Outgoing ProVision CEO Mr Steven Johnston believes the future of independent optometry in Australia is bright if practices continue to embrace technology that allows the time to offer a patient experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
After a decade at the helm of Australia’s largest independent optometry network, Johnston will step aside after Christmas before taking time to consider his next career move.
He arrived in the role 10 years ago with a background far removed from optics, after running Repco’s automotive parts business in Australia. Before that, he was responsible for the Home Timber & Hardware franchise group and ran the Black & Decker power tools business.
His ProVision appointment came after the board saw the need to bring the optical products supply chain into the 21st century, with his background seen as a way of introducing a fresh perspective.
Under his tenure, the ProVision network has expanded from 366 practices when he started to 467 just prior to the pandemic; a net gain of more than 100 practices. Purchases through preferred supplier partners have also grown from $46 million to $83 million last year.
“And we always pay those suppliers on time every month,” he said.
“But best of all, our practices have grown their like-for-like practice turnover in six out of the last seven years and only the pandemic stopped that being seven years in a row. To me, this illustrates independents offer something that consumers want: supporting local businesses, continuity of care, special interests, latest technology, clinical freedom – whatever the reason, it resonates with a large cross section of Australia.”
Johnston believes the future for independents in Australia is very strong, provided they continue to embrace technology that helps to run their businesses in a contemporary way.
“Independents can win if they offer a patient experience that others cannot replicate. They can only do that if the back office runs efficiently and with less human intervention i.e., systems,” he said.
“They will also win if they differentiate their offer though unique frame ranges, high quality lens technology, and special interests such as contact lenses, myopia control, and dry eye. I am buoyed by the fact that we have had more optometrists coming to us with plans for greenfield practices in the last 12 months than we had in the preceding nine years.
“All that being said, it is disappointing to see corporates acquiring independent practices and then try to portray that those practices are somehow still ‘independent’. Further fragmentation of the profession, in my view at least, is not adding any value back to the profession.”
Reflecting on his tenure, Johnston told Insight he was proud of the systems and services developed to reduce manual tasks in the practice.
This includes ProSupply where 25,000 frames can be researched and ordered for delivery to ProVision’s preferred supplier lab partners, stopping the unnecessary transportation of frames across the country.
“We now have 10,000 frames a month being ordered through this system,” he said.
“We also introduced ProMarket which enables practices to produce highly customised communications using the practice’s logo and colour scheme with around one million communication pieces going out each year.
“And now we have ProAccounts that enables frame data to be downloaded into the PMS and avoid menial data entry. But none of these systems would have been deliverable without the wonderful team that we have at ProVision. These systems require collaboration and commitment to purpose and that is what I am most proud of – the culture that we have built together for the good of our practices.”
Regarding his future, Johnston said he would take a one-to-two-month break, before considering his next opportunity.
“My 10 years at ProVision has taught me that anything is possible.”