An Early Adopter Partnership: Lessons Learned & Shared

Dr. Christian Nanini was aware of IRIS from their home province of Quebec. IRIS clinics had developed a forward-thinking, profitable business model that Dr. Nanini and his partners attempted to emulate at a smaller scale – but without the benefit of the IRIS brand name. Ontario regulations stood in the way.

Profession’s Politics at Play

For many years, the Ontario College of Optometrists (COO) had very restrictive regulations that forced an antiquated pricing mechanism and forbade association among Optometrists, Opticians and corporate entities.

In 2006, the same year that Dr. Nanini consolidated three practices in the Niagara region into one location, IRIS led the charge to challenge the status quo which drew the ire of optometry’s regulators in Ontario.

Nanini and his partners wanted to move quickly but were advised to wait until IRIS’s challenge to Ontario’s antiquated regulations were settled.

Ultimately, by marshalling the support of the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Competition Bureau of Canada and citing the Canadian Charter of Rights freedom of association provisions, the COO publicly acknowledged resistance to IRIS’s business practices would cease.


Listen to Dr. Daryan Angle recount the story of IRIS’s challenge to the Ontario College of Optometrists in the Eyes Wide Open Podcast, hosted by Dr. Glen Chiasson


Gaining a Better Work-Life Balance
As a young family man, Dr. Nanini faced the challenge of juggling all the balls that come with running a small business. Aside from patient care, his time was spent doing joyless grunt work: managing and training staff, marketing, payroll, strategizing how to grow the business and the list goes on.

Like many optometrists he simply wanted to do what he studied and trained for—examining, diagnosing and treating their patients but still wanted a sense of control over the business.

A Shared Vision
Dr. Nanini believed that his clinic would do better to partner with IRIS rather than compete with them. He also saw the value in relinquishing essential business responsibilities that would free up his time.

“I was 100% okay with that because, for me, it’s freedom from all the workload, all the training, all of the advertisement, all the negotiations with suppliers. Everything was out of my hands now …freeing up my time a lot. After work, I could come home and enjoy quality family time instead of having to do paperwork,” Nanini remarks.

In 2009, two years after his initial meeting with IRIS, his clinic was officially a 50% shareholder with IRIS owning 50%. He chose this option over alternative percentage splits or a franchise model.

“Right from the beginning I didn’t want to sell the whole thing. I still wanted to have some power into some decisions.”

Transition Lessons Learned
Dr. Daryan Angle, IRIS VP of business development, worked with Dr. Nanini to transition the Welland Ontario practice. Discussion and negotiation about the partnership was smooth, however they did encounter challenges immediately following the merger.

During IRIS’s initial expansion into Ontario, Dr. Angle frankly admits that there was a steep learning curve with missteps made around on-boarding, especially for the first handful of clinics that opened in the province.

IRIS Welland Reception Desk

Dr. Nanini recalls that he should have briefed his staff more rigorously about why the transition would make life easier, and what to expect when it happened. As a result, he lost two employees who could not adapt to the changes. Subsequently, he had to scramble to hire and train two new employees on top of everything else.

Today, IRIS’ on-boarding process is far more comprehensive. Training days are held months in advance to give owners and staff time to integrate the information. By the end, staff are well-versed in navigating the software system and have good knowledge about new products.

Navigating Pricing Changes
Even though the legal battle between IRIS and the College of Optometrists had been settled in 2008, it was not until 2014 that regulatory changes were made. While regulators moved slowly, the new IRIS in Welland Ontario was forging ahead with retail pricing while many private practice ODs cautiously remained on the sidelines.

Another stumbling block was that IRIS, at the time, only offered premium-priced eyewear therefore losing potential sales from patients with lower budgets. They now adopt a “good, better, best” approach that can accommodate most budgets while maintaining the highest quality of products possible.

Sharing the Experience with Others
Since its inception, IRIS has displayed a willingness to adjust to the needs of its customers, franchisees and partners. Customers get the best care and products, and independent eye care professionals thrive under a time-tested, profitable business model.

Today, Dr. Nanini helps on-board other optometrists who have embraced more profits and more freedom with IRIS. As well, he sits on internal IRIS committees to guide the integration process, sharing his experience.

When asked if he would do it again if he had the chance, Dr. Nanini had no qualms.

“Yes, definitely I would still join IRIS in my mind, knowing I lose some control but there is a lot of stuff that is off my shoulders now…I can enjoy a better quality of life. So, to me, I would do it in a blink.”

Drs. Barbara Pelletier and Christian Nanini, IRIS Welland, ON

Dr. Nanini still works 5 days a week, and sometimes 6!  

He enjoys walking 6-7 km every day, jogging and biking.

IRIS provided Eye Care Business Canada full unconditional access to ECPs that have recently completed a partnership agreement with the group.  Each partner story provides and insider’s view to the acquisition;  challenges faced, obstacles overcome and the final results.

Links to other stories from the series:

Overcoming Challenges Together: An Insider’s Look At Selling Your Practice

Enhancing Value through Transformation to a Full-service Practice

Nurturing A Legacy Of Quality Patient Care Even Through An Acquisition

View the featured article in Optik Magazine.

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