As a young optometrist in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Dr. Alan Ulsifer loved providing quality eyecare to patients, but he loved the business side of optometry even more. Throughout his early career, Dr. Ulsifer took interest in optometry advancements and lens manufacturing driven by software and diamond cutting that allowed for better, more personalized lenses. As his career progressed, he quickly discovered a new game-changing technology that was cost prohibitive for a single practice. Dr. Ulsifer started thinking about how he could turn “me” into “we” to open the possibilities for himself and his colleagues.
“Back then, I started talking to people about merging our practices together so instead of having a bunch of small entities, we’d create one big one. Consolidation is usually private equity driven, which is not necessarily good for the industry or the patient,” says Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO of FYidoctors. “It came down to if consolidation is going to happen, why can’t a bunch of doctors do it to control our own destiny and drive what the industry looks like?”
It turned out a group of doctors could in fact do just that. And they did. Dr. Ulsifer initially approached 10 optometry clinics about the possibility of consolidating, and he wasn’t sure how his plan would be received. Word spread and he found that many others saw the benefits of a large network of doctors and when it came time to merge and form FYidoctors in 2008, 23 entities from across the country signed on.
During the early years, the newly-consolidated group focused on building systems that provided great value as they integrated the two dozen businesses that were to operate as one. Once they had established the framework of the FYidoctors group of optometrists, they again looked to expand the brand. By 2014, there were 100 FYidoctors locations from British Columbia to the Maritimes, and the following year the group moved its state-of-the-art ophthalmic laboratory and distribution centre to Delta, British Columbia, which houses the technology that piqued Dr. Ulsifer’s interest to start with.
Even as FYidoctors grew, the fundamental focus for the brand remained first and foremost to provide advanced eyecare to patients. It is critical for people to get their eyes checked regularly and studies show that almost half of people couldn’t tell you their eye doctor’s name and haven’t seen their optometrist in the past three years. In a world of screens, it is more important than ever for people to monitor and maintain eye health, and FYidoctors wanted to make that process as easy and efficient as possible.
“Small issues that really wouldn’t bother you in the past become bigger issues when you’re staring at a screen all day. We have huge amounts of evidence that looking at a screen is causing progression of myopia, and when you’re more nearsighted there’s much more risk of eye disease and things like retinal detachment,” shared Dr. Ulsifer.
The doctors can treat this issue with special spectacle or contact lenses to prevent its progression, but the key is early diagnosis. That makes it even more important for people, especially children, to have regular eye exams. As with myopia, most eye disease is treatable, but because it is often painless, people don’t know there’s something wrong with their eyes until late into the disease’s progression.
FYidoctors uses every weapon in its arsenal to battle eye ailments, and a benefit of a large organization is they can carry the best technology and training to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. FYidoctors prides itself on using the latest tech available to best detect issues with patients’ eyes during examinations, employing everything from retinal and optic nerve scans to 3D and wide field imaging to specialized tests to measure eye fluid pressure and get a complete picture of a patient’s eye health.
To increase the reach of eye health professionals, the
organization is currently beta testing tele-optometry which allows optometrists to conduct eye exams virtually to ensure every Canadian can access eyecare regardless of where they live. To further the goal, FYidoctors is currently building its first of many mobile clinics that will allow doctors to donate their time to serve outreach areas.
“Our ultimate goal is to really be the innovators in remote eyecare and mobile clinics,” Dr. Ulsifer says. “We’ve really pushed the medical eyecare, the quality examination and care piece of it. That’s the key driver in our organization.”
Expanding the Scope
The organization has built on the eyecare foundation of FYidoctors and added an eyewear component with the acquisition of frame companies like BonLook, a Montreal retail optical organization. FYidoctors acquired this brand to cater to younger, trendier, style seekers looking for affordability who view glasses as accessories, while the FYidoctors retail optical division covers everything from entry-level products to luxury designer frames to ensure there is a style and price point that fits all encompassing needs.
“We’ve done a lot of research on the optical consumer and there are different types of consumers that look at optical eye wear product differently,” continues Dr. Ulsifer. “We have affordable products, we have BonLook, we have competitive two-for-one packages, and most of the well-known luxury brands. Because we own our own supply chain, we can compete with anybody out there.”
The company has expanded significantly under the FYidoctors banner, attracting more optometrists who want to take advantage of the technology, marketing expertise and supply chain that the consolidated group can offer. Dr. Ulsifer honed the clearly successful model and started to think about how he could replicate it in adjacent fields. A few years ago, he entered the rapidly growing medical aesthetics space with the purchase of three clinics in Calgary offering non-surgical rejuvenation services including cool sculpting, Botox, fillers, laser hair removal, laser skin contouring and body shaping. Dr. Ulsifer took all he had learned with the optometry division and integrated the locations using the FYidoctors model. In short order, this new division had acquired 37 clinics and a recent merger with its biggest competitor boosted that number to around 80 medical aesthetics clinics across the country. As of late 2022, about 30 per cent of them were operating under the Dermapure brand and the rest will eventually follow suit.
This 2021 expansion brought with it a restructuring; FYidoctors became one of the optometry brands alongside Visique in Quebec, FYidoctors USA, Factory Optical and Optiks International, now operating as individual divisions under the FYihealth group umbrella. This structure better reflects the broader health focus of the evolving organization moving forward.
“There’s multiple banners and different business segments, so calling it FYihealth group made more sense. We’ll probably continue to expand into other areas as we continue to grow,” Dr. Ulsifer mentions. “I see tons of opportunity to grow different verticals in healthcare and use what we’ve already built to leverage that for other entities that we consolidate.”
About FYihealth group
FYihealth group has created a collaborative framework that allows professionals in the clinics to focus on patient care rather than the complexities of running a business. The Home Office located in Calgary wants the future practices who join to feel that it was the best decision they ever made. The organization steered away from managers dictating how things would be done and instead adopted a Coaching Culture where everyone works together to provide value and improve performance. There is a customer service program in place, named the Patient Pathway, which helps coaches envision and then implement ensure the team is providing the best customer experience at every visit and at every location.
The effectiveness of the programs and philosophies employed throughout the organization is easy to see. The Delta laboratory manufacturing facility has become one of the largest lens providers in Canada and it produces and ships more than 3,200 orders per day. FYidoctors was named one of Canada’s Top Growing Companies in 2022 in recognition of its three-year revenue growth of 65 per cent – an impressive accomplishment for an already large entity – and Dr. Alan Ulsifer was named the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. The organization has been named one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies by Deloitte and Canadian Business for the past four years running, was recognized as one of Canada’s 50 Most Engaged Workforces and won the award for Most Innovative Use of HR Technology in 2021.
“The awards are nice but that’s not why we’re here. We want to create an environment where people feel proud that they’re having an impact on people’s lives. The two words that describe what we do are ‘enhancing life’. That’s our core DNA,” says Dr. Ulsifer.
FYihealth group has expanded its corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy to form the Enhancing Life Foundation. Every October during Enhancing Life month, team members choose to support over 100 different charities and outreach programs to help enhance the lives of underserved people across the country.
The organization also provided significant funding to the Eye Institute at the University of Montreal and the University of Waterloo to support research and training. These centres utilize virtual reality to diagnose issues while training optometrists to detect eye disease and advance vision care and health in the country. On top of this, FYihealth group is a presenting sponsor for Fighting Blindness Canada’s efforts to help people living with vision impairment while conducting ground-breaking research to one day prevent it.
FYihealth group continues to innovate and improve its services in eyecare and medical aesthetics while constantly looking for ways to expand into other health care sectors that could benefit from the scalable platform that is in place.
“We’re really about trying to be that expert in the space, whether eyecare or medical aesthetics, that is a safe, trustworthy place to go and have the best care possible,” says Dr. Alan Ulsifer.
With around 400 clinic locations across the country and 10 in the United States, and a dedicated staff of over 4,500 professionals delivering unparalleled health care service, it’s clear that FYihealth group is just getting started.
For more information about FYihealth group,