Daniel StantonPALM SPRINGS, Fla.—A focus on making the eyecare experience simple for the patient/customer has been one of the keys to the success of My Eyelab and Stanton Optical, according to Daniel Stanton, a co-founder of both optical retailers.
“Our vision for this industry is easy eyecare,” Stanton told dba in a recent interview. “We were kind of tired of this broken model that really hasn’t changed over the past 35-plus years and that customers and patients are subject to.”
As a result, Stanton and a business partner set out about 10 years ago to make the eye exam and shopping experience a simpler endeavor for consumers. Their efforts focused on developing an effective platform for improving customer acquisition, retention and service needs; curating a wide assortment of private label frames (which now represent about 90 percent of the product assortment), and creating a proprietary telehealth model.
“We are well-traveled,” Stanton added. “And when you look at Europe and Asia and some other parts of the world, you are just blown away with how simple it is to buy eyeglasses.”
The focus on making things simpler for the patient/consumer and operator has led to sizable growth for both Stanton Optical and My Eyelab, both of which operate under the umbrella of Vision Precision Holdings. In 2017, Vision Precision Holdings ranked as the 18th largest optical retailer in the U.S., with estimated sales of just under $90 million and 55 eyecare locations (44 Stanton, 11 My Eyelab), according to Vision Monday’s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers report.
As of January, Vision Precision Holdings reported that it had a combination of 85 corporate and franchise locations under its umbrella and that these stores operated in 22 states. My Eyelab, which is the company’s franchise vehicle, has signed deals covering 47 franchise locations since it began this effort in 2016. Stanton said he was pleased with the “substantial growth” of the My Eyelab franchise model last year, its true first full year of operation.
“I think what 2017 showed, in terms of evaluating our results, is that there is a need and an interest for a shakeup in the space,” he said. “We’ve done that… The year that we had is just the beginning of a pretty interesting shift in the way we anticipate customers to buy glasses and get eyecare.”
While My Eyelab is the franchise model, the two banners are similar in “look and feel” from a consumer standpoint, and they do not compete in shared markets. My Eyelab is the franchise vehicle primarily because of its smaller footprint and it doesn’t have a lab on site, Stanton said.
In 2017, My Eyelab entered seven new markets with its franchising arm, including entering the Atlanta metro area with a 15-location, multi-unit franchise deal, as VMAIL reported. “Very few franchise programs have this kind of substantial growth in the first year,” Stanton said. “With that realization, we’re confident in challenging ourselves to double our number of sales for the upcoming year.”
The outlook for 2018, according to Stanton, looks like this: focusing growth in the states of California, Texas and North Carolina. In Texas, Stanton said My Eyelab will “close out the state by the end of the year and we will have over 70 locations in Texas.”
The first franchise deals in North Carolina also will be signed, and Stanton said he expects the state will be closed out by early 2019 in terms of franchise opportunities. In California, the franchising efforts are focused on Los Angeles and the Bay Area, two large markets that probably can support a total of 100 stores, Stanton said.
“Like a lot of our competitors, [we believe] you can open about 1,000 stores under one brand name in this optical space based on households and designated market areas (DMAs),” Stanton said. “So having two brands gives us scalability as we continue to open locations across the country.”
Stanton said the franchising business has been helped by referrals from some of the initial franchisees, and he believes this referral process will support continued growth. He said about 20 percent of the 47 locations signed in 2017 were due to referrals from earlier franchisees. The telehealth element also provides a unique aspect to the My Eyelab franchise operation.
Stanton said My Eyelab’s telehealth solution is “totally different” than some of the online eye tests that are available and is the same process as a traditional eye exam performed in medical facilities. The telehealth exam includes traditional pretesting, automated visual field evaluation, anterior segment and automated retinal photos, and the digital refraction.
He said the results are reviewed by either an ophthalmologist or OD, depending on the state, to complete the patient’s telehealth assessment and treatment plan. When necessary, Stanton said, the ECP has the ability to dial-in to the exam location and speak to the patient through video conferencing.