Optical specialist Vision Express has hired former Greene King and Sainsbury’s director Jonathan Lawson as its new chief executive.

Lawson, who will join the retailer in May, was most recently managing director of local pubs at Greene King. Prior to that he was retail operations director at Sainsbury’s convenience business.

He replaces Bryan Magrath, who left late last year, and will report to Tim Moyles, vice-president of Vision Express’s parent company Grand Vision Group.

Lawson wants to build the brand and said: “The optical market is highly competitive and has customers who demand the highest levels of value, service and quality - areas that Vision Express has focused on for many years.”

Vision Express is the third-largest opticians in the UK, with 320 stores, after being pushed out of second place by Boots Opticians, which swallowed up Dollond & Aitchison in 2009. Specsavers is market leader.

It is not clear what Lawson’s specific strategy will be at Vision Express, but it has some way to go to catch up with its rivals. Boots Opticians operates about 670 stores, and Specsavers has about 700.

A spokeswoman said Lawson will focus on Vision Express’s strategy to “achieve delivery of the best individual optical care in the UK”.

According to Retail Week Knowledge Bank, Vision Express adopted a more upmarket positioning when it was bought by pan-European group Grand Vision in the late 1990s. Retail Week Knowledge Bank director Robert Clark said it “focused on high service levels and a wide product range, while offering a genuine one-hour service”.

In its 2009 financial year, Vision Express reported pre-tax profits of £19.9m, up from £15m the year before. Turnover was £195m, up from £184m the previous year.

It kicked off a series of promotional initiatives last year, including a two-for-one deal on designer brands such as Hackett and Gant, and launched a click-and-collect service online.

Headhunter Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann placed Lawson at Vision Express, it is understood.