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Two new companies enter corporate-optometry arena

04/05/2016
Australia's optometry profession could be set for shake-up with the announcement that two new companies are entering the corporate-optometry arena.
Chris Beer, George & Matilda CEO
Chris Beer, George & Matilda CEO

The newcomers are George & Matilda Eyecare (GME), which announced its launch last week, and Better Eyecare.

GME is headed by Luxottica's former Asia-Pacific chief executive officer, Mr Chris Beer, and has acquired the 11 practices of Port Macquarie-based Hanks Optometrists, as well as Peter Hewett Optometry in Mosman, Sydney.

Optometrist Mr Paul Sheehan is the chief executive officer and director of Better Eyecare. Mr Sheehan played a key role in saving optometry from being dropped from the Medicare universal health scheme in 1993.

While the latter company has yet to announce any acquisitions, it is understood that both GME and Better Eyecare are currently in confidential negotiations to buy practices.

Better Eyecare is 60 per cent owned by Mr Sheehan, with the remaining 40 per cent owned by company chief financial officer Mr Anthony Anderson. Optometrist Mr Michael Tanzer is chief operating officer.

GME is owned by IPIC Pty Ltd and has three directors: Mr Andrew Reitzer (chairman), Mr John McGrath and Mr Beer.

IPIC, established on 13 July 2015, has paid-up capital of more than $11.2 million. The company has 11,231,250 shares on issue - Mr Beer holds 9,531,250 shares, Sally Ann Fent 250,000, Reitzer Family Holdings Pty Ltd 100,000, Intellectual Nominees Pty Ltd 100,000, Adgemis Holdings Pty Ltd 250,000 and Bantry Holdings Pty Ltd 1,000,000.

The establishment of GME raises questions for Eyecare Plus due to the fact that Dr Tony Hanks and his wife Vicki, who owned the recently acquired Hanks Optometrists, are foundation members of Eyecare Plus. Dr Hanks was chairman of the buying group until 2014, which, after its establishment in 2000, has grown to represent more than 170 member practices across Australia.

When asked if Eyecare Plus members would join GME as a result of Dr Hanks' ties to the buying group, a GME spokesperson told Insight, "We are open to talking to all interested independent optometrists and will consider acquisitions on an individual basis, but all current discussion are confidential."

The spokesperson added that "where possible and appropriate" GME would incorporate the trading names of acquired individual practices into GME's branding "to ensure that the practices' local goodwill is maintained and utilised".

According to Mr Sheehan, Better Eyecare is an Australian owned and operated company that has identified a prime opportunity in the Australian optical market to aggregate profitable practices into a new group that will compete with existing corporate groups.

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"Our portfolio practices will benefit from a robust operating platform and head office offering treasury, human resources, payroll, and other administrative support," Mr Sheehan told Insight.

"The model will allow practitioners to maintain their focus on patients without the worry of administrative functions.

"Vendor practitioners are to be contracted for continuing employment as part of the sale agreement. This, and a co-branding strategy, will ensure a continuance of practice goodwill.

"Better Eyecare seek to offer optical practitioners the benefits of being part of a sizeable retail group, and for some, a staged exit strategy from practice."

At the time of publication Insight was seeking further information from the two new companies.

The focus will now be on how existing corporate-optometry groups - particularly the 'Big 2': Specsavers and OPSM - will act to defend their current market positions.

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