The economy's continued sluggishness has not kept these savvy regional retailers from strategically adding locations they've purchased outright or built anew from the ground up. This month, the following multiple-location optical operations describe their recent and planned expansions along with the factors influencing their reasons for growing in the current marketplace:
David Sheffer, executive vice president of corporate development,
MyEyeDr; Robert Evangelista, president,
Co-Op Optical; Edward Beiner, chief visionary officer,
Edward Beiner Group; Daniel Stanton, CEO,
Stanton Optical; David Brown, ABOC, NCLE, optical director,
Houston Eye Associates; Alan Ulsifer, OD, CEO and president,
FYidoctors; David H. Hettler, OD,
Drs. May & Hettler.
David Sheffer, executive vice president of corporate development,
MyEyeDr, Vienna, Va.
What expansion have you recently experienced? Largely through acquisition, we have grown from 41 offices at the start 2013 to 91 offices today. Our expansion to date has been focused on Virginia, Maryland, D.C., North Carolina and Georgia. We now proudly employ over 1,000 associates with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? We have had an exciting start to 2014 with the acquisitions of
Doctors Vision Center in North Carolina and
Lord Eye Center in Georgia. We will build on our strong regional presence through additional growth in North Carolina and Georgia while also entering new geographies where the opportunities present themselves.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? The primary factor influencing our expansion is the demand by high quality ODs looking to align with a larger group practice, while also transitioning ownership of their business so they can focus more on patient care. We have had success partnering with this category of independent optometrists, thus propelling our growth and expansion.
Robert Evangelista, president,
Co-Op Optical, Detroit.
What expansion have you recently experienced? In late 2012, we acquired and re-launched a regional retailer. [WCE LLC acquired Co-Op Optical.] In 2013, our sales were up 38 percent following strong growth in lens sales. That rate of growth led to the relocation and expansion of one retail location in addition to adding extra capacity to our main lab.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? For 2014, we expect significant growth in overall sales and traffic while maintaining a drastically reduced cost basis. As a result, we are looking to expand further outside of our current eight-store regional footprint. We anticipate opening up two to three new locations and will also consider acquiring practices. Additionally, we will be investing in expansion in surfacing capacity for our lab and continue the remodeling of existing stores.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? Detroit is not exactly a booming economy. However, leveraging the history of our stores in their communities, the deep, multi-generational patient base and the genuine relationships between our customers and our staff, we are seeing strong growth. Our customers have always been value-conscious and have never forgotten how they were treated fairly and honestly in the past. So now, when it seems the whole world is price conscious, we're leveraging our reputation for value, and it is front and center in all of our messaging.
Edward Beiner, chief visionary officer,
Edward Beiner Group, Miami, Fla.
What expansion have you recently experienced? We completed one total remodel in Orlando, doubled the size of the shop in Miami and opened a new store in Dadeland Mall.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? We will open our 12th store in Sarasota, Fla., this September.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? Our motivating factor stems from the business angle. Florida is in a constant state of change, economically, demographically and playing a larger place in the world stage. As a company, we have adapted and leveraged our position to strengthen our brand and service the luxury market.
Daniel Stanton, CEO,
Stanton Optical, Palm Springs, Fla.
What expansion have you recently experienced? During 2013, Vision Precision Holdings introduced 13 new Stanton Optical and My Eyelab stores in Alabama, California, Florida and Texas. A majority of the retail stores were established in Florida.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? We're preparing to launch 10 more retail stores across the country.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? Our current and future expansions have been influenced by our customers. Stanton Optical and My Eyelab's increasingly positive response to low-cost eyecare services have awarded us growth opportunities and some potential innovations for the near future.
David Brown, ABOC, NCLE, optical director,
Houston Eye Associates, Houston.
What expansion have you recently experienced? For 2013, Houston Eye Associates acquired three offices, opened two new door fronts, and relocated a current practice into a new build-out for last year.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? That is always a difficult question to answer for Houston Eye Associates, but I expect 2014 to be a very busy year for our optical division. Our immediate plans are to open up three new locations this year while also relocating a current practice into a new building later on in the year.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? All three factors are weighted heavily in our decisions process. The Houston economy is going strong right now, and real estate opportunities are always present with a city that is so expansive. As we navigate through upcoming ACA-related reimbursement issues, we are looking to capitalize on our optical practices in the near future.
Alan Ulsifer, OD, CEO and president,
FYidoctors, Alberta, Canada
What expansion have you recently experienced? Our business model was built for growth and consolidation. In order to be able to grow in a manageable way, we have invested heavily in infrastructure and systems. We are now in a position to continue to grow in a significant way. We acquired
Vision Source Canada in October and are beginning a steady stream of rolling independent practices into our platform. We have also recently created a vision care benefits program in cooperation with
VSP Canada and have become the exclusive optical provider for Aeroplan, a large Canadian loyalty card program.
What expansion plans do you have for 2014? In 2014 we will continue to add new clinics on a monthly basis. We created a compelling case for independent doctors, and our desire is to begin an aggressive phase of growth. There continue to be many consolidation opportunities in Canada, and our doctors want to lead that consolidation. We have a keen interest in the U.S. market and hope that we will begin our U.S. business in 2014. With all of the changes in the marketplace and the uncertainty for the future, interest in our business model has never been higher. We see tremendous opportunity in 2014 and will continue to build a strategic advantage for practices that are part of our company either through FYidoctors or Vision Source.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? At this time, despite an economy that nobody is very excited about, we feel that there is ample opportunity for unrestricted growth. There is plenty of uncommitted capital out there, but it is more selective than it has been historically. If the model is profitable, sustainable, and has a good growth story, funding is not an issue. The market has been flat, and that means gaining market share both through acquisition, and same store sales growth, is critical in showing potential investors, landlords, and lenders that your company is not only a safe, but a potentially prosperous partnership, for them. To really grow in today's market and to be able to find the best partners, it is all about the story and potential of your business. If you can get that right, the opportunities are endless.
David H. Hettler, OD,
Drs. May & Hettler, Alexandria, Va.
What economic, business, real estate and other factors are influencing your recent or planned expansions? Too often, related businesses or other opportunities are overlooked by those in the optical business. It's not just having the biggest or most locations that lead to a content retirement. Don't overlook related opportunities to add to your nest egg such as vertical integration or real estate ventures. In any given economy different answers may be needed for the same problems.
For more from the current edition of "dba: Doing Business in Optical’s Local Markets," (as well as archived issues),