VM’s Ranking Underscores Expansion Among the 10 Leading Players

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Updated on May 15, 2019

NEW YORK—New attitudes among consumers toward purchasing in general and the rise of digital exploration and purchasing may have upended the general retail marketplace last year with many store closures and reorgs. But as the U.S. economy held its own, the optical industry’s total sales rose just slightly and remained stable.

It was new and continued private equity-driven investments in optical and optometric retail and solid organic sales growth from value-sector optical retailers that reflected a higher dollar volume among the 50 U.S. Optical Retailers in Vision Monday’s 2019 signature report and ranking. Based on estimated 2018 calendar year sales, the higher dollar volume among the group was especially notable for the concentration of sales among this year’s Top 10 retailers.

Warby Parker did indeed enter the VM Top 10 this year at number nine, as the nine-year-old online optical company moved even more decisively into the brick-and-mortar optical sector, operating 87 stores at year’s end—84 of which are in the U.S. VM estimates include Warby’s online and physical store sales.

There is now a higher concentration of sales among several companies who are now more visibly comprising larger networks—formed by private-equity acquisitions of regional optical groups as well as many dozens of formerly smaller, independent practices. These groups include MyEyeDr. as well as EyeCare Partners. However, other private equity-backed groups have also shown significant expansion, such as Eyemart Express, which grew in locations and sales, Acuity Eyecare Group, which grew via acquisition, and the Total EyeCare Partners and Visionary Partners groups.

National Vision’s first full year as a publicly-traded company was accompanied by a major expansion in markets across the country and a higher visibility due to its value advertising and marketing partnerships.

Vision Source, which operates as a franchise, held its number one position. Luxottica Retail expanded via its LensCrafters locations inside Macy’s. Target experienced major sales gains and Pearle’s franchising expansion continued successfully while Sears was buffeted by financial travails and closed more than 200 stores.

Costco’s continued strength, along with National Vision’s and Walmart/Sam’s Clubs’ sales gains, despite the tightening of locations, were some of the operations speaking to the continued appeal of value messages to consumers.

BJ’s, which went public as a company last year, decided to take over its own optical departments; Refac’s U.S. Vision group operated them through the year but BJ’s took over in January 2019.

Visionworks held its spot on the chart at number six, with a year focused on building a new leadership team and driving efficiencies through streamlined operations. A number of important regional groups continued to see the rewards of investing and branding. And several regionals grew by slowly adding locations to their roster, offering new alternatives to smaller independent ODs looking to make different kinds of transition transactions.