Ever wondered How Corporate Optometry Marketing works?
I recently had a chance to interview Mark Overton from Ideology Consulting. He has the best understanding of Corporate Optometry Marketing of anyone I’ve heard!
Here is my favourite quote from Mark in our Interview:
“You don’t have to win the national battle…. as an optometrist, in Watsonia or in Melbourne
or an optometrist in Cairns, Queensland,
or an optometrist in Armidale, New South Wales.
You only have to be the best in your market,
in your local market, not the state market,
not the capital market, not the Australian market.”
-Mark Overton, Ideology Consulting
Learn more as Mark shares a ton of value in the interview video below:
Or you can read the full transcript below:
(Hint: looking for a keyword or topic in this article? Hit Control-F (Windows) or Command-F (Mac) and search for a keyword you’re interested in!)
(Leigh)- Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure to intro Mark Overton onto the show today and today we’re going to be talking about “How Corporate Optometry Works “. If you don’t know who Mark is, Mark’s been the director and principal consultant at Ideology Consulting for 10 years and he has both science and business qualifications and an extensive 30 years’ experience in both the public and private sectors, of healthcare especially, general management and consulting and professional service roles. And he’s got a wealth of experience to share. So, Mark, thank you so much for joining us today.
(Mark)- That’s a pleasure Leigh, thank you for asking me. It’s really good.
(Leigh)- That’s great. Mark, as independents, it’s easy for us to look at our phones or walk past a store in the shopping mall and see a corporate optometry practise very prominently displayed. But corporate optometry relies on having the systems in place. Could you tell us a bit about what are some of the systems that they rely on?
(Mark)- Sure. Business systems and business structure is a really interesting topic to talk about, and particularly in relation to some of the companies and organisations that are around at the moment.
But maybe if we can take a, just one step backwards a little bit and have a talk about the concept of competitive advantage, because competitive advantage is the essential essence in a business which allows that business to be able to deliver services better and differently and in a way that gives them an advantage in the market place. And the competitive advantage that a business has is why you have a business system. The business system is designed to deliver the competitive advantage and to make that a reality for the business and for the end users, the customers, and the staff and the suppliers and everyone else involved in the business, all of those stakeholders.
Competitive advantage is a concept which was thought of in the 70s pretty much. There was a definitive paper which was written in the Harvard Business Review by a couple of American university management professors, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, and it was called the Core Competence of the Corporation. And what their idea was, was that there are essential elements within a business, within a successful business, which allow it to do what it does in a way that nobody else can. One of the principal examples that they used in that paper was the 3M Corporation. The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. The 3M Corporation produces a range of products and a very broad spectrum of products, when you look at it superficially. They have videotape, when videotape was popular. They produced pot scourers. They invented the ‘post-it note’. They produce adhesives. They produce laminates and all sorts of different materials and all of those things tie together and the competitive advantage that the 3M Corporation has is surface technology. They are the world experts at sticking things to surfaces and taking things off surfaces.
(Mark)- That’s their gig. That’s what they love doing and people sit in laboratories at Minnesota, working all this stuff out, about how to use these things in different ways and adapt them. Every business has competitive advantages and core competencies that allow it to function and the businesses in the optical industry, OPSM for instance, a very large corporate clearly everyone’s familiar with, one of its core advantages is brand. They tie up a number of key brands, Italian fashion house brands, very fashionable and very popular and have exclusive rights to those and that gives them advantages in sales. Specsavers is a very interesting organisation. Specsavers, I think, has three competitive advantages and none of them relate, really, to optometry.
(Mark)- One of them is marketing. They are clearly experts at marketing. They have, in Europe they have a marketing cell which has won international awards for marketing year after year and they produce very good advertising and marketing and it makes me sick sometimes because I just kind of think…. not again, you’ve done it again, that’s brilliant. Yeah. So, marketing is one of them. Logistics is another competency for them. That’s one of the things that they are very good at. They’re excellent at sourcing product, from its site of manufacture in Asia, very cheaply, shipping it very efficiently across the countries, across waters, and shipping it out to their stores very quickly at very low cost. They are also supremely good at people management. There would be some discussion about whether that was, the different aspects of that and whether that appeals to staff and other people in the way that they do it. I’m absolutely certain of that. But no doubt there is a competitive advantage in people management and they are very good at bonding their staff into their systems and processes and making their staff feel like they’re part of the organisation.
(Mark)- And that gives them a lot of advantage in the market place. It’s why they’ve been able to expand into hearing and audiology because they’ve just deployed those three competitive advantages to a different product, different market, in a different clinical setting. It doesn’t matter to them because they can do that. So, coming back to business system. The business system is the internal structure processes, policies, procedures, that enable you to deploy those competitive advantages, to be successful in business and to, ideally, meet the needs and wants of the consumers, clients, patients, customers, whatever you refer to them as, who are coming to buy your product or service.
(Leigh)- Right. Yeah. So, their logistics and their marketing are top notch and they’ve been able to apply that, not only to optometry but audiology as well.
(Mark)- Correct, yes, yeah. They are opening audiology outlets in the Specsavers stores, progressively. It’s not the fast roll-out that they had with the optical stores. It’s a little bit slower. There are some fairly significant players in the audiology market already. And most of the large companies who produce hearing aids have got significant investment in retail, which tends to hold them back a little bit, but certainly it’s something that appeals to them and it’s high value and they can use what they’re good at to make that work for them.
(Leigh)- Right, absolutely. And would you say that Specsavers, they’ve got a pretty consistent message throughout. That’s one of their core strengths as well.
(Mark)- Yeah, I mean that’s a consequence of the marketing and the systems that they have. So, they’re very careful about how they put their messaging out into the community, how they roll out their marketing and they’re very consistent about the messages that come through with that. And they make sure that the staff in the practises and the executives and everybody concerned is all on the same page when it comes to communicating key words and key values. They’re really big on the values of the corporation. I was talking to a manager when they were acquiring, very early on, when they came into Australia, they were acquiring a practise, and the dispenser in the practise was a very good dispenser and I said to the manager you really need to look at that girl and make sure she stays because she’s bloody terrific. And he said yeah that’s great, but first we need to make sure that she’s a Specsavers person.
(Mark)- That was more important to them, that she was going to buy in to the system, than being a good dispenser. They could always do that. I’m sure dispensing skills are important- clearly they are because they’re investing a lot of money in it. So, their business system is very proscribed and most franchises will have a fairly proscribed business system. They have to be able to deliver those competitive advantages. If the franchises that are the end users of the system don’t comply with the system and with the policies and procedures and operations as they expect, then it will all start to fall apart. If their marketing is delivering a key message to a particular demographic at a particular area, and the store isn’t delivering the same goods and the same services in the way that it’s been designed by head office, there’s going to be a disparity between the customer expectations and what the store is delivering by way of service and product.
(Leigh) – Right.
(Mark)- Yeah, that’s a bad thing.
(Leigh) – Yeah for sure.
(Mark)- It does have compromises as well though, clearly it does. One of the advantages, or one of the important features of the optical industry, with our consumers, is that everybody wants something different. Everybody has a different approach to their own eye care. Everybody has their own perceptions, values, their own value equation. They’re all looking for individual things. And the business that can adapt to that and deliver that in the best way for that particular person is going to have a significant advantage. What a lot of the corporate businesses hope is that they have a product which is broad enough and acceptable enough to enough people that they won’t upset too many people and they will be able to cater for the majority.
(Leigh)- That makes sense.
(Mark)- Yeah. McDonald’s is the classic example. You may not get exactly what you wanted when you get a McDonald’s hamburger. If you thought about the ideal hamburger it’s probably not a McDonald’s burger but people still go in and buy it because they know what they’re going to get and it fulfils a need.
And it’s the similar thing with franchises in the optical industry, to a lesser extent. There’s clearly a lot more ability to customise and adapt, but not as much as an independent practise. So, the pricing structure and the models of spectacles and the lenses that are used in corporate stores, in franchises, are fairly proscribed. Whereas an independent can be intensely boutique for a person who wants that kind of service and then 10 minutes later can do two pairs for $199 or one pair for $150 for a pensioner who needs a budget option. You can be the budget provider one minute and the boutique provider five minutes later, that’s perfectly fine. And doable if you have a system that allows you to do that in independent practise.
(Leigh)- Yeah. The flexibility is really important. I just wanted to say a quick hello to Jeremy and Brad and Andrew. Thank you guys so much for joining us today.
(Mark)- Hi guys!
(Leigh)- And I wanted to, Jeremy’s put up a question and he was wondering whether, Mark, do you feel like Specsavers’ marketing message is changing over time, or that you’ve noticed. And do you feel like, yeah so let’s tackle that question. Do you feel like the marketing message is changing?
(Mark)- Marketing messages always change. The market is evolving and Specsavers is shaping that. Part of the function of a marketing programme for a company like Specsavers or OPSM / Luxottica or George and Matilda, whoever you want to call it, part of their marketing is to shape the expectations of consumers so you’re trying to modify their expectations, their needs and wants, before they actually come in, so that they more closely align with your product and your service. So, marketing is ultimately trying to do that. They’re trying to change what you think and people are very good at doing that and, to be honest, Specsavers have done that. I mean who hasn’t talked about the degradation and price perception with consumers, with patients. There’s a reason for that as well.
I mean price has always been important for consumers for a particular reason. It’s not about pure price. When I deal with, help clients, optometry practises, with their marketing, we set up a 12-month calendar of activity and the focus of that marketing changes. Sometimes it will be about product, sometimes it’ll be about something related to the consumer and a need or a want that they have. Sometimes it’s about the optometrists, and particular skills or attributes that that optometrist has. At the moment Specsavers, I think, is focusing quite a lot on clinical care because they’re wanting to underpin the role out of OCT and it’s important, as part of their product mix, that they’re able to put a big tick in that box of eye care.
(Mark)- It’s becoming more and more important for people, for the baby-boomer group of consumers. They understand about these kinds of things and they’re more keyed up and more knowledgeable about eye care and health. And one of the risks, as a consumer, and seeing an optometrist, is that you might not know a lot about what the optometrist does. Probably not much at all. So, you have to trust your optometrist. So, putting a big tick in that box for all businesses is important, for all optical practises. You got to let your patients know that you know what you’re doing. That’s a problem sometimes. Optometrists are not very good at blowing their own trumpets.
(Leigh)- Yes, we want to be humble and be approachable, but, yeah, the marketing’s, it’s just not something that we’re taught when we come out of optometry school.
(Mark)- I think you can be humble and approachable and still tell people that you’re bloody good at what you do too. I don’t think those things are incompatible necessarily. You don’t have to play Fanfare for the Common Man on your trumpet, you just have to give it a toot occasionally. With OCT, for instance, that’s being rolled out at the moment by Specsavers and they’re getting a lot of traction with that, they will do, and it’s being introduced as a new service. It’s not a new service. Independent optometry’s had OCT for a very long time, to differing levels of market penetration. What independent optometry hasn’t done is solved that core benefit to the patients that they look after. A lot of people would come in and have an OCT scan and not know that they’ve ever had one.
(Leigh)- Okay. So that’s both a function of being in the practise and not being just wowed by how amazing it is, as well as before, patients come into the practise, they’re not being talked about, they’re not being communicated to.
(Mark)- Yeah, with some people like OCT, it’s really important to get the message out to your patient base, to the community who you work with, that you have this amazing piece of equipment and that you, as the optometrist, know how to operate that and can tell them incredible things about their eyes. If you don’t sell that core value, that benefit that patients are going to get from that piece of equipment, and also from seeing you and getting the value from what comes out of your mouth, as a health professional, if we don’t put that out there strongly we leave a gap and then someone’s going to come and fill the gap and they have. Something that individual practises can still do with their local markets. And it seems obvious, like why would I be promoting OCT. I’ve had the damn thing for 10 years. But it’s something that you should be doing all the time, even retinal cameras. And many of the services that you do as optometrists don’t get the recognition and they don’t get the- they’re not seen as valuable by the patients.
(Leigh)- Yeah for sure. It is important that we can promote all of the great things that we do. Just going back to a question, or a comment from Peter, and he says that the marketing of independents is traditionally weak compared to corporates who have, who just seem to have the resources to pack a real punch. Obviously, the budgets that some of the corporates have are much larger than some of the local businesses but how much can independents use, how can they compete against those big budgets.
(Mark)- It’s a very good question that Peter asks and it seems like you’re really up against a significant force when you look at what’s deployed against you and the volume of messaging that’s out there. Strangely enough though, a lot of the spin that the corporates invest in marketing doesn’t benefit them. That’s because patients pick their supplier, their optometrist, their vision-care professional, for lots of different reasons. Some of it’s about marketing and it certainly will have an effect. They wouldn’t spend that money if it didn’t. But the mass media marketing that people like Specsavers, OPSM and other organisations do and have done, doesn’t always give them the direct advantage. Windows go away, it’s just decided it wants to restart. I’ll just tell it to go away, there we are. Yeah. For an independent practise, you’re probably not going to have to go head to head with Specsavers on a marketing budget. It’s simply unachievable, it’s never going to happen. One of the important things, and again, coming back to management professors, there’s a guy called Henry Mintzberg, an American fellow, and one of his famous quotes is all strategy is local. In the optical industry I think that is very true. That you don’t have to win the national battle, as an optometrist, in Watsonia or in Melbourne or an optometrist in Cairns, in Queensland, or an optometrist in Armidale in New South Wales. You only have to be the best in your market, in your local market, not the state market, not the capital market, not the Australian market. You can’t do anything about that.
So, when we put it into that sort of context, the marketing that you do doesn’t have to be national marketing. It doesn’t have to be broad channel, expensive newspaper, TV, radio advertising. There are some groups that do that. Groups like ProVision and Eye Care Plus, where they’ve organised themselves and have been able to accumulate funds through their business system to be able to deploy that. But they still tend to deploy it locally so they will do a programme of marketing on the Gold Coast or they will do a programme of marketing in Gippsland in Victoria, rather than doing a state-wide kind of marketing and that sort of thing.
Marketing, as an independent practice, can be a mix of using media channels, using all sorts of different forums, like local radio, like newspapers, like local TV if you have access to that kind of thing, in regional areas. But a lot of the marketing that you do, as a small independent practise or even a medium-sized independent practise, is direct marketing. And it’s marketing to particular niches and segments of your own market. People with particular needs. People with particular attributes.
So, you might decide that, in your area, there’s two or three cycling clubs. I remember when I was working at ProVision and I used to stay at Mooloolaba, on the foreshore, there’s a hotel there, and I’d get on the balcony at six o’clock in the morning and watch the sun come up and watch the prawn boats at Mooloolaba, it’s beautiful, but the number of people that were running up and down the foreshore and people on bicycles and there are so many niche segments in sport in that area you could be marketing to if you’re an optometry practise. You could look at the cycling clubs. You could look at the swimmers for prescription goggles for swimming. The list goes on and on.
When you pick targets like that it’s a fairly tightly-defined group of people and you know where they are. You know where they hang out. You know what they’re likely to want. You can get to them fairly economically through the clubs and the places where they associate. And that kind of marketing is cost-effective, it doesn’t cost lots of money, a few hundred dollars to instigate a programme. You might have to throw a bit of money at the club for sponsorship. You might have to do some product promotion, that kind of thing. You may have to turn up but a lot of what you do is actually hands-on labour kind of stuff. It’s about building relationships with the club people, the secretary. Go to the annual dinner. Present a prize. Be seen at the footy club on Saturday cheering on the local team. That kind of thing. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
(Leigh)- Absolutely yeah. And Peter said, go ahead and test the whole football team’s eyes and screen them after training and do a pre-season training session involving contact lens fits of your findings as well.
(Mark)- Yeah, yeah. When taking that example, that’s one thing I do a lot with the practises I look after and at particular times of the year and we’re coming up to a good time now with cricket clubs. So, the cricket season’s probably starting at end of September. So, now’s a good time to make contact with the coach and say hey, did you know that we know that 30% of kids in schools have vision problems. That’s fairly well documented now.
So, if you’re running a junior cricket team you can probably bet your life that 30% of your team, or somewhere around that number, have got some sort of vision problem. If that’s your wicket-keeper you want to sort that out. So why don’t you bring the lads down to the practise one evening, we’ll set up a specific evening, and we’ll do some tests on their eyes. And we’ll see if we find anything. And if we do then we’ll help them out, we can give you a deal on prescription sunglasses, so when they’re out in the field during the day in the middle of summer their eyes are protected. Or we can fit them with contact lenses and they can have Plano sunglasses and we can work all that out for them.
As Peter says, you can also do a presentation for the coaches and the cricket club staff about dealing with eye injuries. You can help them out with trials of contact lenses for the players that wear them, to go into the first-aid kit. So, they’ve always got a spare set of contact lenses for each player. You just label them and stick them in a bag and seal them up, so when Jim loses his contact lens you’ve got one in your first-aid kit for Jim. You don’t have to rely on him to bring it. But what’s more important with those groups, I think, is being part of the club and all of those junior cricket players have got mums and dads and nanas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and baby-boomer relatives and there’s all of the ex-players hanging around there on a Saturday afternoon. All the old guys who come down and watch the cricket because I used to play for the club 15 years ago. You got to get into those people.
So, when you test the kids’ eyes in the junior cricket club, in the junior cricket team, give them a bag of information to take home. Give them an offer for Mum or Nanna or try and get those people involved in the practise as well. And you could be talking, with a cricket team of 14 players, you could be talking about 100 flow-on relatives in the secondary market. That’s kind of an extended way of thinking about these things, yeah. You can chop up the market for your practise in enumerable ways. There are many ways of segmenting it by hobbies, sports, professions, jobs, location, all sorts of different things.
(Leigh)- Jeremy makes a really good point. He said that these strategies won’t work unless we want to go through with them and I think that seems to separate, it’s that intentionality of, as independents, the ones who thrive are the people who are the most intentional about approaching these groups.
(Mark)- That’s exactly right. In my experience there’s a direct relationship between actually doing things and success. Classic example. I have two clients at the moment who are at kind of polar ends of the scale. One’s struggling a little bit and we’re finding it really hard to get them moving because I’m having to push them all the time to get things happening. I’m constantly on the phone to the staff saying have you done this and have you done that. We sent them a form the other day to enable them to communicate better with their patients and I said to the dispenser have you actually used that and she said well I’ve got them on the desk and if anyone asks about it I’ll give it to them.
(Mark)- I’m like well, no, that’s not good. We need you to actively introduce the patients to this and talk to them about it and tell them why they should be interested in this. Cause if you don’t do it no one’s going to do it. On the other hand, there’s a practise in New South Wales which is incredibly successful and I will send them some marketing tactics and then ring up to see what they think about it and they’ve already done half of it. Yeah, they’re one of the best turnovers for an independent practise that I know of. And that’s why. We talk about competitive advantage. For independent optometry practises, in fact almost for every business really, but certainly for independent optometry practises, the capability to implement and to bring about change and to make it stick is an absolute must. You have to be able to do that.
(Leigh)- Just like some of the corporates, one of their core competencies, their strategic advantages are their logistics and marketing and others and they have to be good at those. Independents equally have to be so proactive as well.
(Mark)- Yeah, yeah. You actually have to be doing things other than opening the doors, turning on the lights, booting up your computer, seeing some patients and selling some spectacles. That’s clearly important, and you need to get that right, because that’s a fundamental function. If that doesn’t work you’ve got some work to do inside your practise, but you also need to be working on this other management stuff, because the game has changed. As a couple of people pointed out the intensity of communication and marketing has lifted by many, many factors over the last 10 years. And getting your voice out there, getting your message out there, is harder and harder because you have to cut through so much more noise. So many other people are trying to do the same thing that you are. So, you have to be smart, you have to be constantly at a, it doesn’t matter so much what you do, I’ve found, you’re better off actually doing something rather than doing nothing. Clearly that’s better if you’re doing anything related to marketing or relationship building. In terms of marketing, I have a particular name for it, I call it fungus marketing.
(Mark)- Yeah. Which is a bit interesting. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the good old mushroom. The mycelium, the plant part of the mushroom, when it’s in the natural environment, can cover huge areas of land. There’s one in the USA which covers about 15 acres of forest floor. Absolutely massive. But the mycelium itself actually becomes part of the environment. It infiltrates almost everything, the soil, the leaves, the roots of the trees. It gets all through the ecosystem. And the fruit that pops up are the mushrooms.
So, your job, as a marketer in optometry and particular in independent practise, is to be a mushroom. I know what Jeremy’s thinking right now. No, your job is to infiltrate your market to become part of the fabric of the environment, the community around your business. The organisation, it’s the systems, the people, the groups, the cliques, whatever it is, the companies, the government institutions. Infiltrate yourself into that and become part of that fabric and then the mushrooms will pop up and the mushrooms are the fruit, the benefit that you get from all of that. So that’s a simplistic way, a very general way of describing it. There are a lots of specific things that you need to do to make that happen.
(Leigh)- It sounds like a long-term relationship. It’s really investing, you’re getting to be part of the club, build the friendships and the connections with the kids, the parents, and the older members of the club as well.
(Mark)- All sorts of different people in all sorts of different ways. As many ways as you can really. And yeah, you’re exactly right, it is a long-term game. It requires persistence and dedication and planning and investment. You’re going to have to give up some of your personal time and you’re going to have to spend a bit of money on it but you also need all your staff involved in it as well. You can’t do it on your own. It’s one of the difficulties of optometric practise, I guess, is that you’re locked in a small dark room for 90% of the day and, apart from the person in front of you, your opportunities for networking are a bit limited.
But it’s certainly worthwhile setting aside some time in your week, if you can, just to wander down the street, walk into the local businesses and say hello, shake some hands, have a talk about what’s going on in the street. If you see the local real-estate agent sitting down at the coffee shop sit down with him and have a cup of coffee and chat about what’s going on in his business and tell him about yours. People like real-estate agents, accountants, lawyers, are good clients to have in your practise but they’re also consummate networkers as well. If you can get into the pocket and be good mates with the local real-estate agent it’s going to serve you well as a source of referrals.
(Leigh)- Absolutely. George made a comment that he still finds word of mouth advertising is better than anything else but I think he makes a good point that it’s really important that, as independents, that we really get to know our patients. That we really understand them and what they need so that we can serve them better.
(Mark)- That’s about your internal, again coming back to internal systems and processes and structure and what you do in your practise with that patient in that, the first five minutes, really, when they walk into the practise, is absolutely critical. Yes, word of mouth referral is vitally important as a source of referral. It has been for years, it will continue to be important. It’s the job of a practise to make sure that the person who you’re dealing with, the patient, walks out of that practise supremely happy with what you did and then when someone else has a problem, when a friend has a problem, coming back to that risk thing again, your patient will solve their friend or their colleague’s risk dilemma by referring you.
Most people don’t refer their optometrist because they love their optometrist. I have a great optometrist but I don’t go around telling everybody about her all day every day of the week. I just don’t do that, nobody does that. Well there are a small group of people who do that, they’re called active referrers. However, if you come to me and you’ve driven up to see me and your automatic transmission in your car breaks down and you want to know where to go, I’ll tell you to go and see George and Angelo down at Sims Road, because I know they’ll do a good job for you. I like George and Angelo, they do a good job. I’m not telling you that because I love George and Angelo, I’m telling you that because you have a problem, you have a risk situation. You’ve got an expensive repair to get done and you need to get it fixed by someone who is trustworthy and I know someone.
And that’s kind of the psychology behind word of mouth referral is that I’m telling you about my optometrist because I understand that you don’t know who to go to and you need to spend some money, and you’ve got an eye problem, and that presents a risk for you. So, here’s who I, I’m giving you a solution. I’m helping my friend. Also helping the optometrist which is a good thing.
(Leigh)- Yeah, yeah absolutely. So, with a corporate practise how critical is it that they know who their ideal patient or patients are.
(Mark)- Yeah it depends on the nature of the business. That’s a harder question to answer. I think a lot of the larger corporates; their market is so big and diverse that they could pretty much say well anyone is our potential customer.
(Mark)- I mean the volume of people that go through a Specsavers store or, ideally, an OPSM store, means that they’re going to see such a broad spectrum and part of the market that pretty much they can say well our market is everybody. Clearly, you’re not going to be able to tailor or have a product and a service and a business system and a value proposition for those people which suits everybody.
I get feeds from a couple of companies with advertising on Facebook and some of the comments that come in for the corporate optometrists are not particularly good but they expect that that will happen when you’ve got a system which doesn’t allow that ultimate flexibility and is designed to produce a particular product in a particular way through a particular system. There are always going to be some people who it doesn’t suit who are going to be unhappy with the outcome. But they do know their customers. I mean they spend a lot of time talking to people. They know what drives them. I mean the whole should’ve gone to Specsavers thing is about risk, isn’t it. That’s a risk statement.
(Leigh)- Yeah, yeah.
(Mark)- It’s like, ‘look what’s happened to you, you should’ve gone to Specsavers’. The risk is not there.
(Leigh)- Yeah that’s very clever marketing.
(Mark)- It is, yeah. They understand what drives the psychology of people who buy optical services and products. And that’s a really important thing for independent optometry practises to do, as well.
(Leigh)- Jeremy asks a follow up question. He said, should independents be marketing just at their ideal customer or should they try and serve multiple markets at once.
(Mark)- Oh yeah, again, it depends on what your strategy is. So hopefully you will have thought about your strategy and you have a business plan and you’ve thought about what it is you want to be. It happens in the last month I’ve been dealing with two practises who are contact lens specialists. Well I can call them specialists because I’m an optometrist– You lot can’t, you can’t call yourself but I can call you specialist, specialist, specialist, specialist, so there we go!
But they are contact lens specialists and they have a particular approach to their market, to business, to the way they get referrals and new patients come into their practise. If you’re in Wangaratta or Warrnambool or one of those places, you’re going to have a broad range of different types of patients. I remember seeing, I’m sure they won’t mind me mentioning it, a practise at Maryborough in Victoria, it’s one of the lower income towns. A service centre for the farming community around. And the incomes out there are really low and there’s a lot of unemployment. But there’s a massive spike on the end of the income’s chart. They’ve clearly got some millionaires out there, some very wealthy people. Not a lot of them but they’re there nevertheless. It’s nice if you can cater for those people. The whole thing, all those kinds of markets are really interesting.
We did an exercise for a practise in Hobart, who were wanting to open a boutique practise, because they thought there wasn’t one, and they were right, there wasn’t one. There isn’t a high-end boutique practise, or there wasn’t at that time, in the Hobart area. So, we did some research to find out whether that would be viable for them or not and it turns out that it wasn’t going to be viable. It may well be now, things have probably changed. But there were no comparable businesses in the boutique sector, in other parts of retail, like fashion, cosmetics, all these kinds of things, because what used to happen was the Hobart ladies, when they wanted to buy some nice things, didn’t shop in Hobart. They jumped on a plane and flew to Melbourne and went to Southbank. They went out for lunch, booked a hotel room, went to see a show, went to Dolce & Gabbana and bought a handbag, then flew back to Hobart again. So, opening a boutique practise in Hobart wasn’t necessarily going to get you what you wanted.
That’s a good example of doing the research to understand what your consumers, what your customers, your potential patients are doing and the way they’re behaving. So, understanding that is really important but it depends what you are as an independent practise. If you’re a general practise in an average suburb then your span of product and offering and what in marketing they call the value proposition, needs to be broader rather than narrower. If you’re in South Yarra or Mosman in Sydney or Claremont in Perth, you’re probably going to be more focused towards the top end and you’re not going to have two pairs for $199 or $120 special deals. There are opportunities to specialise even more and to become even more niche. I’m yet to see, I could be wrong, I haven’t looked at everything, but I’ve yet to see a sports optometry practice.
(Leigh)- Yeah. That could be interesting.
(Mark)- Yeah. If they put it in the right place, like Mooloolaba, there’d be no reason why you couldn’t cater to that specific group of people. Lots and lots of people engage in a sport that requires optical correction. Shooters, archers, cyclists, swimmers. There’s lots and lots of opportunity.
(Leigh)- Do you think with more independents there’s going to be more divergence now with independents starting to do more of the specialised treatments. That that’s going to be a necessary thing in order to maintain their independence.
(Mark)- I don’t think it’s going to be necessary, provided that you’re doing all of the things that you need to do to be successful in your local market.
(Mark)- So whatever area, region, suburb, town, you are in, there’s going to be one practise which is more successful than the others. Your job is to make sure it’s yours.
(Leigh)- Right, yes.
(Mark)- And if it’s your practise then wacky-doo, we’re all really good. It doesn’t hurt to have, within your practise, specialist services or particular services which cater to demographics like dry eye services. Or paediatric optometry or behavioural optometry, whatever your preferred flavour for that is. So, all of those things can be, low-vision, all those things can be built-in. And it’s becoming more and more important. Clearly, I mean, I’m working on an optometrist Australia committee at the moment, looking at formalising those areas of optometry.
(Leigh)- Yeah, it’s great to be recognising that and it helps to validate the people who’ve been working in that area for a long time.
(Mark)- Absolutely. Yeah. There needs to be recognition, there needs to be control. There needs to be structure around that and standards. A lot of the groups, like the Orthokeratology Society and ACBO, are moving to consolidate and to more clearly define the standard and the recognition of optometry practitioners who engage in that activity. And that’s a very good thing, so, enforcing education standards and having hurdles of achievement before you can claim to be recognised in a particular way. At the moment there’s no formality around it, it’s not recognised by AHPRA. I think that will happen regardless of AHPRA’s recognition or not.
(Leigh)- It’s been great to be able to pull apart some of the strategic advantages that some of the corporates have and also talk about the independents’ strategic advantages as well. Catering to what our patients really need, talking to them. Being in there for the long-haul and investing in the relationships and being able to really communicate that the eye’s a wonderful thing and what we’re doing is actually looking after your eyes.
(Mark)- Yeah. I really believe independent optometry has got a really good future but the game has changed. There’s a requirement now, for independent optometrists as business owners, as executives, managers, and health professionals, to adopt a completely different approach to their business. It’s great to see patients and do a good job but that’s just not enough these days. It’s equally important for an independent practise to have a well-designed, robust business structure and system based on core advantages and things that are important to our patients. As it is for the big corporates to have that as well. I mean, ultimately, you’ve got to deliver something of value to your patients.
(Mark)- And you do need a machine that works. You can’t do that if you’re constantly having to patch up the machine that you’re working in. Your practise needs to work supremely well without you having to constantly maintain it. The systems and processes need to deliver excellence and need to enable the staff to deliver premium care to the patients. Not to have the staff continually working to keep the practise going because systems are falling apart.
(Leigh)- Yeah that’s important that you’ve built that solid foundation. You know what you’re trying to achieve and that your staff are onboard with that as well.
(Mark)- Yep, absolutely.
(Leigh)- And Jeremy comments that… he says that there’s no silver bullet in terms of marketing. He says that it’s doing lots of little things really well rather than just one single thing.
(Mark)- That’s exactly right. I’ve often described optometry practises as a machine with 100 knobs, 100 control knobs on it, and shifting each one by five degrees one way or another will get you where you need to go. It would be lovely if it only had two and we just had to twiddle two big knobs and that’s the problem solved. No, he’s right, there’s no magic bullet. There’s no one thing, apart from very general things, we talked about the capacity to implement and to bring about change. That is a core attribute that you should have in your business and that’s important, but you still need to be doing hundreds of other little things constantly, all the time, to get you where you need to go. Buy a new rubber stamp for the front desk. Change the door knob. Speak to the local journalist. Get out and say hi to the local traders; all these kinds of little things that make a difference.
(Leigh) – Yeah, yeah absolutely. That’s really good. It’s good to see, to embrace that change. So, Mark, looking to the future do you feel like you’re optimistic about the independent optometry and all the benefits going forwards.
(Mark)- Oh I really hope so otherwise I haven’t got a business! Along with a lot of other people! As we said earlier, it’s about what you do in your local environment. If you sit there like a dumpling and do nothing, well you’re going to get what you deserve. If you get off your bum and do a plan and get out there marketing and are working constantly on your business, and you’ve got your mix right, you’ve got something which is valuable to your patients, you’re going to be successful. You will ride it out. It may take time because optometry businesses, optometry practises have a slow metabolism. They’re a bit like tortoises in some respect. They take a long time to get where they’re going, they don’t grow very quickly, they don’t die very quickly. They’ve got long lives. They’re quite hard to kill. Although some have achieved it.
Yeah, so, it is a long game and don’t get worried about short-term stuff. Sure, Specsavers will come in and take a piece out of your business for one week, with a fantastic offer on free polarised lenses or some other silly thing. But don’t let that annoy or spoil your week. You can match them if you feel inclined to do so. You’re probably not going to do any harm. But stick to your guns and get out there and rather than worry about them, go into the local fishing club and have a chat to them about polarised lenses, and the guys will come and buy spectacles from you. Buy their RX Maui Jim Sunglasses, or whatever it is, from you, rather than going to the Specsavers and buying something else which may not last as long.
(Leigh)- Yes, yes that’s true. It’s really satisfying when they do come in to see you. It just shows that that effort’s worth it.
(Mark)- Yeah absolutely, you can win. You absolutely can win, it’s very winnable. There are practises all over the country who are winning and doing a great job of it so yeah. Press on. Into the Valley of Death rode the 600.
(Leigh)- That’s great, yes. Mark so if someone’s interested in having a chat to you, they’d love to get a plan together, they want to help to thrive their independent practise, what’s the best way to go about approaching you.
(Mark)- Oh look my phone’s always on. I love talking to people. There’s only one thing worse when you’re a consultant, it’s people not calling you. I’m very happy to have a chat about their needs and wants and if I can help I will. I don’t work gratuitously with people, I like to work with people who are interested, who are motivated to do things. I need to know that I’m going to make a difference as well so my approach is always let’s have a chat and see what you want and see whether I can help you with that and whether you’re happy with that and we get on well together and we can work on that as a team, as a group, because I’m invested in the practises as well, emotionally, and put a lot of resources into it. I try to treat your practise as my practise, as I would if it were mine. So that’s important so, yeah, initially have a chat and there’s a number of ways that people can make contact. On the website or just give me a call or send me an email.
(Leigh)- What’s your web address?
(Mark)- So if you get on there, I’ve just installed a little pop-up thing that tells me when someone goes on my website and I can send them a little message to say, hi, how you doing, can I help you. So that’s really cool as well.
(Leigh)- That is really cool.
(Mark)- Bit like Telstra does. Do you want to chat with Mark? Yeah, bring a bottle of wine!
(Leigh)- Yeah absolutely–
(Mark)- I love coffee too, Leigh. I love a coffee and a nice bit of lunch so I’m always up for if somebody wants to sit down and have a bite to eat and a cup of coffee.
(Leigh)- Absolutely. You can’t beat a good coffee- so I’m up for that too.
(Mark)- Excellent, well that’s a date then.
(Leigh)- Well Mark thank you so much, it’s been fantastic to hear your insights into corporate strategy and how we, as independents, can grow our businesses. So, thank you so much for all you’ve shared today and we look forward to staying in touch.
(Mark)- Yeah absolutely, thanks for the opportunity Leigh, and thanks for everyone who’s turned up and I’ll catch Jeremy for a coffee or something really soon.
(Leigh)- Yes, thank you. And quick hello to Majella and John and George as well so thanks very much all you guys.
(Leigh)- All right