Australia's Leading Ophthalmic Magazine Since 1975

     Free Sign Up     

Australia's Leading Ophthalmic Magazine Since 1975

     Free Sign Up     
Feature

When Chris met George and Matilda

06/09/2017
In 1984 a fresh-faced 18-year-old, Chris Beer, joined OPSM as an optical apprentice and slowly began climbing the corporate ladder to the extent that, 17 years later, he was appointed general manager of retail. Two years later in 2003 Luxottica moved into the Australian market when it acquired OPSM and by 2004 Beer was chief operating officer and then finally CEO Asia Pacific.

But, after more than 30 years with the one business, and approaching 50, Beer decided he had had enough of the corporate world. He had grown weary of endless late night conference calls and constant travelling, and resigned from Luxottica in March 2015; telling his family that he would take six months off and consider the next stage of his professional life.

His promise turned out to be completely wrong: “I think I took two days off. I spent some time consulting for some private equity companies, a couple of banks and some other companies and I said no to a couple of big roles in June and July [2015] and it was only because I probably just had enough of the corporate role.

“It was good to me and I was good to it, but I had always said that there is an opportunity for independent practices. I thought with my experience let’s do some work and research another business model,” Beer explains.


"Humans want to connect with people, and consumers want to connect with brands that are personal and friendly, not cold, stark and functional things."
Chris Beer, CEO & Managing Director at George & Matilda Eyecare

He spent the next 12 months investigating and developing what he sees as a new-style business described as an ‘Australian owned and operated optometry collective. A unique partnership model that’s unlike any other franchise or buying group in the optical industry’.

“I love the industry, I love the sector, I love the people; and I have a bunch of experience, so it was a call-out. Any sector in the world has three major players and Australia only had two. So we did some homework, we did some research and we decided to give it a crack,” Beer says.

So, it was, that in April 2016 George & Matilda Eyecare (GME) was ‘born’ with Beer announcing the acquisition of Hanks Optometrists (11 practices, NSW & Qld) and Peter Hewett Optometry (Sydney). This was followed by Glen Barker Optometrists (Mudgee), Eyelines Optometrists (13 Tasmania), The Eyecare Company (3 Sydney), Katz Eyes (Sydney), Karisma Eyeworks (Sydney) and Optique (2 Sydney); quickly taking the number to 33 by April this year.

In terms of retail presence, the next major focus is a flagship optometry store, which is currently being developed in a heritage listed building near the corner of George and Jamison Streets in Sydney. It will be a company owned store and is expected to open around August.

As far as locations go, the GME flagship store will be doubly important because the ‘George’ in the business name originates from Australia’s first ‘high street’ while Matilda comes from the country’s unofficial national anthem; Waltzing Matilda.

Originally there were three business names registered and after research it came down to two, one technical and one functional. Beer says that the last thing the industry or consumers needs is another technical brand name “that no one remembers” therefore GME was chosen “to break through and be different. We wanted to create a brand that looks much warmer, much more personal and more functional.”

He adds that “humans want to connect with people, and consumers want to connect with brands that are personal and friendly, not cold, stark and functional things.”

Rumours and innuendo

Right from the outset Beer has been aware of rumours that GME was created as an optometry ‘flip’, supposedly established with the primary purpose of being offloaded to a larger corporate player; or worse, he and others were acting for an overseas vertical supplier wanting to establish an unidentified retail presence in Australia as a form of beachhead prior to an outright attack on the market.

“There’s rumours every day and they are rubbish. So I don’t comment, because whatever I say people are still going to have rumours about us. People were saying there was a connection to Essilor and then we didn’t choose Essilor as our lens supplier. Every time we make an announcement people have been proven wrong, so I’m just happy to sit on the sidelines and chuckle at the rumours. I just turned 50, so I’m here for a long time,” Beer explains.

There is no doubt that Beer is confident about the new business’s place in the market and where it will sit against competitors: “We want to position the George & Matilda brand in a premium eye care perspective. We only want to be in the middle and the upper-end of the marketplace and we also wanted to be very clear on where we could add value and win in the marketplace. So we can’t own brands, that would be disingenuous, when there is someone who already owns brands.

largeleaderboard_0618
advertisement

“We don’t want to be cheap and cheerful, someone is really good at that and that’s not who we want to be. But we wanted to talk to a range of partners and no one owns lenses.”

“I love the industry, I love the sector, I love the people; and I have a bunch of experience, so it was a call-out. Any sector in the world has three major players and Australia only had two. So we did some homework, we did some research and we decided to give it a crack.”

As part of a new approach, Beer believes more “focus and talk” should be placed on lenses as part of patient management and in September GME announced Zeiss as its exclusive lens supplier.

“We wanted to look for a partner where there is consumer focus – and Zeiss not only has a consumer element to it, but it’s a company that’s very deep in research. Vision is just one part of Zeiss but what they do in terms of technology, microscopes, the whole DNA of the company is about fantastic vision and technology that delivers.”

Suppliers need to invest

In Beer’s mind choosing and working with the right suppliers is paramount. This is partly because while the market is dominated by two corporates, which invest heavily in retail advertising and marketing, he doesn’t believe suppliers have invested enough in servicing the independent category.

“If you walk into an independent optometry practice today, outside of your point-of-sale system, as soon as the patient leaves, you have to either manually fax, phone or email separately. There’s no integration from point-of-sale to lens provider, frame supplier, automatic replenishment. All the benefits the big guys get in terms of efficiency and movement in merchandise and stock around the system it’s not there [for independents] and none of the wholesalers in Australia have invested in technology.

“Technology investment takes cost out of the supply-chain, but most importantly it gives significant time back to our business partners – the optometrists in their practice – to give that time back to patient experience,” Beer says.

By focusing on cost reduction and driving technological efficiency Beer says GME will transform the supply chain for independent practices to provide the tools “to compete against the two gorillas in the market.”


“I don’t think the wholesale [channel] across-the-board had been investing in the independent market and part of that is there is no technology; they haven’t driven technology for efficiency. When technology today is not driving efficiency it drives up cost,” he explains.

However, having initially viewed this as a major barrier for his new business, Beer realised it was an opportunity to transform the supply chain which will ultimately benefit wholesale partners as well as practices owners.

“We see ourselves investing in technology that can create really personal and meaningful lifetime relationships with patients. So we’ll invest heavily in internet technology, not for the technology’s sake, but to help connect in a really personal way and I think it’s very different to what you see in a cottage type industry today.”

According to Beer GME has fielded many enquiries to join. However, he makes it clear that his business model is not for everyone and recognises that success will only come by attracting the right practices: “We’re strongly about partnering with people who are really good at what they do. Taking all their admin away, but building their brand and giving them the tools that big businesses can, or what scale can, and helping them leverage what they’re really good at. I think there is nothing more powerful than a fantastic independent optometrist in a community that people are connected to.”

largeleaderboard_1217
advertisement


standardlarge_0618
advertisement
Editor's Suggestion
Hot Stories

AND/OR
 

Subscribe for Insight in your Inbox

Get Insight with the latest in industry news, trends, new products, services and equipment!