By Ashleigh McMillan
A franchisee support group in which optometrists are anonymous is looking for new members.
The Google Group was established by Optometry New South Wales/ACT. Due to strong confidentiality clauses in franchise agreements, each of the group’s 40 members participates under a pseudonym.
The forum is open to franchisees Australia-wide and to optometrists considering a move to a franchisee arrangement.
Optometry NSW/ACT CEO Andrew McKinnon says the group raises various topics, allowing the state organisation to gauge the extent of problems and identify regional differences.
‘We set the group up because we found that as we were talking to franchisees individually, a lot of them were facing the same issues but operating in silos. There was also a fair degree of concern that by putting themselves out there publicly, that might disadvantage them during negotiations,’ Mr McKinnon said.
‘Previously when people would call to say they had issues with the franchisor, we didn’t know if it was a one-off or if was widespread. We now get the opportunity to pick up threads that people might not have brought to our attention.’
Mr McKinnon says the forum allows interested optometrists to delve more deeply into broad conversations about franchising, such as the recent Federal Court ruling on Pizza Hut.
‘We can get into a more detailed discussion about that in a franchisee group, where as, if we ran a detailed discussion on this in our regular communications, most of the members would be bored rigid. It enables us to target our communications better.’
A franchisee optometrist who spoke to Australian Optometry on the condition that his name not be disclosed says he uses the group to discuss issues and get feedback from other franchisee optometrists.
‘There is an element of camaraderie, as the group allows you to talk to colleagues in a similar position, rather than being isolated,’ he said.
‘Having a group like this has been a positive step, because as a franchisee you’re a minnow against multinational corporations. It gives you a bit of confidence and allows you to go into negotiations with more knowledge.’
The optometrist says there has been healthy debate about issues that affect multiple franchisees in the support group.
‘There have been some issues with franchisors miscalculating [elements of our contracts]. While this continues to be a contentious issue, we’ve been able to find out what other franchisees were experiencing and it gives us a better chance to negotiate.
‘Some colleagues say they go to meetings with the franchisors and when they raise concerns, they’re made to feel like they’re the only one with their particular issue. Being in this group often validates your concerns as an optometrist, as there are always franchisees who have similar complaints,’ the optometrist said.
Franchisee optometrists who are interested in joining the group can contact Joe Chakman by email at email@example.com.