Leveraging Independents’ Power, Being a ‘Selling’ Group, Finding ‘Innovation Through Service’

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 The panel on Maintaining an Innovative Edge in Vision Care with (l to r) FYidoctors’ Alan Ulsifer, OD, Doctors Vision Center’s William “Buzz” Hollis and Shopko’s
Don Bye.
 
Concluding Vision Monday’s 2012 Global Leadership Summit was the session on Maintaining an Innovative Edge in Vision Care, presented by Alan Ulsifer, OD, CEO, president and chair of FYidoctors; William “Buzz” Hollis, president and CEO of Doctors Vision Center; and Don Bye, VP of Optical Services for Shopko.

Describing the formation and evolution of FYidoctors in Canada, Ulsifer explained how his practice met with nine other practices in western Canada in June 2006 to discuss independent optometry and to “talk about a new technology called free-form.” The practices seized the “unique opportunity to consolidate” and merged the practices to become one company known as FYidoctors. He described it as a unique business model that lent itself to easy growth.

In addition to merging the practices, FYidoctors also invested in its own free-form optical lab as well as a warehouse to facilitate national distribution. Future plans for FYidoctors include launching a business-to-consumer website. FYidoctors now consists of 102 locations, 250 ODs, and 1,200 employees, and it generated $137 million in revenue in 2011. Even with this dramatic growth, “the doctors still call the shots,” said Ulsifer.

 
 Alan Ulsifer, OD, CEO, president and chair of FYidoctors, described how his organization grew from a meeting of nine practices in June 2006 to 102 locations today. 
 
William “Buzz” Hollis, president and CEO of Doctors Vision Center, explained how he turns challenges into opportunities.
 
Don Bye, VP of Optical Services for Shopko said that he is evaluating where to add optical in the 193 Pamida locations being integrated into this mass merchant.
Hollis followed with a description of how Doctors Vision Center has achieved and maintains the success that has grown the chain to 43 offices in North Carolina and Virginia. He listed the challenges and market factors affecting the optical business today. The challenges include “fear of being commoditized, sustaining profitable growth, leveraging both medical and optical, and how to measure and manage,” while some of today’s market factors are “the pace of technology and access to information, communication channels, patient expectations, reimbursement and regulations, and the fact that change is constantly constant.”

Yet, “we see every challenge as a new opportunity,” he said, and described how he used social media to promote two trunk shows in North Carolina that earned $33,000 net and $41,000 net respectively. “That’s incremental income to us,” he said, explaining, “We’re not a buying group; we’re a selling group. We want to deal with our preferred vendors.”

Hollis also implored attendees, “You better get digital,” and he cited Doctors Vision Center’s electronic presence on Facebook, Twitter and with online videos. In addition to expanding its social media initiatives and growing web traffic with both paid advertising and organically, Doctors Vision Center is also reinventing its mobile presence, launching the MyDVC smartphone app and creating the Doctors Vision Center Professional Eye Care Network.

Hollis added that the facts of optical practices remain the same today as they have over the years: “The most successful practices are those that are involved in their community.”

Bye of Shopko’s Optical Services concluded this panel discussion. After a brief history of the discount chain store, which started in 1962 at the same time as Walmart and Kmart, Bye explained that in 2012 Shopko is merging with Pamida’s 193 locations. “The challenge this year is to evaluate all Pamidas and decide where it makes sense to add optical,” he said. Because most locations are located in communities with a population of less than 12,000, “when adding optical it’s tricky to find a full-time OD,” he said.

One of the first mass merchants to add optical, Shopko now operates 138 Shopko Eyecare Centers in 12 states, filling more than 500,000 prescriptions annually. The company maintains its own optical laboratory and last year invested $2 million in free-form and anti-reflective coating equipment.

Bye then echoed Hollis’s sentiment about community involvement with a description of Shopko Project Eyecare, a partnership established with the Salvation Army in 2000 that over the years has provided over $700,000 worth of eyecare to approximately 6,700 people in need. He described the program as “innovation through service,” stating, “The one thing that does not change is that eyecare providers, no matter how they operate, still live or die by customer service.”

jsailer@jobson.com