Members of the second board of Australia’s Independent Optometrists, now ProVision (L-R) John Jennings, Andrew Thomas, Brian Layland, Heather Waldron, Joe Chakman, Lisa Williams and Micheal Knipe
ProVision will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with activities to mark its achievements in growing independent practice throughout Australia.
For a quarter of a century the organisation has helped hundreds of independent optometrists nationwide maintain quality practice and develop their businesses by providing products and services to ensure competitiveness and profitability.
Membership has increased along with demand for services, which now cover a wide range.
Celebrations in Hobart on 3-5 October will include a biennial national conference, a dinner at which ProVision founders will be recognised and a function to welcome participants at the Museum of Old and New Art.
World-class speakers and quality business development workshops will feature, including a workshop by industry consultant Al Cleinman who has 35 years experience in the US optometry market.
ProVision CEO Steven Johnston says the milestone is a fantastic achievement and he is proud that the organisation is continuing from strength to strength.
‘Our team of 19 staff in Melbourne and five interstate has made an enormous effort and we are very pleased with the trajectory we are on,’ he said. ‘Membership is in all four corners of Australia.
‘Our vision and mission were set in 1989 and still hold true today.’
ProVision, formerly Australia’s Independent Optometrists, was formed when independent optometrists were concerned about growth of corporate chain retailers. Optometrists Association wanted to support independent private practices without dividing the profession.
Former Optometrists Association CEO Joe Chakman recalls that Brian Layland suggested giving independent optometrists buying power and management skills, teaching them how to manage their products and market themselves.
A company separate from but owned by the association was established. A steering committee comprising Mr Chakman, Mr Layland and Tasmanian optometrist Gerry Wilson was commissioned to set up the company, and Queensland optometrist Heather Waldron became chairwoman of its board.
‘We set about travelling Australia, persuading independent optometrists to join an organisation on blind faith, as well as persuading optical companies to give discounts to an organisation that as yet, had no members,’ Mr Chakman said.
In its first year, 22 optometrists and nearly as many suppliers joined.
The marketing position for those who joined was to be high quality. High ethical standards, good practice presentation and excellent clinical care were the group’s core values. Mr Johnston says these core values remain today.
‘We try to grow independent practice by providing optometrists with products and services from 25 preferred suppliers who provide products at a good price to help optometrists stay competitive and provide the right products to help them grow,’ he said.
‘We invested heavily in marketing to help practices market themselves and provide a lot of HR support and information on recruiting staff, and even help with practice lease negotiations which can save a lot of money.
‘We deliver 10 different education programs a year pitched at everyone from entry level staff to management skills for practice managers and optometrists. We have grown to meet what our members need, such as increased involvement in IT to develop systems to improve practice processes and efficiency,’ he said.
While the group’s buying power helps protect margins and ensure costs are competitive, ProVision does not advocate deep discounting of retail prices, Mr Johnston says. Rather than using lower prices to entice patients into practices, it promotes services, clinical care and products that are good value.
‘The evidence suggests ProVision helps practices sustain healthy margins,’ Mr Johnston said.
‘When we started, ProVision was more focused on the buying agreements but now we have evolved to offer a wide range of services. We can help a practice with almost any problem it may face from marketing to education, retail advice, HR and technology products.’
Other services include helping with fit-outs, the ProSupply website which gives access to 24,000 frames and more than 1,000 supply and fitting options, and My Local Marketing which provides digital templates.