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UK-Based Eyewear Behemoth ‘Specsavers’ Enters Canadian Market via Acquisition with Plans for Significant Store Expansion

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Specsavers, the world’s largest optometrist owned and led business, has entered the Canadian market with the acquisition of B.C.-based Image Optometry.

Image: Bill Moir

Specsavers was founded nearly 40 years ago in the U.K. by optometrist husband and wife team, Doug and Mary Perkins, who set out to provide best-value, quality eyecare to everybody. There are now more than 2,300 Specsavers locations serving 41 million patients and customers in the U.K., the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand – and now Canada.

Bill Moir, General Manager of Specsavers Canada who is based in Vancouver, said Image Optometry has 16 locations all in British Columbia.

“We’ve never been in Canada before. Image Optometry is our first venture into the Canadian market,” said Moir.

“We’ve been in conversations with Image for quite a period of time. We thought they were the ideal foundation for us to build on. As a brand, they’ve been focusing on value and on people, which are endemic to the Specsavers value system, that has quality, affordability, and accessibility at its core. So that’s why we’re keen and we thought it would be an ideal launch platform for us into Canada.

Image: Specsavers Canada

“The idea is we will then convert them to Specsavers branded stores before we concentrate on new store growth.”

The conversion will start in November and roll out until March of next year.

Moir said the company has always been interested in the Canadian market. Its goal is making eyecare really accessible for people. Therefore, it focuses on bringing value-driven prescription eyewear and really inclusive clinical care and advanced clinical equipment to people.

“All the research shows us that Canadians will really appreciate the value of our tried and true business model . . . it’s also about providing business ownership opportunities for independent optometrists in Canada. Specsavers is a partnership-led business and we believe that the Specsavers model will be very successful in Canada, because we can give partners global support combined with local ownership.”

Moir said after the re-branding of the Image Optometry locations Specsavers will move to rapid growth.

Image: Specsavers Canada

“We aim to be market leaders in optometry by the end of 2024. We plan to open another 200 stores across Canada over the next few years,” said Moir. Trevor Thomas and David Bishop of JLL are working with Specsavers on the rollout.

“I think before the market was relatively static. I think there’s an opportunity, and that’s what we’re interested in, in really driving change in the market. I see a real opportunity for us to give better value for Canadian customers, to improve levels of eye health that people are being given nationally as well – an opportunity for some change to give Canadians a better value of eyecare and eyewear.”

George Minakakis

George Minakakis, a global retail executive with over 25 years of experience and CEO of the Inception Retail Group, said Specsavers operates a powerful brand with a proven consumer and business model backed by very aggressive expansion plans.

“The Canadian marketplace has been consolidating for a few years. I should know, I ran Luxottica Retail in Canada for about 20 years, including the expansion of LensCrafters in China. However, over the last few years, I have been engaged with Private Equity firms that either want to acquire a retail chain or conduct a rollup of independents. Plus some significant opportunities that I pursued,” he said.

“But Canada is now saturated with many chain operators. What’s left are independent practices that are owned and operated by Opticians or Optometrists. Canada is attractive because it is what’s referred to as a ‘free to choose market’. In other words, we are not directed where to buy our eyewear from or have our eye exams, like they do in the U.S.

“Simply consumers are driven by quality eyewear, eye-exams, brands, and some by pricing. E-commerce alone has been growing, but it isn’t more than 10-12 per cent of the market. In most of Canada, especially Ontario and Quebec, you only get prescriptions from a Doctor. As a result, optometry has been an attractive target for me as a consolidation opportunity. If I were in the eyewear category today, I would be concerned about the expansion of Specsavers.”

Minakakis said every market that Specsavers has entered, like Australia, has seen the retailer take a dominant share in a very short period of time.

“My advice to anyone operating chains in the category, they need to look very hard at the strength of their management teams. Competition is about to become very aggressive and price-driven,” he said.

Recently, Australian eyewear retailer, Oscar Wylee announced its expansion into Canada, with its first store at the West Edmonton Mall.

The competitive Canadian eyewear market has also seen recent interest from Bailey Nelson (Australia), Warby Parker (US) and Mujosh (Hong Kong).

Minakakis said the industry is divided in this manner:

  • Optometry professionals that conduct eye-exams, prescribe Rx’s and sell eyewear;
  • Opticians shops, are usually independent operators who only sell eye-wear, many have some sporadic coverage of Optometry coverage but many also refer to Optometrist and hope that the customer returns;
  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that specialize in eyes, they do comprehensive tests, surgery and some do sell eye-wear as well;
  • Chains and e-commerce: There are a number of chains across all provinces.

The largest players in Canada, he said include: Luxottica – LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut; New Look (Vogue Optical, New Look, Iris, Greiche and Scaff), FYI – Doctors, Hakim Optical and BonLook.

Minakakis said Specsavers has been looking at Canada for years and their recent acquisition of Image Optometry in BC comes as no surprise because the BC market is the least regulated market in Canada.

“According to their press release their acquisition seems to be exploratory. However, if they are able to define their business and consumer model in Canada. It will be a significant challenge for all operators in the industry, because their value proposition is very compelling which successfully couples together eye-care and affordable eyewear, mostly a two for one model. Their aggressive marketing will be overwhelming for most operators to contend with and independents will likely sell or become partners in locations with them,” he said.

“My view of the marketplace is that independent Opticians and Optometrists are already being challenged by the larger chains and e-commerce. Their best move would be to consolidate under one banner. However that doesn’t mean they would be shielded from the marketing power and appeal of Specsavers. Larger chains need to do their homework and establish a stronger executive team in Canada, because the biggest mistake is underestimating this optical retailer’s power. In addition, I should add that they are also involved in hearing clinics and some locations can offer both so it isn’t just one segment of commercial health care that gets impacted.

“Of course Specsavers will need to make major acquisitions especially in Ontario and Quebec for a large enough footprint. My estimate is that they would need about 300-350 locations nationally.  Optical practices and chains should worry about this retailer because they have a proven physical and online platform.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Specsavers robbed the Australian taxpayer of $90 million in the Covid cash grab we called Jobkeeper here in Australia.
    Cashed up and wondering what to do with it- they have already bought out Australian optometry, they they probably decided to conquer another land.
    Well, we Aussies want that money back for our kids, roads, hospitals and aged care residents.
    They paid back a measly $ 4 million.

    Luxotica also had their snout in the trough and took $50 million.

    What really bothers us Aussies was how they took the money offshore. It was meant to be spent on our struggling economy!

    Moves are afoot in our parliament and heads May roll…

    Just letting you know some background to your story,

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