The opportunity to acquire a practice presents a steep but fascinating learning curve, especially when you’re early in your career.
Many young optometrists are nervous about the potential of becoming stuck in a consult room asking, “better; one… or two?” until their dying breaths. However as I have recently discovered, there is another exciting aspect to optometry… practice ownership.
Many young optometrists are interested in practice ownership, however they don’t know where to start, who to talk to, or what kind of store to buy. While I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, I can share my experience in acquiring 50 per cent of Russo Optometry, in hope that it may help guide your decision making process.
Once you have decided you want to buy a store, you then have to decide what type. There are definitely pros and cons to owning either a private practice or franchise. My advice would be to try and work in both types of store (even if it is just a few locum shifts), and to talk to the owners of both to see which one fits best with your personality.
I then had to decide whether to buy the entire practice in one go, or buy a smaller percentage as a foot in the door
I’m now in my eighth year out of university and have been fortunate enough to do exactly that. I have worked full time and locumed in private practice and franchise optometry in regional Victoria, interstate and in Melbourne. All of these jobs played a key role in helping me decide what sort of business I would like to own… I decided that I prefer the freedom and flexibility of private practice.
My particular interests in optometry also helped guide my decision making. For example, I have always had an interest in paediatric optometry, and I have always wanted to work in a store with multiple optometrists. So when I met Norm Russo at the Optometry Victoria Golf day, and found out that he had a business that fitted that description, I was sure to let him know I was interested in a job.
A few years later, when a job became available, I joined Norm as an optometrist and his practice manager. Norm was very generous and over two years, he shared the knowledge he had gained successfully running a business for 30 years. He involved me in most of the decision making aspects, including employment, people management and future strategic plans.
This two year ‘apprenticeship’ gave me an indepth understanding of how the business was being run, areas in which it was doing well or could be improved, and importantly, gave me confidence when calculating valuations and repayments.
I then had to decide whether to buy the entire practice in one go, or buy a smaller percentage as a foot in the door. I elected to purchase 50 per cent of the business, as Norm and I had developed a great working relationship, and I felt I could really benefit a lot from having him stay on.
A STEEP BUT FASCINATING LEARNING CURVE
The whole process, from those initial discussions about buying into Norm’s practice through to signing on the bottom line, took around nine months. During that time, I experienced a very steep learning curve, which was at times quite stressful and also very eye opening. If I had my time again, the one thing I would do is find an advisor to guide me through the process, as I relied on information gleaned from colleagues, friends, accountants and lawyers and had to put all the pieces together myself.
One of the gripes that many private practice owners have is the bookwork, marketing, and staff management that comes with managing a business. Unexpectedly for me, this has become a part of the business that I love. Although it can be demanding, it really adds a fascinating aspect to my day to day work.
Now that I am out the other side of practice acquisition, I’m loving my first few months as a business owner, and am really looking forward to putting my touches on the business.
Adrian Vecchio qualified as an optometrist in 2010. He is a practice owner of Russo & Associates Optometry in Dandenong, Victoria.