Vision Express has reported an uplift in underlying profits in its full-year results as it eyes acquisition opportunities this year.

For the full year to December 31, 2008, Vision Express reported that underlying profits were up from £15.6m to £18.4m.

The opticians did, however, reveal a slight dip in pre-tax profit – at £15m, down from £15.6m the previous year – as it factored in the costs of acquiring the 70-store regional chain GC Bateman, which were about £3.4m.

Vision Express chief executive Bryan Magrath said: “We had a very good year considering the current economic climate.”

He said that trade this year has been “up and down” as the industry has suffered from “February snow, a plague from [BBC business editor] Robert Peston and one of the worst Budgets ever”.

Low consumer confidence is hitting trade and recovery is difficult to call, he added.

Vision Express, owned by GrandVision, has modernised all the Bateman stores, which were made “wind and watertight” in about four weeks following the purchase.

“Bateman strengthens our brand in the south of England and the two chains were similar – both were upmarket and offered professional eye heath care. Bateman stores just needed to be brought up to the same standards as Vision Express,” said Magrath.

Despite difficult conditions the retailer is still hoping to open a minimum of 11 stores to add to its 329-shop portfolio and will consider additional acquisitions “if they are the right deals”, Magrath explained.

He said Vision Express’s unique selling point is quality eyecare and high-fashion products, which sets it apart from market leader Specsavers and next in line Boots Opticians, which this week completed its merger with rival Dolland & Aitchison (D&A).

Boots Opticians former managing director Pradip Patel has become chairman of the combined group and Andy Ferguson, former chief executive of D&A, is now managing director.