Eyeplan: the origin of the species

By Chris Clemence, Commercial Director

Much has been written and said this year on the subject of eye care schemes and monthly payment plans, and the need for the independent sector to fight back. We have heard of new providers of services to Opticians from off-the-shelf schemes to ‘knit your own’ solutions on a free CD Rom. Has the independent sector finally reached its eureka moment and realised that to survive and grow a new business model must be adopted? Eyeplan certainly believes so. 

Eyeplan can rightfully claim to be the origin of the species when it comes to developing eye care schemes for independent opticians. First mooted some ten years ago, the Eyeplan Business Model has been used in Eyetech practices in Somerset for all of that time, and available to independent practices for around eight years. This year Eyeplan has seen some of the strongest growth ever.

So what is Eyeplan and the Eyeplan Business Model? Eyeplan might be considered a fairly simple idea; in exchange for a small monthly fee Eyeplan members receive a range of benefits from their independent Optician, including free eye care and value for money eyewear. The effect for the Optician who offers Eyeplan to patients is profound; significantly improved fee income, significantly improved dispense rates, significantly improved loyalty and, of course, a more advantageous VAT situation.

But what seems like a simple idea has not always been easy in its execution, as Simon Mills, Eyeplan founder and Managing Director explains. “I think in the early days we did fall into many of the hidden pitfalls and we have spent significant amounts of time, money and effort in developing Eyeplan into the solution that it is today. Managing hundreds of Opticians’ accounts and tens of thousands of individual members’ payments is a significant task, and we now have sophisticated systems in place to handle this. I think people sometimes underestimate and oversimplify what needs to be achieved.” Eyeplan now offers developed eye care schemes for a variety of patient needs, from over 60s to children and all stops in between.

Fraser Robertson, co-founder and Financial Director of Eyeplan agrees. “We are very proud of what we have achieved and we can now offer Opticians not only a developed service but also a secure financial base. As an accountant myself I would be extremely hesitant about entrusting hard earned fee income to an organisation that could not demonstrate a strong financial track record such as ours.”

One benefit of a regular established income through Eyeplan is of course cashflow. At this time of year many Opticians will be looking at their end of summer accounts and the results of the summer sales lull and hoping for a good run up to the next sales lull at Christmas. The regular monthly income from Eyeplan, come rain or shine, eases the anxieties caused by the cyclical sales cycle we are faced with.

At very nearly ten years old Eyeplan is the original of the species when it comes to eye care schemes. Eyeplan overcame significant, and sometimes unreasonable, objections from the industry when it was first launched. But, driven by the core beliefs that independent Opticians should be rewarded for the clinical excellence and care that they offer, and that patients should be offered true and clearly identifiable value, Eyeplan has gone from strength to strength. 

It is not time to stand still however. Eyeplan continues to innovate and this year launched a series of consultation meetings with Opticians who have adopted the Eyeplan Business Model. Known as IDEA (Innovation and Development for Eyeplan Associates), the meetings provide a forum for the review of existing Eyeplan schemes and the development of new, market leading, schemes and services both for opticians and for patients.

The final word goes to Simon Mills. “We are extremely proud of what we have achieved and the market leading position we now hold, but we know to stay at the top there can be no let up in the amount of effort we put in. We will continue to put in the effort and we will continue to lead from the front.”