Business, Company, Feature, Report

Making the independent optometrist look good

Zacharia Naumann Optometry has made its frames range a defining feature of its practice. Practice manager BERNIE ZACHARIA explains how a 15-year partnership with Eyes Right Optical has helped the business flourish in the face of increasing competition.

Practice manager Ms Bernie Zacharia remembers simpler times when a listing in the optometry section of the Yellow Pages was enough to ensure a steady stream of customers for the year ahead.

Around that time, in 2003, her husband optometrist Mr Zac Zacharia and his business partner Ms Kathryn Naumann, also an optometrist, established Zacharia Naumann Optometry in the regional city of Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales.

The practice, which is part of the ProVision network, started out trying to be everything to everyone, but the arrival of the corporates forced independents like theirs to adapt and focus on untapped areas of the market.

“Honestly, corporate optometry has been great for our business – without their consistent price focussed messaging we would still be trying to be all things to all people. We repositioned ourselves – shifting our focus to best visual solutions. Patients are happy and we have grown,” Bernie explains.

“As an independent, one way to differentiate yourself is by offering something no one else can and we’re fortunate we can remain agile. For us, our frames range is a definitive part of our business and ultimately it led us to the premium end of the market. What you put on your shelf is how you communicate what sort of business you are. The real challenge of optometry is demonstrating the value of a premium lens, but you can showcase your commitment to quality through your frame display and investment in technology. Our range sets the scene for their premium journey.”

Bernie Zacharia, practice manager of Zacharia Naumann Optometry in Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Establishing a unique frames range with a reliable supplier can be a challenge for any independent, but Zacharia Naumann found a trusted distributor in Melbourne-based Eyes Right Optical. Founded in 1992 by Ms Gaye and Mr David Wymond, the family-owned business was taken over by their son and daughter Mr Mark Wymond, managing director, and Ms Lisa Wymond, national brands manager, in 2018.

Eyes Right is a wholesaler of high quality, designed-focused and fashionable eyewear targeting the mid to high end of the eyewear market. The Wymonds also operate Modstyle, which supplies quality Australian-designed eyewear for more price-conscious consumers after the latest look; and Sunglass Collective, a pure sunglass company launched last year with exclusive rights to the Bollé, Serengeti and Morel Azur collections in Australia and New Zealand.

Zacharia Naumann stocks frames from all three Wymond businesses, with collections from Eyes Right – such as best sellers ProDesign, WOOW, Marius Morel, Koali and Face à Face.

Together, with Sunglass Collective and Modstyle brands – featuring Avanti, Eclipse, Nifities and Inface, among others – the Wymond relationship is worth up to 40% of total revenue for the practice.

Bernie says the partnership dates back 15 years when they saw the Face à Face collection at the Eyes Right stand at the ODMA Fair. The decision to stock the label helped to elevate their frames range and initiated their premium journey.

“But what impressed me most as a buyer and practice manager was the after sales service and a real desire to help us out,” she says. “When the sales reps visit, they see what we’re selling and suggest other ranges based upon what’s worked. It has never been a cookie cutter approach, it’s been a customised relationship from the start and over the years we’ve grown together. I was excited to learn they had acquired Modstyle and more recently Sunglass Collective. These acquisitions have helped us streamline our suppliers, which meant overall less downtime from sales rep visits.”

Mark Wymond says a major part of the Eyes Right mantra is making the optometrist look good whether it be stocking the latest designs, next day delivery or immediate warranty replacements. Importantly, Eyes Right and the associated companies stock all collections at their warehouse in Scoresby.

Face à Face Milli 1 3164 – Transparent Nude.

Up against the vertically-integrated supply chains of the corporates, Mark says there’s never been more pressure on independents to deliver on the fundamental aspects of running an optical business.

“Spectacle sales account for 35% to 40% of the total revenue of the practice. Apart from awesome practice staff and shop fit out, spectacle frames are the most visibly different part of the practice that the end consumer sees. It is vital to get the product mix right to differentiate your practice in the market,” he explains.

“It’s also fundamentally important for independent practices and suppliers to be able to provide excellence in customer service by providing a more personal touch, we also need to react quickly to changing fashion trends. When two businesses closely align in their values, like they do with Zacharia Naumann Optometry, it creates an excellent platform for success.”

Future bright for independents 

Eyes Right Optical is the powerhouse of the three Wymond businesses. It is built on long term alliances with Design Eyewear Group in Denmark (ProDesign, Face à Face, WOOW), French eyewear manufacturer Morel (Koali, Oga, Lightec, Nomad and Marius Morel) and Kenmark Eyewear from the US (Vera Wang, Zac Posen, Kensie).

The company has also embedded leading IT capabilities backed by award-winning products, sales teams and customer service. It always represents as an easy-to-deal-with business model focusing on excellent delivery rates and marketing capabilities. But, like many businesses, particularly in the frames segment, it had to contend with a tumultuous 2020.

“We are very lucky to have the suppliers in Design Eyewear Group, Morel and Kenmark who do the creative and design work. They never took their foot off the pedal and didn’t reduce their ordering and manufacturing capacity, so we have plenty of new product coming through, there are new releases at the start of this year and more in the pipeline,” Mark says.

“Those relationships were formed from 1992 to 2003 and are vital in times where we haven’t been able to go overseas. These strong relationships have meant that we’ve still been able to get things done. They know us and our capabilities and share our ease of doing business philosophy.”

Overseas travel restrictions posed another challenge for Mark who helps design the Avanti and Eclipse collections with Modstyle sales representative Mr Peter Bienvenu.

“We are hands on in the creating and design of these collections, when we are face-to-face with the supplier, we can change aspects quicker and explain design element clearer.”

The Wymond companies battled through March, April and May in 2020, but as Australia re-opened from lockdowns, sales surged. Although Victoria was plunged into Stage 4 restrictions from August to October, they swiftly recouped lost sales and set a new fourth quarter record for Victoria.

They also expanded their footprint at the end of 2020 with the acquisition of Morel New Zealand, which held licences for several Morel collections across the Tasman. Eyes Right now supplies all Morel product between Australia and New Zealand.

ProDesign Denmark model 3633 9245.

“One of the big learnings from 2020 was the resilience of our team. That’s something I have admired.

We asked a lot of them and they put that trust in me and the management team to get them through it, and today our bond has never been stronger.” he says.

“To our amazement the industry as a whole recovered quickly, which allowed us to get everything back to normal much sooner than we forecasted. For me it shows how robust the industry is and gives me great confidence for the future.”

In terms of future of independent optometry, Mark says he is “a glass half full kind of guy” and believes they are winning the battle against the corporates. COVID-19 has tipped market forces further in the independents’ favour.

For example, he says it prompted consumers to adopt a ‘shop local’ mindset, while also avoiding major shopping centres where larger crowds increase the likelihood of viral transmission. With overseas travel cancelled along with major events, people have had more discretionary spend.

“Optical frames fit in a nice category of a retail under $1,000 spend that can dramatically alter your look. I also think consumers have become savvier as to what optical quality actually is, and the independent optometrists can capitalise on this point while also providing an exceptional service.”

There were other interesting quirks that emerged. For example, Mark explains independents noticed spectacle wearers wanting to restyle their look after becoming conscious of their appearance on video calls. Independents in coastal towns also experienced an uptick in new patients who spent their lockdowns at beach houses. With gyms closed, cycle sales soared, seeing a spike in cycle-specific Bollé eyewear sold through Sunglass Collective.

“When you put it all together there has been a sizable shift in consumer behaviours which has been great for the optometrist on the local shopping strip,” he says.

Striving for authenticity 

For independents to succeed, Bernie Zacharia says practices should avoid playing their competitor’s game and focus on providing a service that is authentic and unique. Reliable and trusted suppliers play a key role in this.

“We are constantly trying to differentiate ourselves. When considering a new direction, we always ask ourselves: ‘Is it unique? Do we believe in it?’. For example, about five years ago we introduced lens-first dispensing. Interestingly, our average frame price increased alongside the average lens sale as patients started to appreciate the value of premium lenses and recognise that a quality lens deserves a quality frame,” she says.

“Do what feels right and interests you. In turn, you’ll be authentic and have confidence in what you stock and the way you want to practice. We are genuine and upfront in the way we operate and Eyes Right are exactly the same – that’s why we work so well together. After that, everything else falls into place.”

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