'Lucky break' saves Sheffield optician from Brexit ruin

A Sheffield optician says he would have gone bust due to Brexit - except for a lucky piece of timing.

By David Walsh
Friday, 12th March 2021, 3:44 pm

Karl Hallam, boss of EYEYE on Devonshire Street, says since January orders from Europe have been hit by extra costs and long delays.

They would have sunk the business but for a stroke of good fortune. He was able to use a break clause on his lease – after five years in the shop - and is moving to premises that are 80 per cent cheaper to run.

His story emerged on the day new figures showed in January imports from Europe were 28.8 per cent down and exports to Europe were 40.7 per cent down.

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Karl Hallam of EYEYE opticians.

A post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal came into effect at the beginning of the year. The Star has reported on a string of firms that face ruin or have moved operations to the continent.

Karl, who employs four, says a January order from the Netherlands still hasn’t arrived despite him paying a handling fee three times. A courier, the supplier and a port agency are ‘shouting at each other’ about it while the order is lost in ‘either Calais or Dover’.

Another time a UPS courier arrived at the premises with an order from Italy and demanded 56 euros to cover duty. Karl refused, but by the time he had paid online three weeks had passed and the customer had gone elsewhere.

A large order from Italy is in transit - the suppliers say it has definitely been sent - but no one is sure where it is. And another supplier who used to deliver weekly is now delivering big batches monthly, undermining EYEYE’s ability to offer unique frames.

EYEYE opticians on Devonshire Street.

Karl says 95 per cent of his frames are from Europe and they would arrive in two days. But now he is losing custom because of the delays.

And if it wasn’t for the break clause allowing him to get out without penalty he would have gone bust.

Now he is moving to Harland Works on John Street where rent and rates are vastly cheaper.

He said: “I think Brexit was misrepresented. I don’t think anyone voted to make trading more difficult and more expensive.

“This is more fundamental than teething trouble. The government needs to stop portraying Europe as the enemy and work out how to manage this situation.”

The company received a government support grant and a grant from Sheffield City Council which had helped him survive the firm’s worst ever year, he added.

A UK Government spokeswoman said they were running webinars and helplines.

She added: "We know that some businesses are facing challenges with specific aspects of our new trading relationship, and that’s why we are operating export helplines, running webinars with experts and offering businesses support via our network of 300 international trade advisers.

"Businesses in Sheffield can also benefit from our £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund to help small businesses adjust to new trade rules with the EU.

"Yesterday we announced that full import border checks will be delayed until 1 January 2021, to avoid any unnecessary risk to the UK’s economy as we recover from the pandemic."

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.