now has seven permanent staff, with plans to add another optometrist and dispenser to the team.
They've already renovated and added a third consultation room, to make space.
Richard and Gwen insist every team member goes through a Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing and they foot the $10,000 bill for each person.
While the success of the independent optometry business amid the challenges of corporate giants dominating the space is undeniably impressive, it's their community involvement Richard and Gwen are proudest of.
"We're Christian people and part of that is we like to give back to our family, our staff, our patients and our community, based on the blessings we're given," Richard said.
"Despite the various challenges that have come our way in the past 31 years, we continue to do really well, prosper and grow.
"I think the Hervey Bay community recognises that we try to do our optometry job well but also try to be responsible to the community."
This commitment to the community has led to sponsoring organisations like Bayside Transformations and Dunga Derby, as well as football and AFL teams.
It was also the inspiration behind the Watts' school screening program.
The free service involves offering eye examinations at local schools, making the vital medical service available for children who may otherwise never have had a vision test.
"It's probably our biggest contribution back to the community, cost-wise," Richard said.
"It takes us out of the practice for 25 to 30 mornings. That's probably 100 hours of optometrist and staff time a year.
"We view that as a necessary service to identify kids that are struggling with their vision.
"If a child is struggling to see, their progress in school is going to be impaired. If we can identify problems at a young age, the impact on them going forward becomes huge."
The optometry business has become a familiar and reliable fixture in the constantly evolving Hervey Bay landscape and Richard says it all comes down to three simple words.
"The little motto I came up with for my business was 'honest, friendly, professional'," he said.
"That's been the compass we've done for everything we've done for the last 31 years and it also is the way we live our personal lives."