Friday, June 02, 2006

Nichola watches Kilcullen eyes

Nichola Kennedy is Kilcullen's newest professional enterprise, but she's had an eye on her business location for a decade.

Which really is a terrible pun on the Diary's part, because Nichola is an optometrist. The premises is the corner opposite the Hideout, formerly a hairdressers.

"I've been watching it since I did a business plan on it as part of my course when I was in my final year, but Kilcullen's population at the time was a little bit on the low side to make it viable."

Local from Mullacash, Nichola would look at the shop every time she passed it, still feeling that if it ever came available it would be a great spot for the business she had envisaged. "And then it did come up late last year. So I went for it, and it has all happened from there."

After qualifying ten years ago she worked in Carlow and subsequently in the UK. "I came back then and I've locumed ever since for both independent and multiple practices, which gave me a broad range of experiences."

She has lived in Castlemartin Lodge for the past four years with her husband, latterly with their 15-month-old child, and in setting up her own business she has signalled a faith in the future growth of Kilcullen.

"It is really beginning to bloom at this stage. Lots of young families are moving in, many of them have no allegiance to any town in terms of eye care. People want convenience, and everybody who has come in since I opened has confirmed that. They were going elsewhere because there was nothing here, but now there is."

Nichola agrees that the whole optometrist area has become very competitive, but that doesn't worry her. "It's a good thing, because it keeps you on your toes," she grins. And working as a locum made her appreciate that attention to detail and providing adequate time for her clients will be the keys to success in her own business.

"In some places where I've worked we were told how much time we had to do tests, for instance, and if you ran late that was tough luck -- you mightn't get out the door until eight in the evening. You don't get time to talk to people when it's like that. Every patient has different requirements, and you really don't get a chance to get to know them, and what they need. It can be very pressurised."

The move to setting up her own business did give her 'butterflies', but only up to the point when she opened her door. "I went through times when I asked myself what was I doing, was I putting a noose around my neck? I've been self-employed as a locum, but I was working for other people then and there was some kind of a guarantee that the work was there. To drop that income to nothing, and hope to God that somebody walks in the door, was scary.

"But all that disappeared on Thursday and Friday last week when people began coming in. Word of mouth has been great: I had planned for two appointments a day, but today I had five."

Given the changing demographic profile in Kilcullen, imminent changes in the way schoolchildren can get eye tests will also be helpful. At the moment they have to go through the health boards. That can mean delays, or otherwise their parents can pay to have the tests done privately. "But a recent report by the Competitions Authority recommended that they should be able to have their state-funded tests carried out by private optometrists, to take the pressure off the system, and that will happen."

The location of her new business at Kilcullen's only traffic lights is excellent, Nichola figures. "I couldn't have better exposure, could I? When people are stopped at the traffic lights, they have to look around them, and they can't miss me then."

Well, not unless their eyesight is already so bad that they should really abandon their cars at the lights and stumble right in.

Brian Byrne.