The Wrong Way to Buy

Optometry is a cutthroat industry. “Buy or be bought” were the exact words the CEO of the multi-location optical practice I worked for. The companywide meeting was held to announce to all of the physicians, technicians, opticians and support staff members that our family-run chain of optometric offices was purchasing a small practice, expanding our ten offices to a dozen.

With this acquisition, our practice would be growing by several employees as well. The cost of the merge plus the added expenses of the additional doctors and staff meant financial changes across the organization. If we were to a bonus this year or even an annual cost of living raise, the amount would be significantly smaller than the years prior. The owners and optometrists in the group remained optimistic but every one below the management line grew weary– especially the optometric techs and front desk reception workers who barely made above minimum wage to begin with. Most relied on the holiday bonus to make ends meet. The majority of employees stayed with the company during the purchase, but within a year, a large portion of the staff, myself included, would make the biggest exodus the company would ever see.

Staff became more and more suspicious as the various levels of management became quieter.

About six months following the merge, the financial state of the practice was not bouncing back. What was once a well run machine was breaking down but upper management was not as quick to fix the problems. The front line staff became more and more suspicious as the various levels of management became quieter. Our questions rarely had answers. We were kept in the dark.

One year to the month of our major acquisition announcement a mass email was sent out to everyone within the organization. A large national chain had purchased our company and every office within it. Buy or be bought. In a few short months, all of the rules would be changing and nothing from the old practice would be grandfathered in. There was no guarantee that the staff would even keep their jobs. The owners made a great sum of money by selling the practice outright, especially because the group was no longer a family chain of ten but a regional chain of twelve. Six opticians, techs and receptionists of our office’s nine member team left within two months of the email announcement.

Optometry is a cutthroat industry.

Looking back on this, the move was a fantastic one for those who stood to gain financially from the complete chain buyout. The problem in this was that only two people out of the hundreds of employees ever saw that money while the rest of us faced uncertainty and financial loss. The CEO promised great things when he decided to buy another medical group all the while knowing that he would be selling the company within the following year. We as employees felt cheated and the disrespect was not just perceived by the low hanging fruit. Multiple optometrists left the group in the year following the merge and many of the ones who decided to stay are counting down the months and years until their retirement.

While the ultimate outcome may not have been too different in the end, transparency from the owners of the organization would have prevented some of the sting from the second buyout. If we all knew that our jobs were changing (or terminating) by a certain point, the merges would not have left us feeling so violated. Knowing what was to come later on, the first merge felt almost like a slap in the face to everyone who had devoted years of their lives working for a company that we all assumed had our best interests in mind. Personally, I feel that the first acquisition could have been avoided all together and the outcome would have been better received. Instead, workers felt that our pay was sacrificed for the benefit of the owners.

Buy or be bought.

Several years have passed since the sale of the practice I used to work for. I have remained close friends with several people from the office exodus and we all take pride in how far we’ve come since working in that office. Some of us even lead and manage our own teams. We would not be the eye care professionals that we are today without the experience we gained while there and we all learned how not to manage. All of this was a hard learned lesson in humility and trust and I’m sure none of us will forget it any time soon.


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