Corporate Optometry and the Independent OD
By Ian Davies, OD November 16, 2021
Corporate optometry is growing and it’s here to stay. Like it or loathe it, a combination of high and constant demand, excellent (in comparison to other retail categories) margins, and projections of increased demand all point venture capital equity towards investing in what they see as a relatively safe sector. Where the money flows, activity quickly follows. As companies look to buy up, or jointly franchise, with independent OD’s or simply invest in organic growth, corporate optometry will inevitably continue to grow.
It’s already happened in many other countries, in the UK 75% of the optometric business sits with just 6 companies. One company alone has 40% share of the category. Across Europe there is a further consolidation of the sector as major optical retail chains merge with each other, creating even more powerful companies. The capital to support these activities is global and as success is seen across the world, then the same investors look to the biggest optometric market, the US, and seek to expand the model.
Corporate optometry is growing and it’s here to stay. So, what can the independent do about it?
Well, let’s start with attitude. Accept it. It is here and it is not going away. Complaining that “things aren’t as good as they were in the old days” and “this isn’t the profession that I signed up for” is not going to help. In fact, every minute of thinking negative thoughts about the trend is a minute of time that could be spent on how to thrive with the trend wasted.
Corporate optometry works (investors wouldn’t fund it if it didn’t) and it does have some benefits. There are many young OD’s who like the security that it brings. Corporates hire young ODs and give them the early experience that they need to build their careers. Corporates also have the financial power to advertise and, while this advertising may grate with the independent OD, it has the power to ultimately grow awareness of the need for eye care.
The next point that the independent OD has to embrace is that they are not going to “win” against corporate by playing the same game. Corporate optometry has more financial muscle. Corporates can outspend the independent on advertising, have greater negotiating power with suppliers for lower costs and have the potential to negotiate state or nationwide deals with healthcare providers. The independent OD will never “win” on cost vs. the corporate. But the Independent OD has a secret weapon more powerful than any corporate optometric giant.
It is that they are the Independent Doctor of Optometry.
But to make this work for you, you can’t take it for granted, nor assume that your patients will understand the benefits that this brings. Unless you communicate it to them. In all business, branding is a key contributor to being able to add value (and revenue) to the customer (patient) interaction. Optometry is no different. It is important that you are very clear about the brand image you want your patients to experience in your office and then align every activity with that image.
It starts with you and your professional staff. Your patients should be very clear that they are coming to see a named individual, whose qualifications, experiences, and specialist interests are all made clear to them from the point that they 1st enquire about an appointment to the reminder letter for their next visit. A brief resume on your website, personalized interactions on social media, and personalized communications from you to your patients all develop a sense of exclusivity and personal connection between them and your office.
The same is true for your support staff. We’ve spoken before about the importance of hiring strong staff, now is the time to promote them. Your staff should have the same level of named visibility as you and your professional team. Be proud of the level of experience that they have and develop an almost evangelical approach to customer service. Everyone in the office needs to have the same desire to routinely exceed customer expectations, but to do so as a named individual, rather than a corporate entity.
This focus on your staff will also have the benefit of making them feel good about themselves and, the benefits of working with you, helping you to retain good people.
The most effective way of gaining new business is through personal recommendations. The independent is uniquely placed to maximize this opportunity. Recommendation cards can be printed with the name, and friendly professional photograph, of each of your professional staff to be personally handed out to patients at the end of the appointment. These can be presented with a script along the lines of: “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you and helping you see better. We do have a limited opportunity to welcome new patients to our office and I’d like to ask you to invite anyone who you feel would benefit from our service. You can let them have this card with our details on and I promise that we will make them feel very welcome.”
Finally, don’t forget that being independent means that you are just that, independent. You can choose the suppliers you want to work with and the products that you want to prescribe without any “direction” or “recommendation” from head office. This should be one of the communication points across all channels that you use to speak to your patients.
Corporate optometry is growing and it’s here to stay. The independent OD’s job is not to compete with it, but to offer a stand-alone alternative based on the personalized service that only they can offer. The good news is that eye care is a rapidly growing business and that there is room for both to thrive.
● Corporate Optometry will continue to grow as evidenced by many countries around the world.
● The independent can’t compete financially with corporate but should focus on the personalized and customized service they can offer.