Chris Beer’s career in the optometry industry began more than three decades ago as an optical mechanic. “I never thought I’d stay at that company for long,” the Founder, CEO and Managing Director of George & Matilda Eyecare reflects. “But it provided many opportunities, challenges and experiences. I was fortunate enough to end up running the Asia–Pacific region for the company for about 13 years.”
After moving on to different roles and being in the corporate world for 30 years, Chris decided to make some lifestyle and career changes. He felt he had an entrepreneurial spirit that he couldn’t use in a large organisation. After many discussions with optometrists over the years, he realised there was a gap when it came to helping independent optometrists determine their cost advantage.
“While the big guys are getting bigger, they’re developing their marketing and supply chain platforms,” Chris explains. “The optometrists care. They’re part of the fabric of the community, but they were missing out on a competitive advantage.”
Chris founded George & Matilda to fill that gap. The company partners with independent optometrists and brings economies of scale. “We’ve been very selective in targeting independents; people who are the leaders in their field,” Chris says. “We have a sophisticated marketing data analytics platform that’s driven by IBM Watson. It’s comprehensive data analytics, and communicates in a personalised way to build customer relationships.”
The company uses the data analytics to target new customers that fit their demographics and psychographics through social media and other platforms. “We opened up the first practice just over three years ago,” Chris explains. “For 12 months, we built supply chain platforms – technology that will enable us to communicate better. We connected them in a way that took the cost out of the supply chain and created greater efficiency.”
George & Matilda is creating a community of high-quality, like-minded individuals that focus on customer care with premium marketers, and it continues to build the organisation around the customer experience. People trust it enough to form a partnership.
“We focus on offering the best lens possible to help people enhance their lives,” Chris says. “And it’s a big decision to sell your business and become a part of a group where you’re a shareholder in the company and work with other people,” Chris explains. “It’s going from being independent into a more aligned independent community.
“One size doesn’t fit all. Everyone’s different. We want practices to perform and act the way they did before they partnered with us. We want people to be open-minded about these practices, and we learn from them to add to the community and share with other people.”
George & Matilda Eyecare doesn’t take over; it co-brands. “Our goal is not to create a big monolithic brand,” Chris clarifies. “Our brand is the engine behind the independent optometrists. We’re unique because every practice of ours has some identical things but also facets that are uniquely different. They all have a personal stamp on how they operate.”
The brand is nearing the milestone of 100 practices. Its ambition is to continue to accelerate growth. “While we’re doing that, we’ll always have an eye for being simple and inspiring,” Chris notes. “We’ll continue to enhance the experience our customers receive through interacting with us in their optometry practices.”
“We’ll always have an eye for being simple and inspiring.”
The company will continue using artificial intelligence to enhance the experience and communication with its customers. “We will evolve and develop the business to be more sophisticated using data,” Chris adds. “The key is transforming the business into a digital platform. We spend a lot of time and effort using cognitive computing to become more relevant by using data and aligning it to communicate with customers.”
Although the company has experienced its fair share of triumphs, it hasn’t achieved success without challenges. “I have many battle scars,” Chris admits. “I think the greatest lessons come from your toughest times. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve made big errors. The important thing is not to be too proud to think you can’t make mistakes. I think the easiest way to recover is to own up to them and then look forward to figure out how to solve them.”
“I think the greatest lessons come from your toughest times.”
Chris believes the role of a leader is to find the right people to fix the problems that come your way. “If you don’t know the answer, the person who does is there, you just have to find them,” he explains. “You must also have the mindset that everything is a learning opportunity, and keep your mind curious.”
Chris says that, at 53 years of age, he’s more curious than ever to learn. “I think if you go home every day having learned something, it keeps you sharp and young at heart. It keeps you excited and vibrant about the world and the global marketplace. People are doing clever things. The advantage in retail is you can learn from and replicate them in your own way. Learn from every opportunity.”
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