BOC Ophthalmic Instruments managing director TONY COSENTINO explains why he operates his distribution business on the knowledge that customers will ultimately remember him for the service, not the sale.
It was 2014 when independent Melbourne optometrist Mr Lawrie Jacobson was asked to join Bailey Nelson to run a proof-of-concept that would ultimately see the optical retail chain formally introduce optometry into its business model.
Following the initial success of the pilot at its Chapel Street store, the company immediately turned its attention to how it could offer a unique optometry experience aligning with its market positioning as a vertically-integrated, fashion-forward outlet for younger patients.
A major part of the solution was the Nidek COS-6100 Compact Refraction System, a unique configuration seeing optometrists perform refractions and other tasks in a face-to-face manner, as opposed to alongside the patient, offering a more personable experience.
BOC Ophthalmic Instruments has been the long-time distributor of Nidek equipment in Australia and swiftly began supplying the workstations to Bailey Nelson as it continued rolling out optometry services across its store network, which recently surpassed 50.
“The COS-6100 workstations are robust, reliable, recognisable and the optometrists love it. That opened us up to Nidek and the services of BOC and after that we ended up buying the full testing lane from them for our stores,” Jacobson says.
But new equipment installations are only part of the service, with BOC overseeing aftersales service for Nidek equipment maintenance and repairs.
“When dealing with BOC you quickly realise you’re dealing with someone who is emotionally and financially invested in the supply of the equipment. Tony Cosentino, his son Ricardo and their family run the business and that shines thorough,” Jacobson says.
“Nothing is ever an issue and there is always follow up and follow through, and you have certainty that when the equipment is installed, it is going to be in a way that the optometrist can start their work from day one with everything running smoothly.”
More than just a sale
Enduring products and prioritisation of aftersales service are the key ingredients to BOC’s longevity, says Cosentino, who personally marked 51 years in the ophthalmic industry this year and celebrated BOC’s 102nd birthday.
“I have always maintained the sale is just the beginning of the relationship,” he explains.
“It is the aftersale that people will ultimately remember you for, and is also one of the reasons why I have always maintained that we should only deal with high-quality, enduring equipment. I have customers that I did installations for 30 years ago still using the same equipment and we’re able to service it, so for me that indicates enduring value.”
An example of this is the classic phoropter. This year the instrument’s original manufacturer Reichert (previously American Optical (AO) and distributed locally by BOC) is celebrating the product’s 100-year anniversary. While new features have been added and other manufactures have since copied it, Cosentino says it has remained largely unchanged.
While many suppliers separate their salesforce and aftersales service department, BOC’s technical consultants in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland perform both functions, in addition to a seven-strong team of technicians at BOC’s Sydney headquarters.
They all receive ongoing training for classic instruments, as well as the latest state-of-the-art equipment, which involves a considerable amount of factory training. This has been even harder with COVID, with much of the training conducted online with overseas manufacturers.
Last year, closed borders due to the pandemic created other challenges for BOC. New equipment for interstate customers is typically sent via freight, with the technical consultant flying in for the installation. However, Queensland’s strict border protocols meant BOC had to load a van with equipment, obtain a special permit and venture into northern Queensland.
Cosentino’s son Ricardo drove from Sydney to Cairns (2,600km or 27 hours) to deliver equipment and complete an installation, before trekking to Longreach (900km or 10 hours), then Emerald (400km or four hours), Gladstone (360km or four hours), Brisbane (830km or 9.5 hours), and then back to Sydney (900km or nine hours).
Over two months, he performed this trip six times, racking up 16,000km.
Although this was largely for new equipment installations, Cosentino says it’s vital to have a nimble team that can keep BOC’s customers operational.
“Our sales people are technically trained and are also able to perform installations, so they need to be multi-trained,” Cosentino explains.
“Over in the US and Europe, they tend to have the salesforce separate from the service support, and that sometimes leads to complications because service people don’t always realise the importance of keeping a customer going when things break down. You can’t have a situation where you advise a customer with a broken-down instrument that you’ll see them in two weeks, it’s not going to work.”
To address this, BOC keeps a large inventory of loan equipment which it can quickly send to practices while repairs are made. Cosentino has also made this equipment available for practices who may have been affected by the recent flooding in eastern Australia.
“That solves the downtime issue for the practice and makes it easier for us because we can then repair it in our own time as opposed to rushing out and trying to help everyone at once,” Cosentino says.
“Logistically Australia is a big country to navigate and it’s a challenge that all suppliers in our industry face.”
Doing business with a straight bat
It was the summer of 1979/80 when Mr Ray Fortescue first met Cosentino. At the time, Fortescue was a fearless 22-year-old optometrist setting up his first greenfield practice in Ramsgate Beach, southern Sydney. Cosentino was a fresh-faced technician for AO tasked with personally installing the practice’s full suite of top-end equipment.
It’s been a lasting supplier relationship that sustains today – even after Cosentino moved on when AO was sold, to eventually take over BOC, while Fortescue’s career progressed, seeing him become executive chairman of EyeQ Optometrists, with more than 20 practices nationally today.
Fortescue says some of the original equipment from 1980 still works perfectly. As both companies evolved over the years, BOC continues to be included in all EyeQ’s purchase considerations, for all classes of clinical equipment.
“Quality products and excellent technical workmanship has resulted in BOC supporting us for over 42 years. As recently as February, a Nidek Tonoref III was installed at one practice requiring a couple of visits due to unforeseen hurdles,” Fortescue says.
“The BOC team were responsive, flexible and ultimately successful in overcoming the challenge. No complaints – they just solved the problem. There is a feeling of partnership with BOC which gives comfort in this increasingly depersonalised and complex industry.”
Critical equipment breakdowns are inevitable, but often Cosentino and his team of technicians have intervened with a true emergency fix.
“BOC has defused potentially disastrous situations for us. You need support to be available when you need it. At times we have required loan equipment to keep the practice open – and we have found this has never been a question from BOC, but always an option,” Fortescue explains.
A&R Grace Optometrists, a dual-practice business in Tanunda and Gawler, South Australia, is also a long-term customer of BOC. It’s also an example of the geographical difficulties BOC contends with, especially in the event of a breakdown.
Principal optometrist Mr Ashley Grace first met Cosentino nearly 40 years ago and purchases 90% of its equipment from BOC today, including Nidek cameras, autorefractors and vertometres, Optovue OCTs and other products. The Nidek Tonoref III “is one of the best instruments” he’s ever bought.
“I have always found BOC good to deal with as they are reliable, their equipment is amazing and they play it with a straight bat in all their dealings,” Grace says.
“On one occasion I had a patient accidently push over the table holding the non-contact tonometer (NCT),” he says.
“The patient was very upset and the NCT was damaged, and I ended up having to console the patient. Within two days I had a loan unit arrive from BOC so that I could continue doing NCT while my unit was being repaired.”
A stalwart of the industry for more than five decades, Cosentino has been privy to some of the major trends shaping eyecare in Australia. The push for all optometrists to own a slit lamp, and the revolutionary impact of non-contact tonometry and OCT are just a few technological milestones he’s witnessed.
As a supplier, he’s noticed how the classic equipment – like the phoropter – forge on, unabated, while newer technology evolves at a rapid pace and can be quickly superseded.
“It means you sometimes get into a position where you can’t always provide the desired aftersales service because the manufacturer no longer has the components to help. In other cases, it’s often computer-driven software updates which can happen every 12 months, which has made servicing more difficult. Equipment is more software-driven than mechanically-driven nowadays.”
On the other hand, Cosentino says it means many faults can be rectified by remotely logging into the system, or even over the phone. In one recent case, Optovue – a manufacturer based in Fremont, California – logged into a Brisbane practice to perform a major upgrade that took three days.
“We were able to come up with the best solution for the customer that made sense economically, because a new replacement would have been $30,000 compared to the cost of performing the upgrade,” he says.
“Ultimately, it’s about putting the customer’s interests first – and that’s how I’ve always run BOC.”