Dublin's largest independent opticians chain MacNally has been put into examinership following a hearing at Dublin Circuit Court on Thursday.
The chain, which employs 24 staff and has stores in Clondalkin, Swords, Malahide, Sutton and Navan, sought the protection of the courts after racking up losses of €4 million.
The court was told the group had run into difficulties on foot of increased competition and several changes to the running of the business, which had seen turnover effectively halved between 2015 and 2018. It also resulted in the closure of stores in Stillorgan and Liffey Street.
Examinership gives the company protection against its creditors for up to 100 days as it attempts to restructure the business and formulate a survival plan.
Judge Jacqueline Linnane granted the motion for the appointment of examiner Myles Kirby of Kirby Healy Chartered Accountants to Donal MacNally Opticians and related company Von Opticians, which operates the Navan branch.
Barrister Ross Gorman, representing the company's owners, said the group had incurred trading debts of €621,000 and had a modest liability to the Revenue.
Its most recent set of accounts, however, show Donal MacNally Opticians had “retained losses” of €4 million at the end of 2017 while Von Opticians owed the former entity €338,254.
Mr Gorman said the company’s financial position had suffered as a result of recent changes to the business, including a decision to reduce the number of opticians, which led to reduced eye testing services, and to stop selling contact lenses.
At one stage, it had 39 opticians and sales assistants but this has been reduced to 24.
With assets of just €40,000 on a wind-up basis, he said the cost of liquidation would result in no creditors getting paid.
The company has six main creditors, the largest being director Ian Tighe, who is owed €1.1 million on an interest free loan he gave the business.
Mr Gorman told the court that a former director, Jed Dowling, had taken over the running of the business from Mr Tighe in a deal worth €2.7million in 2016 but that Mr Dowling had resigned as managing director late last year.
Mr Tighe has since returned to running the business and has been working on a plan to return the stores to profitability, Mr Gorman said. The company had “good prospects” and was capable of trading its way out of difficulties, he added.
He also produced a letter from a prospective investor, Jai Kudo, a UK-based ophthalmic lens distributor.
Judge Linnane granted the motion placing the business into examinership and gave examiner Myles Kirby until April 3rd to come up with a survival plan.
She said the scheme of arrangements would have to pay dividends to the historical creditors and ensure the company had a reasonable prospect of survival.
"My role is to try and find an investor and restructure the business," Mr Kirby later told The Irish Times. He said he was confident there would be no job losses.
Donal MacNally Opticians has been operating in Dublin since 1960. There are other MacNally opticians trading in Dublin, which split off from the main group and which are not part of this examinership process.