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Celebrating Heritage: OPSM Turns 85

Melanie Kell | 3 October 2017
The brand name OPSM (Optical Prescription Spectacle Makers) is synonymous with eye care in Australia and it’s easy to understand why. The company has played a major role in our population’s eye health and introduced us to some of the biggest brands in eyewear since its establishment in 1932. mivision caught up with Anthea Muir, President of OPSM, to gain an understanding of the strategies behind its continued success.

OPSM was founded in Sydney in 1932, and publicly listed in 1953. In 2001 OPSM acquired Laubman & Pank, an eye care business established in 1908. Then in 2003 the Italian eyewear giant Luxottica acquired it, gaining a controlling interest of the business and delisting it from the Australian Stock Exchange.

OPSM’s Italian backing has provided the financial strength to expand the business by investing in state of the art technologies and bringing in some of the world’s most exclusive couture brands. Strong leadership and a customer focussed culture ensure the company remains firmly committed to meeting the eye health needs of all Australian and New Zealand customers.

But over and above all else, Anthea Muir says OPSM’s continued success comes down to listening and adapting in an effort to respond to customer needs, while always holding on to OPSM’s heritage.

“There aren’t many companies around that have survived for 85 years and I am particularly proud that we have been able to maintain the core values of our heritage while being adaptable to meet our customers’ needs,” Ms. Muir told mivision in an exclusive interview.

OPSM currently has 322 stores in Australia, and 48 in New Zealand; 80 per cent are corporate owned and 20 per cent owned by franchise partners. With an aim to look after the health care of all Australians and New Zealanders, the company has a presence in regional and metropolitan areas and plans to open more greenfield sites over the coming years to meet the needs of expanding communities and changing demographics.

Heritage of Expertise

Ms. Muir, who qualified as an optometrist and practiced in the independent sector in New Zealand before moving to Australia in 1998 to join OPSM, said while OPSM’s heritage – in eye care, dispensing and lens design expertise – underpins the business, it’s the customers who direct the way it operates.

“We don’t want to lose our heritage because no matter how modern frames are, there is still an absolute need for glasses to be functional. So, in the last two years, we have invested very heavily in training our store staff – both optometrists and optical dispensers – and we make a point of drawing on the expertise of the people who have been with us the longest.”

Indeed, there are staff at OPSM who have worked with the company for 50 years. Having been trained to hand cut lenses from glass, their knowledge is extensive and, she says, particularly helpful when it comes to training newer staff and finding solutions for the more complex prescriptions. “Their ability to apply their experience to new lens designs and technologies is invaluable to our success,” said Ms. Muir. “I am especially proud of the fact they have been able to adapt to new ways over the years, which has ensured their continued professional success and contributed so much to our success as an eye health provider.”

Fashion Forward Focus

Of course eye care is only half of what OPSM does and eye wear is equally important. “Whereas once glasses were functional medical devices, customers want fashionable glasses that tell a story about their personalities. So, we’ve had to transform from a business that told customers what frames they needed to suit their vision, to a business that listens to every customer at a deeper level, understands their lifestyle and provides education and recommendations that enable them to make the right choice.”

She said listening and responding more to patients’ lifestyle demands has led to multiple pair sales almost doubling in the past 12 months with prescription sunglasses and frames for digital work in high demand.

The challenge of fast fashion has also driven change. “Historically we would take three releases from Italy each year and drop them into Australia but now people are walking into stores every week and looking for something new. We are using our global supply chain to turn our stores into showrooms rather than warehouses. Each frame on the floor is a showpiece from which orders can be placed with the lab. That means our stores don’t need to stock multiple frames and we can drop new styles in at a much faster pace. It’s a common strategy in fashion retail but not so common in optometry.”

To meet the needs of such a vast and diverse customer base, Ms. Muir said segmentation is essential. “Catering to all Australians is our heritage – we have always been there for the people and we always want to be there for the people. To this end, we segment our stores into groups based on the demographic and change product assortments to be more suitable to those people. All stores have every day low price packages from AU$99 because there are always groups of customers, regardless of demographic or whether they are in a metro or regional area that will shop on price while others will pay whatever it takes to get the look they are after.”

Operational Change

OPSM’s drive to meet customer needs has also impacted the way the business operates at a functional level.

“We looked at our data to analyse when foot traffic comes into stores and matched our optometry availability to that. For example, Thursday has traditionally been busy and Sunday is increasingly busy; so in a successful attempt to be much more customer focused, we have recruited more optometrists, added test rooms and increased optometry availability during the times when customers want to come in. As a result, our appointments have increased significantly.”

While Ms. Muir would not be drawn on specifics, she said the company’s financial results proved the strategy. “2016 was a particularly strong year and our performance in 2017 has improved even further. We are also attracting a significantly higher number of graduates and I believe this can be put down to listening to what our customers want and working fast to provide the solutions, like improving accessibility to our products and services.”

Investing in Technology

Over the past two years, OPSM has made a significant investment in high quality technology in its effort to offer greater patient convenience. “We can now detect diseases at a better rate than in the past, treat as appropriate and refer on more effectively, all at the convenience of the patient, who no longer has to wait in line at a hospital or attend an ophthalmology appointment between particular hours during the week.”

Of course this comes at a cost which doesn’t necessarily generate a direct return, however Ms. Muir says it’s an investment worth every cent.

“We charge for technologies where appropriate and customers are very happy to pay and that helps in some ways, but it also comes down to investment, and if that technology enables our people to do a better job and detect at a better rate then that’s great for our brand and reputation, which then drives new customers into the store. Sometimes you have to look at investments more holistically rather than just direct return. Additionally, since we started investing heavily again in training and equipment we have seen the number of graduates joining us exponentially increase.

“So, when we look at investing in optometry equipment, we must look right across the business and ask what’s good for being an employer of choice, what’s good for continuing education which is critical to our reputation and what is good for the customer and patient – what’s easier, more comfortable, faster and what are the reasons they’re going to tell their friends to go to OPSM for an eye test.”

Cultural Change

Having stepped away from practising optometry almost twenty years ago, Ms. Muir says she misses day to day contact with patients and maintains her registration so that she can get out in the field to practice whenever she can.

“I love the people in optometry; I love the staff and the customers who represent such diversity. I have a huge affiliation with the stores and I spend a lot of time in them because that’s where I get my energy. I think that the stores have the answers to almost everything and my job is to listen then come back to our support office and influence things in an effort to make their job easier.

“I think one of the biggest things I’ve done in my role as President of OPSM is change the environment of our support office – I’ve changed the culture so that we know our job is to support the stores, because without the stores we wouldn’t have a job.”

Equally, she said, it was important to remember that in the end, the customer is king.

“I think the greatest challenge in my role has also been my greatest achievement – and that is staying relevant to the customer, keeping the balance between eye care and eye wear and maintaining financial viability within a difficult retail environment that is hampered by a capped Medicare system.

“The challenge is to be nimble enough, and not too have a big ego, to be prepared to fail, to learn fast, fix fast, move on and keep going because the customer at the end of the day is the king. Once you work that out, once you work out the customer is in charge, it becomes easier. 

  • Anthea Muir

' OPSM’s continued success comes down to listening and adapting in an effort to respond to customer needs, while always holding on to OPSM’s heritage '