How I changed the contact lens market … twice. It’s hard to believe that, some 20 years ago, a soft contact lens cost £50 (Which? report September 1991) and had to be cleaned each day. Many people took out special insurance to cover the cost of the loss or breakage of a lens and the plumber was often called if one was lost down the sink! Football and rugby matches were sometimes disrupted while a player searched for a dislodged lens. All that changed with my launch of the world’s first daily-disposable in 1993. This cut the retail cost from £50 to 50 pence a lens. Then in 2006 we cut this to 15 pence delivered to your home or office following my launch of the world’s first internet based direct-to-wearer-from-laboratory supply (April 2006) using http://www.daysoft.com Over 400 million daysoft lenses have been sold via the internet and we ship 2,000 Orders each day to contact lens wearers around the world, all designed and produced in our modern laboratory in Scotland. Yes, all made in Great Britain. We also supply European Optical Multiples and some UK independent Opticians, so we have great cross-referencing of product acceptance between ‘traditional’ sales to our internet sales.
The story. On 5th August 1992 I was invited to the London offices of the BBC. The full BBC interview is on this link https://ronhamilton.co.uk/about-ron-hamilton/bbc-world-service/ They wanted to interview me on why I was claiming that I could cut the cost of a soft contact lens by 99%. At that time two soft contact lenses cost £50 each and required daily cleaning … an expensive, time-consuming and largely ineffective process suffered by all soft contact lens wearers. I was claiming that two lenses of at least similar quality could retail for 50 pence each and would require no cleaning solutions because, at that price, it was more hygienic and as cost effective to ‘wear for a day’ then throw them away. We had, I stated, invented daily-disposable contact lenses and we wanted to scale up to produce 10s of millions of these new lenses a year. I was very apprehensive about making this global proclamation on the BBC because, at that time, the process I and my business partner, Bill Seden, had developed and patented was still just a small-scale process operating in my back garden in Hampshire, England where the pictures(right) were taken. We had installed a moulding machine in my back-garden ‘annex’ and the picture was on my 50th birthday with Bill, his wife Marilyn and my wife Moya. If we had got the technology wrong or my costings were inaccurate I was going to look a bit stupid. Many people in the industry were hoping we would fail; especially those making cleaning solutions! However, the interview sparked interest and before long I had secured support and interest from Professor Nathan Efron of UMIST and the BOOTS Opticians chain. With those endorsements we were able to raise some modest venture capital funding and with Regional Development Funding Award we had just enough to start our full-scale AWARD factory situated in Scotland.
So, in September 1993 the world’s first daily disposable lens was ready for volume sales via BOOTS and around the world. We called the company AWARD and the lens, rather pretentiously, ‘Premier’. Bill and I had left highly paid jobs and invested in a technology no other company thought possible. We had relocated family some 400 miles north and worked 24 hours a day for years. When, in early 1996 Bausch and Lomb, the world’s biggest eye care company, having failed to develop a suitable process technology themselves, asked for distribution rights we said “why not buy the company instead”. . . and they did, in February 1996. B&L went on to build a workforce of over 1,200 in Scotland but then rather unceremoniously move it all to Ireland. Billions of daily-disposable contact lenses using the process technology developed in my back garden have been sold. Bill and I went our separate ways being financially independent and promising not to compete with B&L for 5 years! But then I heard about something called the Internet.
The world’s first (and only) Internet based contact lens manufacturer
In 1998 Moya and I visited the US to learn more about this ‘new-thing’ called the internet!. Here was a new technology which I reckoned could cut the cost of lens supply, just as we had cut the cost of manufacture. So we took a 15 year lease on a new, empty, building (picture right) and set about building a new technical team, developing a new process technology and designing a new lens. It was 5 year to the day, on the expiry of my non-compete, daysoft was launched. Our first lens cost us £2 million!
Our goal was to supply daily-disposables at half the cost of any other, that is, to cut the cost for a lens from 50 pence to under 20 pence delivered anywhere in the word.Today our laboratory employs over 200 and sells millions of lenses every month and 2,000 Orders each day. If you are one of our many customers I would like to thank you for your support and for helping us make another dream come true.