Snapshots of Optical’s 10 Largest U.S. Retail Players

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Vision Source
Vision Source L.P. retained its top spot in the annual VM ranking of the Top 50 U.S. optical retailers. It marked the third consecutive year that Vision Source has held the No. 1 position. Vision Source is an alliance group and franchisor.

For calendar 2018, Vision Source reported aggregated sales of $2.84 billion, an increase of 3.9 percent compared with the year-ago total. The location count dipped slightly to 3,279 from 3,330 at the end of 2017.

In addition to keeping busy on the practice front, Vision Source also had a number of other initiatives underway in 2018 that are designed to bolster the overall entity going forward.

At The Exchange meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in May 2018, Vision Source, announced that it was planning to put more emphasis on building collaborative relationships with health care delivery systems. By developing these relationships, Vision Source noted that it is in better position to demonstrate that optometry is an integral component of the delivery of health services in the U.S.

Vision Source executives also provided details on two other significant initiatives underway in 2018: Vision Source Next, a program designed to facilitate the opening of new Vision Source locations, and a newly launched exclusive network to monitor ocular side effects among patients being treated for Multiple Sclerosis. The latter program will come under the umbrella of My Treatment Monitor, a health care initiative addressing chronic conditions that launched at The Exchange.

In December, Vision Source named Michael Marcroft as vice president of marketing. He succeeded Randy Sones, who retired after a 27-year working history with Vision Source. Marcroft took on responsibility for the group’s overall marketing strategies, initiatives and communications.

And last September, Vision Source announced that Dr. Amir Khoshnevis was joining its leadership team as executive vice president and chief clinical officer, as of Jan. 1, 2019. Dr. Khoshnevis works alongside Vision Source leaders, including founder Dr. Glenn Ellisor, Dr. Bobby Christensen, Dr. John McCall and Dr. Paul Williams “to ensure that the voice and vision of the private practice optometrist continue to guide the network,” according to an announcement at the time.






Luxottica Retail
EssilorLuxottica officially became a new company in October 2018, but Luxottica Retail was pursuing growth on all fronts during the year. While Sunglass Hut posted a solid sales year in the U.S. and internationally (Sunglass Hut sales are not included in VM’s Top U.S. Optical Retailers report), Luxottica management cited the strong performance of its Target Optical departments during the year, opening two additional locations to bring the total to 512 but generating significant sales gains in that group.

LensCrafters invested in improving and refining its U.S. operations, operating a total of 973 stores—among them, and by the end of 2018, there were 148 LensCrafters locations operated inside Macy’s stores, per an agreement the two companies announced in 2017.

The Pearle Vision business finished the year with a strong top line performance and reduced the number of its corporately-owned locations to 62, adding new franchised ones, with a total of 407 franchised by the end of the year. In June 2018, Pearle announced it was launching a “strategic independent optometrist conversion program,” called Pearle Vision “Ignite,” that is tied to the company’s commitment to growing the brand in new communities across the nation.

Across Luxottica Retail’s licensed brands, business was impacted in 2018 by the closing of 200-plus Sears Optical locations as that retailer was forced to shutdown stores as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. By the end of 2018, there were 199 Sears Optical locations, about half of what was operating the prior year.

And Luxottica Retail also continued to focus on its brand stores such as Oliver Peoples’ 24 units, and one Alain Mikli store. The group also ran fewer Ilori stores (7 units at the end of the year) and two Optical Shop of Aspen (OSA) locations.






Walmart Inc.
Walmart Inc., the third-largest optical retailer in the U.S., maintained its standing in 2018 even as the big retailer made some key management moves in its health and wellness operations. Walmart named former OneSight executive Mony Iyer as vice president, Walmart U.S. Optical, and he assumed his new role in late July. Iyer previously was president of Cincinnati-based OneSight, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to expanded access to eye exams and eyeglasses.

In Walmart’s internal announcement of the health and wellness moves, the company said Iyer would be responsible for developing a “long-term strategy for our vision centers, and will lead the newly consolidated team focused on our optical business.” The announcement added, “We will bring together parts of the optical business that currently sit across various teams in merchandising, contracting and optical labs to better achieve our goals in this space.”

Iyer has held executive positions with the Luxottica units Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters, and with The Hershey Company and Boston Consulting Group. He received an MBA degree from Duke University’s The Fuqua School of Business. At Walmart, he is reporting to Sean Slovenski, who was named as senior vice president of health and wellness for the Walmart U.S. business unit in July 2018.

Walmart operated 2,866 of its own Walmart Vision Centers as well as 537 Sam’s Club optical centers at the end of 2018. The company has reduced the number of Sam’s Club optical departments over the past few years. An additional 227 Walmart Vision locations are operated by National Vision Holdings under an arrangement with Walmart.

In mid-2018, Walmart confirmed that unspecified organizational changes carried out at the company’s optical labs in Fayetteville, Ark., and Crawfordsville, Ind., would result in some positions being eliminated.

“In response to changing business needs, we are making adjustments at our Walmart Optical Labs in Fayetteville and Crawfordsville to help ensure we have the right people in the right place at the right time,” a statement at the time noted. “We are committed to helping the associates impacted by this decision take advantage of new opportunities and are hopeful that we will be able to help many of the associates find other roles at nearby Walmart stores or Sam’s Clubs.”
  





National Vision Holdings, Inc
National Vision Holdings Inc. (NVI) holds the No. 4 spot on the Vison Monday 2019 Top 50 list. The company operated throughout the full year 2018 as a publicly-traded company (NASDAQ: EYE). National Vision completed a successful IPO in October 2017.

At of the end of 2018, the company operated America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses (657 units), The Vision Center (Walmart 227 units), Eyeglass World (115 units), Vista Optical (Fred Meyer 29 units) and Vista Optical on select military bases (54 units).

The company achieved a double-digit increase in net revenue as well as in adjusted EBITDA in fiscal 2018. The optical retailer delivered its 68th consecutive quarter of positive same-store sales growth in last year’s fourth fiscal quarter and ended 2018 with 1,082 stores. In January of 2019, the company opened a new state-of-the-art lens manufacturing lab in Plano, Texas which management said “added essential capacity to support future growth.”

Overall, National Vision’s comparable-store sales rose 6.7 percent, “driven by an increase in customer transactions and, to a lesser extent, average ticket,” the year-end fiscal announcement noted. Overall, store count grew 6.8 percent from Dec. 31, 2017 to Dec. 29, 2018.

National Vision CEO Reade Fahs told financial analysts at year-end 2018 that the company’s “net promoter” scores have risen to record levels. “In 2018, we expanded our footprint [and] increased market share in a highly fragmented market,” Fahs told analysts. “We see a large opportunity in front of us.”

In 2019, National Vision said it anticipates it will open approximately 75 new stores in 2019 (with the majority under the American’s Best banner).






Costco Wholesale
The year 2018 proved to be another strong year for the optical departments at Costco Wholesale, the largest U.S.-based membership warehouse club. Sales in the optical departments increased 6.1 percent (a slight drop from the 10.8 percent increase in 2017) to almost $1.13 billion last year. As a result of its billion-dollar year, Costco once again ranked at No. 5 in the Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers ranking.

Costco opened a net 12 new optical departments in 2018 (it opened a net six new locations in 2017) and finished the year with 509 optical centers. Costco operated 475 optical locations at the end of 2015.

Among the company’s 2018 accolades, Transitions Optical named Costco as a finalist for its U.S. Retailer of the Year award (ultimately won by National Vision.) However, Transitions honored the Canadian optical division of Costco with its Canadian Retailer of the Year title, citing the group’s “numerous unique training materials” used to educate staff on the benefits of Transitions lenses.

As of April, Costco overall operated 770 warehouses worldwide, including 535 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, (509 of which have opticals), 100 in Canada, 39 in Mexico, 28 in the United Kingdom, 26 in Japan, 15 in Korea, 13 in Taiwan, 10 in Australia, two in Spain, and one each in Iceland and France. Costco also operates e-commerce sites in the U.S. and Canada, and other locations.

A Costco membership is not required to receive an eye exam at Costco warehouse clubs, but it is required to purchase frames and/or lenses from the optical department. Costco optical centers offer frames, contact lenses, and a variety of prescription and special lens options for Costco members. Many Costco optical departments also have an independent optometrist (OD) in or near the optical department.
  





Visionworks of America, Inc.
Visionworks has continued to focus on improving its operations and strengthening its senior management team throughout the organization in the past year. The group held its number six spot on VM’s ranking, generating $947.4 million in sales for the year through 727 locations across the country.

According to Highmark, Inc.’s last quarterly report, Visionworks “continues to deliver on its turnaround plan under its new leadership team.” According to the announcement, “the company reported an operating loss of $21 million in 2018, an improvement of $21 million over the prior year, excluding the results of managed vision care.”

Under the leadership of CEO Pete Bridgman, Visionworks has also examined ways to generate more efficient growth, announcing this past March that the company would shutter its Syracuse, N.Y. lab facility and shift its capacity to its other facilities located in the San Antonio, Texas area, where Visionworks is headquartered. These facilities are larger, more efficient, have more advanced technology, and are located near company headquarters. The company has made significant improvements to these facilities to enhance their production capacity and they are capable of meeting its current and expected future production needs, the company said.






MyEyeDr./Capital Vision Services, LP
MyEyeDr./Capital Vision Services LP continued its robust growth in 2018, driven in part by key acquisitions of leading eyecare practices in Indiana and Alabama (a late 2017 transaction), and also the addition of more than 50 other independent practices across the nation.

As a result, MyEyeDr. solidified its spot at No. 7 in the annual Top 50 Optical Retailers ranking, but its hyper growth last year added more than $100 million in annual sales and 72 new locations. The company closed 2018 with 437 locations overall and $602 million in annual sales.

Since its launch in 2001 with one doctor and one location, MyEyeDr. has received investments from Altas Partners of Toronto and CDPQ, a Canadian pension fund. The company embraces a “Total Vision Care Concept, where the group provides for all aspects of vision care: eye exams, contact lenses, eyeglasses, sunglasses and medical eyecare services,” executives said.

The company’s banner acquisition in 2018 came in July when it acquired Ossip Optometry with 36 locations across the state of Indiana. The partnership boosted the presence of MyEyeDr. in the Midwest and marked the company’s initial foray of the MyEyeDr. banner into Indiana. Future expansion is planned across Indiana and other markets throughout the Midwest, the company said at the time of the Ossip deal.

MyEyeDr. has expanded to its current position from 139 locations at the end of 2014 and 205 locations at year-end 2015. The company has more than doubled in size (by location count) over the past three years growing from 205 to 437 offices.


 


Eyecare Partners LLC

EyeCare Partners LLC (ECP) continued its expansion efforts in 2018, adding 52 locations in both new and existing markets and topping the $400 million mark in sales for the calendar year.

ECP, which is backed by the private equity firm FFL Partners, now offers comprehensive medical eyecare services throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina. Its doctors serve the vision care needs of more than one million patients annually, the company said.

The company’s acquisitions continued in early 2019 as ECP expanded into its 11th state. ECP’s CEO, Kelly McCrann said, “In addition, our acquisition model offers independent practitioners excellent liquidity as well as the ability to focus their attention on providing exceptional clinical care, while we provide world-class business support and scale advantages.”
  





Warby Parker
Warby Parker moves into VM’s Top 10, based on VM’s best estimates of 2018 revenues, not corroborated by the company but taking into account a store count of 84 at the end of 2018 in the U.S. (another 3 in Canada) and continued online growth. As of April 1, 2019, Warby Parker had 88 retail locations in the U.S. (3 in Canada) and was continuing with its store expansion. It opened its first store in New York City in 2013.

The company took on an additional $75 million in capital in a Series E funding in March 2018, led by T. Rowe Rice, accompanied by a statement from the company that it is “profitable” and the financial press widely reporting it as a “pre-IPO” investment round, bringing the 9-year-old eyeglass retailer into the spheres of a $1.75 billion valuation. Warby has taken on approximately $300 million in investments since the firm’s inception in 2010.

Warby Parker said, “The capital will go toward R&D and technology that will help the company better serve customers and continue to transform the optical industry in the years to come” and “to build deeper relationships with long-term shareholders.”

Warby began to accept vision insurance in 2018 through an arrangement with UnitedHealthcare (UHC), where people enrolled in UHC’s employer-sponsored and individual vision plans can access Warby Parker’s prescription eyewear, online or at any of its stores nationwide. In May 2017, the company launched a mobile refraction service that lets current customers measure their visual acuity using an app called the Warby Parker Prescription Check.

This past March, Warby marked a milestone for its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, reporting it has officially distributed five million pairs of glasses to those in need in more than 50 countries.
  





Refac Optical Group
Refac Optical Group, parent company of U.S. Vision and Nationwide Vision, moved down one spot in the Top 50 rankings to No. 10 with sales of about $275 million in 2018 (about a 1 percent decline compared with 2017). It was an eventful year for the company, which also reported that one of its large optical partners, BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings Inc., was taking its optical business in-house. The move by BJ’s, which executed a successful initial public offering last year, was effective Jan. 6, 2019.

U.S. Vision operated 204 BJ’s optical department locations at the end of last year. U.S. Vision unit continues to work with other retail optical partners, including JCPenney, Meijer’s Optical, Sears Optical, Saks Optical, Boscov’s Optical, Optical Center (AAFES Exchange) and 20/20 Vision Center. The firm’s Nationwide Vision unit operates 90 company-owned stores and 20 leased departments.

In addition, U.S. Vision operates optical locations within Canada’s Hudson’s Bay department stores, but those results are not included in this report. Since 2011, Refac has been owned by ACON Investments, a Washington, D.C.-based private equity investment firm.