A Regional Leader Brings Its Expertise to Bold Expansion Drive

 MyEyeDr’s president, Sue Downes with CEO and founder, Robert Samit, OD.
VIENNA, Va.—The benefit of years of hands-on vision care, managed care, and optical retail experience—combined with the systems and processes to adapt its business model formula quickly and efficiently to new offices and markets—is the force behind a major expansion by MyEyeDr, the regional eyecare group based here.

Founded in 2001 by Robert Samit, OD and president Sue Downes, MyEyeDr has actively grown from its original group of offices in the Washington D.C./Virginia metro area to 46 locations in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, including Baltimore, now, as of the end of last year.

But there has been an infusion of new private equity capital into the business, due to an undisclosed minority investment into the company in December 2012 from Boston-based Monitor Clipper Partners. And therefore, MyEyeDr is backed by capital and resources to even more rapidly expand the group’s presence throughout the U.S., the team told VM exclusively.

 David Sheffer, MyEyeDr’s executive VP of Corporate Development.
Interior of a MyEyeDr location on L Street.

Now MyEyeDr is preparing to reach out to independent eyecare professionals across a much wider swath of the U.S., from up and down the East Coast to the Midwest and beyond. Both Samit and Downes, along with David Sheffer, EVP business development and a former seven-year Monitor Clipper exec, explained that the team believes fervently its successful business model will bring “solutions” to the many independents looking for them.

These doctors, they say, want to bring their practices into the wider fold of an organization which can enhance and better manage their business operations, while allowing doctors to focus specifically on what they like to do best—provide quality eyecare directly to patients, and work with them to customize more “life balance” options, as Samit puts it. This might mean being freed up to focus on eyecare and taking part as an active participant with a growing company or in some cases, working out a transition plan to create a meaningful exit from their practices, while leaving them in the hands of a thriving organization.

Over the past 11 years, MyEyeDr’s growth has been steady, approximately 50 percent of it via brand new locations and 50 percent through acquisitions. Stated Sheffer, “We will be at 50 locations by the end of this month. And we are confident we will be approaching 60 locations and $100 million in revenue by the end of 2013. It’s also worth noting that our unit count and revenue grew right through the recession and we have never had a negative comp sales month in the history of the company, in terms of continuous or comparable year-to-year measures,” he added.

The investors, Sheffer noted, “are a growth-oriented, financial partner, long-term investors who work with good management teams and provide a unique set of resources and expertise.” Sheffer, Downes and Samit say they are strategically exploring opportunities and are targeting, “one, five or 50 locations, as part of their long-term acquisition goals.”

MyEyeDr’s communications include ad messages about eye exams and eye health as well as emphasizing the upscale selection of eyewear products at
its locations.

Samit and Downes started MyEyeDr in October 2001. The two had a strong track record, having worked together previously at Samit’s Hour Eyes group in D.C., prior to the sale of that business to the retail organization then known as Eye Care Centers of America (ECCA) in 1997. (ECCA is now part of the Highmark Vision Group). Downes worked at ECCA for a few years in their managed care area and after the Hour Eyes’ sale, Samit focused on developing the Millenium Laser Eye Centers, whose four units were eventually sold to TLC.

When the two came together to launch what would be a “few” new offices, Samit recalled, “The idea was no longer the ‘one-hour’ emphasis that had been a competitive trend in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. By 2000-2001, the impact of managed vision care coming into play was so prominent. The doctor needed to get credibility, in our point of view,” Samit explained.

Downes added, “Our vision was to make a business that was doctor-driven, a total vision concept.”

Said Samit, “We think of ourselves as practice managers who own the practices. We can implement change and have the expertise to get it down. And as we’ve grown, we look at a practice’s patient loyalty to the doctor as a strong factor. We believe we can bring better value, better pricing and more selection, add new technologies and bring great ideas to them and enable them to do what they do best, which is care for patients.”

The company has 500 employees. Downes said, “We have several teams to support what we do and help us. We have a director of retail operations, a director of business operations, our CFO, a director of professional services and a senior district manager—who heads up a whole team of district managers. We cultivate a boutique feeling, to help us bring doctors and their staff through the acquisition mode so that it’s most productive.”

 MyEyeDr has emphasized a well-rounded digital media presence, with its website, a mobile version of its site, and a range of regular social media involvement and interaction with patients via Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, You Tube, Linked In and others.
She added, “We have a VP of marketing and business development who works with David and me to build our presence and our merchandising, training and store ops and IT groups make it possible for us to smoothly transition.” She pointed out, “We also hire general managers six months in advance, to have a pool of qualified people who are hired, trained, and educated about our culture, which helps them in turn work with the acquired practices. “

 MyEyeDr has moved beyond its original locations in the D.C. Metro and Virginia areas into Maryland including Baltimore. While each is slightly different, as the group expands its processes and expertise to new offices, it has worked to unify its branding in new markets. 
Samit noted, “The important thing is that each of our deals is customized and then we work with the practice to bring them into the fold, depending on their priorities, which might be to simply cut back on their hours or administrative tasks or to focus on learning about new technologies. The key is for the doctor to stay in control of patient care so they need a good support team around them and helping their team. We are not out there offering standard, ‘cookie cutter’ deals.”

All together, whether it is adapting over time to MyEyeDr’s merchandising expertise— with a core group of collections and then a focus on either a higher-end, luxury emphasis or more of a value-oriented, budget emphasis—the practices coming into the group are realizing the benefits of the MyEyeDr expertise.

The company’s proprietary point-of-sale systems, its managed vision care systems’ track record are part of that. Downes and Samit noted that MyEyeDr have been an early advisor to Eyefinity/VSP on their new Acuity cloud system, working on early development and tests, for example. The system is now rolled out to all of MyEyeDr’s locations. Said Downes, “Our philosophy has always been to partner with key vendors and collaborate for everyone’s benefit.”

As Downes said, “We want to convey to founders and owners that we have operational excellence in our space.”