CECOP, a leading global association of independent opticians and optometrists, has begun to make inroads in the U.S. market with its recent deals and additions to its executive team at CECOP USA. In June, CECOP USA named Brent H. Alvord as chief development officer with a mandate to further accelerate the company’s growth trajectory. He has oversight of marketing, sales, strategic alliances and new services development. In addition, Alvord, a former ABB executive, leads the effort to acquire optometry locations that will help CECOP USA expand into practice management.

“We anticipate acquiring five to 10 locations within the next year,” he said at the time. “In Spain, CECOP has successfully leveraged this model by owning about 150 practices that it can then test out technology and processes and then share knowledge and experience with its members.”

Ignacio Macias, CEO, CECOP North America, said he believes independent optometry is challenged on all fronts and requires partners that think differently about how to overcome those challenges. “CECOP USA is the first independent membership group that is part of a global community of business leaders, optometrists, opticians and visionaries collaborating to transform business models and programs for the sustainable success of independent optometry,” he added. “Thinking beyond traditional cost savings programs, we’re redefining how to market, operate and manage a successful practice and have fun along the way.”

Alvord’s appointment followed the January move by CECOP to acquire The Alliance Buying Group from Surgery Partners Inc. (which had acquired The Alliance via its 2011 purchase of NovaMed). This was CECOP’s second acquisition in the U.S. market and followed closely upon the May 2020 deal to take over Combine Buying Group. The latter marked European-focused CECOP’s entry into the North American market.

CECOP works to deliver collective buying power, operational best practices, strategic solutions and other services to 7,000-plus members and more than 120 brand partners across Europe and Latin America. In his first few months on the job, Alvord has worked to negotiate vendor discounts and incentives, and to coordinate practice-enhancing services that members can use their “rewards points” to purchase.

“I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that has been genuinely caring about the success of the optometrist for over 25 years and has over 7,000 member practices around the world,” he said. “Our focus in the USA is to leverage our proven processes and experience to truly drive bottom-line profit growth as well as the quality of life for optometrists—both of which are desperately needed if we want independents to continue to succeed in the midst of all the industry threats.”

CECOP USA, he added, is passionate about helping practices boost buying power, leverage data and technology and add other services that “reduce their stress, decrease daily hassles, and make more money.”

During the pandemic, CECOP USA membership grew, and even more importantly “bounced back with speed,” Macias said.

“We certainly learned that communication is paramount, between our group to members and our members to their patients,” he added. “While communication isn’t ‘new’ as a concept, it was especially critical for us since we acquired the Combine Buying Group and the Alliance Buying group last year and we are transforming those groups to bring exponential value for our members.”

This focus on communication led to another realization: cash is important to members. “We worked very hard to renegotiate major vendor deals, leveraging our global volume buying power … to bring some of the best discounts and promotions to help our members,” Macias added.

“We also are focused on consulting, training, programs, and services to help our members boost their cash flow. We learned of the incredible spirit of perseverance of our members. That spirit of perseverance is the very thing that inspires CECOP USA’s mission to support independent optometry in this time of business transformation necessary to compete in today’s marketplace.”

Alvord noted that CECOP wants to see ECPs improve their quality of life by leveraging technology and services that remove “the hassle factors of running their practices,” while enhancing the bottom line. In addition to embracing such specialties as Dry Eye therapy and Myopia control, the group also wants practices to have an opportunity to embrace service partners and programs that move the needle on profitability, he added.

One of its new programs is aimed at the acute need to address cash-flow issues. This new program allows practices to skip two monthly payments for lab and frame bills they bring to CECOP USA, thus basically receiving an extra 60 days of payment terms through the end of 2022.

“So effectively, if a practice is spending $15,000 per month on lab and frames, it could get $30,000 in extra cash to use interest-free through the end of next year,” Alvord said, noting that another program to analyze accounts receivables and medical billing helps a practice optimize cash flow.