Rapidly expanding healthcare group National Optical Care (NOC) is on track to bolster its portfolio to more than 50 optometrist practices this year as the company sets it sights on doubling the network by 2024.
After announcing the settlement of 18 practices acquired since September, company founder Tomas Steenackers tells Business News Australia the group has locked in a further seven acquisitions to be settled by August 2022.
This will boost the existing NOC portfolio to from 20 to 55 practices within the space of just two years, with the latest acquisitions located in Southeast Queensland, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
Steenackers, the 2018 Young Entrepreneur of the Year who founded the former ASX-listed National Veterinary Care business before selling it in 2020 for $250 million, says NOC is taking on board many lessons learned from that process.
While adding 25 optometrist clinics in one year ‘sounds aggressive’, Steenackers says the integration of the businesses is ‘working quite well with the system and the technology we have in place’.
NOC, which is working in partnership with EyeQ Optometrists (EyeQ) to grow the business, has taken a deliberate path of differentiating its business model from the low-cost spectacles market.
The latest acquisitions are expected to deliver NOC annualised revenue of about $22.5 million and EBITDA of $5.1 million. This equates to average annual turnover of $1.25 million from each of the new businesses, highlighting what Steenackers says is a focus on quality acquisitions.
“The practices we are buying are bigger than the average practice, but we are not here to become the biggest,” says Steenackers.
“We want to be a healthcare provider and not a retail player. The standard of care is different to our competitors where they have a really quick in and out (consultation) and maybe at a cheaper price-point. With acquisitions, we always look at the team, the way optometrists are servicing their clients and we want to continue that high level of care.”
Steenacker says average consultations at NOC last about 40 minutes, compared with an average of 15 minutes among major competitors.
“This means we provide the time and expertise to manage more complex cases,” he says.
NOC currently has a presence in Queensland, NSW, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania with EyeQ bringing its experience in optometry to the business while Steenackers and his CEO Jason Gowie bring their expertise in business growth.
Gowie, who is also CEO of EyeQ and a former CEO of My Home GP, says the latest acquisitions were secured amid the challenges of lockdowns in the second half of last year.
“We are pleased that we have continued to attract the highest quality practices, optometrists and teams and are grateful to our colleagues within the industry for the confidence they have shown in referring practice owners to us,” he says.
“The combined NOC and EyeQ businesses now have a network of 47 quality owned optometry practices located across Australia, with a very strong footprint in Queensland and NSW.”
While Steenackers says the pandemic created challenges to its expansion plans over the past two years, he says it has also led to opportunities.
“The pandemic has opened the door to more discussions (with practice owners) looking for a succession plan,” he says. “The challenge for us is finding people who are aligned culturally with us and share a passion for our business model.”
While NOC is taking a measured approach to growth, it does plan to double in size by 2024.
“We’d like to continue to grow with 20 to 25 new optometrists a year and we were able to achieve this in the past two years during a pretty challenging environment,” says Steenackers. “In another two years, we’d like to be close to 100 and continue our growth.”
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