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HomeminewsDoug Perkins Aims to Change the Meaning of ‘Independent’

Doug Perkins Aims to Change the Meaning of ‘Independent’

Doug Perkins, the founder of Specsavers, the company that has so aggressively entered the Australian retail market, has caused consternation within the optometry industry with his recent definition of ‘independent’. Towards the end of a lengthy question and answer session with journalist, Amanda Gome from business website Smart Company, entitled ‘Specsavers Clear Vision’, Mr. Perkins was simply asked: “Is the independent optometrist dead?”

His brief answer was: “Every single group across Australia is either owned by financiers or is owned by manufacturers. So we’re the only independent optometrists grouping across Australia.”

“In making this statement is Doug Perkins displaying arrogance, ignorance or simply trying to unsettle the industry?” one bemused optometrist commented…and it was typical of much of the reaction from within the industry.

If Mr. Perkins believes Specsavers is the “only independent optometrists group across Australia”, then he has totally changed the meaning of the word ‘independent’ and has either dismissed, ignored or isn’t aware of every other ‘independent optometrists grouping across Australia’.

However, Charles Hornor, Specsavers Australia Commercial Director stated he believes Mr. Perkins simply meant to say “Specsavers offers a home for independent business owners under the Specsavers franchise” and it is “the only operation of its type in Australia”.

Mr. Hornor went on to say “he (Mr. Perkins) meant to say … he sees Specsavers as part of the independent sector because Specsavers (neither the franchisor nor the stores) is not owned in any way by financiers or manufacturers. Specsavers (the franchisor) is a private independent company and all Specsavers stores are independent business owned by the people that run them – the optoms and dispensers.”

‘Independent’ is Evolving

The meaning of independent optometry has always been open to interpretation. Discuss this topic with an individual practitioner and they’ll tell you it’s more about clinical independence than ownership. The key point to them is not the issue of legal entity/ ownership but the philosophy and business principles – whether the optometrist is able to make clinical decisions that are not excessively constrained by financial pressures.

Andrew Harris, President of the Optometrists Association of Australia (OAA) said last August in an interview in mivision, he believes the meaning of ‘independent’ when it comes to optometrists must now be re-defined.

“You really have to be part of a group to have a bit of muscle in the market place,” he said.

“As the corporatisation of optometry in Australia and New Zealand continues, so does the changing nature of what we understand the meaning to be of an ‘independently owned optometry practice’.”

To that end, we could re-define an independent as someone who ‘owns the brand of their business and is not managed or owned by another company. An independent has buying and clinical independence and can also have access to the benefits of a buying group.’

This explanation is somewhat different to the meaning of ‘independent’ as defined by Specsavers boss Doug Perkins.

Estimate of Australian Optical Outlet Ownership

In Australia there is reported to be 2800 optical outlets or ‘doors’, of which (as at 1 March) we estimate 780 are owned by small to large corporations; 348 are jointly owned/partnerships/licensees/franchise partners or franchised stores and 1668 are independently owned. In total, Luxottica retail continues to expand with a total of 592 optical stores (OPSM, Laubman & Pank and Budget Eyewear). Specsavers is up to 160 stores in Australia, followed by Just Spectacles (57); Optical Superstore (56); Blink Optical (46); Eyecare Partners (40); Paris Miki (31); Merringtons (23); Icontact (23); National Pharmacies (22); 1001 Optical (20); Woolworths Big W Vision (14); Optical Warehouse (10); LensPro (8), with the health fund backed dispensaries and Terry White Chemists making up another 30.

To date there are 594 members of the major buying groups (ProVision 401 members, Eyecare Plus 142 members (incl. Eyecare Ptns) and Optipro 51 members, plus an undisclosed amount of members as part of the Optometrists Co-operative) leaving 1,074 unaligned independent practices. We have not included Optovision as these members may be members of the above groups.

As independent optometrists improve their value proposition and execute it effectively, there is no question their businesses will not only be successful, but thrive, in this competitive market.

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