Opportunities & Options for New Optometrists

On the evening of March 29, young Canadian Optometrists and Optometry students will gather simulataneously online and in person for a unique hybrid event. The event will be live at University of Waterloo, School of Optometry and Vision Science and livecast via ZOOM to an online domestic and international audience. Click here for more information about this event.  The event is co-presented by Bausch + Lomb Canada and Eye Care Businesss Canada.

Optometry Students and recent graduates will hear from both industry experts and recent graduates about their various career experiences, exposing the young ODs and students to the opportunities and options that are available to them. The evening will be co-hosted by NextGEN OD ambassadors, Jenny Lee (OD-4 UW) and Nyah Miranda (OD-1 NECO).

The live portion of the event will begin at 7:30 PM (EDT) with light fare/refreshments. The remote attendees will join in at 8:00 PM for the guest presentations (See details here). The presentations will be followed by a  Q&A session and prize raffles for attendees. Nearly $1000 of value prizes will be awareded.

Interested persons should reserve their place soon as soon as possible due to space limitations for the live event.  There is no cost to attend, but available reservations will be made on a first-come first serve basis.

Other sponsors of the event include FYidoctors, IRIS Group, Bailey Nelson, ROI Corporation, Eye Recommend and CRO (Clinical & Refractive Optometry).

Registration is now open for both the live and online event. See you there on Wednesday March 29th.



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Eyecare professionals who want to start a business but are hesitant to go it alone can opt for a hybrid solution: franchising. This business model allows you to rely on a solid partner while remaining the owner of your business.

In Canada, franchises are the twelfth largest industry and employ about one in eight workers. “Franchises are found in most economic sectors, including the optical industry,” says Kenny Chan, Vice President, Content & Marketing at Canadian Franchise Association (CFA).

A number of companies, such as Pearle Vision, Specsavers, Kanda Optical and the Eyeglass Warehouse, are using a franchise structure. “It’s a good business model for an entrepreneur who wishes to start their own business, with the help of a partner,” says Chan. “They can use the intellectual property of a well-established brand and benefit from multiple services, while remaining the owner of their business.”

However, the franchisee must adhere to certain rules or standards. The franchisor will generally require that products and equipment be purchased from specific suppliers and will impose certain standards to ensure that customers receive essentially the same service at each franchise location.

Financially, the franchisee must pay a franchise fee upon signing the agreement. Other start-up costs may also be required, such as construction costs, interior design, equipment purchases and inventory. After that, the franchisee must pay annual royalties for the use of the brand and for national advertising that is provided by the franchisor. Many other royalties can be added.

In exchange, the franchisee receives a range of services, from an integrated supply chain to marketing, accounting and equipment upgrades.

Investing in the Entrepreneur

Approaches and costs can vary between franchisors. Specsavers has had great success in recent years by covering the expense of building new stores rather than having the franchisees bear the cost. This approach requires an investment of $500,000 to $700,000 per store, according to Specsavers. The per store investment by Specsavers is not a loan, but the company obviously expects to pay itself back over the years through various franchise fees. Franchisees pay only $25,000 and receive the keys to their business. In April, the company announced a $25 million investment to open 50 franchises in Alberta.

“We know it might take 10–15 years to recoup this kind of investment, but it allows us to help a promising professional start his business,” says Mike Protopsaltis, Partnerships Director at Specsavers.

Such a gamble requires careful selection of the opticians, optometrists or retailers who will go into business under the British giant’s banner. “Our selection process is very thorough, and we are really looking for professionals with the mindset of an entrepreneur, and not of an employee,” says Mike Protopsaltis. The franchisee must be a good communicator and, above all, be passionate about their work. The franchisor expects customers and associates to be treated with great care and attention.

A Hybrid Model

IRIS The Visual Group is gradually shifting its former franchise formula into a partnership approach. “Our new model is very similar to the franchise model, but the ownership of the business is shared between IRIS and the eyecare professional,” explains Dr. Daryan Angle, Vice President of Business Development. IRIS and the entrepreneur create a corporate entity and sign a shareholder agreement. IRIS can own between 51% and 95% of the ownership, while the optometrist or optician can retain between 5% and 49%.

“Rather than paying a start-up fee, the entrepreneur buys a certain amount of stock in the business, which is priced according to the value of the business,” continues Angle. If the eyecare professional wants to break the agreement, they can sell their shares under certain conditions.

The eyecare professional is granted exclusivity in a territory. They must pay an annual fee for the use of IRIS services, which includes 3% of net sales for administration and 4.5% of net sales for national marketing. The entrepreneur must also invest at least 1% of net sales in local marketing. However, the local marketing expense can be made in any way the entrepreneur deems most appropriate for their market.

“We believe this model allows the ECP to use their entrepreneurial abilities to grow their business in his market, while benefiting from a ton of services offered by IRIS,” says the vice president.

Being Careful with a Commitment

Signing a franchise agreement is a very important decision for an eyecare professional. And it’s not always easy to get out. These contracts have a specific duration and are often accompanied by non-competition clauses. If an ECP leaves the franchisor, they may not be able to practice in the same territory for a considerable period of time. It is therefore important to understand what you are getting into.

Chanel Alepin, a lawyer in franchise and business law and a partner at Alepin Gauthier, points out that you should not expect to negotiate every aspect of such a contract. “In general, franchisors propose fairly standard agreements,” she says. “If you see several things you don’t like in an agreement, it’s probably because that franchise isn’t right for you.”

She advises prospective franchisees to never sign any document without reading everything and especially without consulting a franchise law professional. This even applies to the non-disclosure agreement, which franchisors often require at the beginning of discussions. “Make sure you understand all aspects of the agreement and don’t hesitate to ask questions of the franchisor and your lawyer,” she suggests.

She also suggests researching the franchisor. Is it a well-established company or a new one? Is its intellectual property, the greatest value of a franchise, well protected? Is it involved in litigation? How does its offering compare to other franchisors (entry fees, royalties, territorial exclusivity, etc.)? A good accountant knowledgeable in franchising is a valuable asset in this regard. Optometrists and opticians should also make sure that the franchise’s business model complies with the rules of their professional order.

“Above all, these entrepreneurs must ensure that they will be able to meet the financial obligations imposed on them by the franchisor, while remaining very conservative in their projections,” concludes Ms. Alepin. “It must be a win-win relationship.”


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Specsavers Storefront Canada

By Jean-François Venne

Specsavers recently unveiled its intentions for the Canadian market. The British optometry giant hopes to have more than 200 offices in Canada by 2024 and eventually have a presence in all Canadian provinces.

 Specsavers has begun in British Columbia, following the acquisition of Image Optometry last spring. “We’ve been talking with Image for a long time and we think their business is a great base for our Canadian venture,” says Bill Moir, General Manager of Specsavers Canada. “We like their values and people model, which fits well with our approach that values quality and accessibility of products and services.” 

 Two former Image Optometry stores were opened under their new Specsavers banner in November in Nanaimo and Coquitlam, with 14 more to follow by March 2022. The company also has a lab in British Columbia and may open more to support the company’s growth across the country.

 “We’ll be developing the B.C. market in the coming months, but we want to expand into all provinces eventually,” says Bill Moir. Canada is a relatively complex market, as the regulations governing eyecare professionals vary from province to province. But we are used to adapting to new jurisdictions.” 

 The company plans to grow organically first, allowing optometrists and opticians to join its franchise network, but also remains open to acquisitions. Founded in the United Kingdom in 1984, it now operates in 11 countries, serving more than 41 million customers.

 A Partnership Model
 “One of the things that sets us apart is that our stores are owned and operated in part by the optometrists, opticians and retailers themselves,” explains Bill Moir. We want to offer them a low startup cost and high quality support.” Each store may offer the services of an independent optometrist, but the product sales portion is jointly owned by an optometrist/optician or optometrist/retailer duo. The startup cost for a franchise is approximately $25,000 for each partner (so $50,000 per store).

Franchisees receive what Bill Moir refers to as “full service.” This includes, for example, management services such as marketing and accounting, IT and technology services or procurement. In particular, Specsavers plans to have an integrated supply chain for all its franchises. “We want eyecare professionals to be able to focus on their patient services, so we provide a lot of support,” summarizes Moir.

Specsavers has a history of becoming a dominant force in the countries it enters fairly quickly. It was founded just as Margaret Thatcher’s government was deregulating optical services in the UK. This allowed Specsavers to use advertising and marketing approaches previously prohibited in that country. Specsavers now has half of the market share in UK.

In Australia, the company opened 100 stores in 100 days when it arrived in 2008. It now has about 40% of the Australina market share.

Specsavers maintains that there is no truly dominant national force in the Canadian optical market. It sees this fragmentation as an opportunity to make their mark fairly quickly. They plans to invest heavily in advertising and marketing to become a major player in the Canadian optical and optometric industry.

 A major competitor
 The British company becomes a new competitor in a market that has seen the arrival of Bailey Nelson, Warby Parker, Mujosh and Oscar Wylee, among others, in recent years. Specsavers will certainly be a challenge for Luxottica (owner of LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut), New Look (which owns its own stores and also the Vogue Optical, IRIS and Greiche & Scaff chains), FYidoctors and their new acquistion, Bon Look, among others.

These competitors remain very discreet following Specsavers’ announcement.

As for the independents, it remains to be seen whether they will perceive Specsavers as a threat or an opportunity to join forces with as a new partner.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the head of one buying group called Specsavers’ acquisition of Image Optometry a “trial run” and recalled that independents are already competing with chains, many of which are in consolidation mode. He added that “customers continue to prefer the attentive service and care of an independent, locally involved professional who tailors his or her offerings to regional differences.”

Bill Moir believes that the Canadian market will benefit from the Specsavers model. “We offer high quality, affordable products and services, while at the same time providing an attractive partnership option for eyecare professionals,” he says. “Doug and Mary Perkins, optometrists, started their company with these two goals in mind and we think Canadians will like this approach.”  

Jean-François Venne is a freelance journalist based in Montreal. He has been covering news in the optical industry for over ten years.


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