Opti-Port, since its founding 20 years ago, has always been focused on the community aspect of eyecare and optical businesses, and that interest and commitment to collaboration was one of the key elements members called on over the past 18 months to help steer through the challenges of the pandemic. As the only national alliance of leading multi-office eyecare providers, Opti-Port is set up to leverage the combined strength of member companies in a way that helps provide revenue-growing ideas, cost savings, and market-expanding opportunities.

“Leaning into these ideas and the community aspect was particularly helpful at Opti-Port,” Dr. Jason Lake, the group’s general manager, said in a recent interview with Vision Monday. “At Opti-Port, we leaned in with a lot of webinars and things like that to get information out [during the pandemic]. … It was a real shining moment for community, and I think we did a great job with that.”

Lake, who took on his new role at Opti-Port about a year ago, operates a five-office practice in the Kansas City area with his wife, Susan Lake, OD. He’s also the general manager of the PERC alliance, which like Opti-Port is under the Essilor Alliance group. (This group also includes Vision Source.)

Whether it was via the community-orientation or other benefits provided to members, Opti-Port was able to grow significantly during the pandemic, Lake said. “We have grown at a very nice clip throughout all this. I think a part of that is that people want community and they want to be able to engage. That’s been a real plus for us,” he added, noting that Opti-Port has almost doubled in size in membership since the start of the pandemic.

The group includes several of the leading independently owned regional eyecare groups, with 10 of the members being ranked in Vision Monday’s 2021 Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers. The 10 are: Henry Ford OptimEyes, Rosin Eyecare, Northeastern Eye Institute, Dr. Tavel Optical Group, Standard Optical, Bard Optical, True Eye Experts, Midwest Vision Centers, Optyx, and Virginia Eye Institute.

Another reason for Opti-Port’s growth is that ODs are looking for “customer-based solutions that resonate,” which Lake said Opti-Port is able to provide. The group is working on a number of new offerings this year, including integrated systems that tie into practice management (which is in a pilot phase) and other services that are intended to be “industry unique.”

Looking ahead, Lake said he believes the pandemic has brought important changes to the eyecare and optical businesses that are going to be around for the long term. For example, both doctors and patients have become more knowledgeable about online ordering and other facets of digital media. This is where Opti-Port’s CLX cloud-based ordering for contact lenses was a critical tool for Opti-Port members during the pandemic. (CLX also offers practices management and marketing tools designed to help grow their contact lens business.)

“People are much more savvy with online [services] now,” Lake said. “And one of the biggest things we learned [during the pandemic] was the importance of the CLX program. It really saved a lot of practices’ bacon, so to speak, because it was a way to provide a little bit of cash flow. It also was a way that we could get our customers contact lenses.”

He added, “I think with CLX it’s a tremendous opportunity to realize that whether we like it or not this is a web-based business now and you’ve got to have an interface there. That’s important.”

Another important development coming out of the pandemic is the acknowledgement of the importance of supply chain solutions. Opti-Port is addressing this area (it also offers members a version of the PERC Advantage program with a static frame board solution). This is an area where affiliation with EssilorLuxottica can help with fulfillment solutions.

The question is how does Opti-Port leverage those resources to “make sure our customers have things that they need as quickly as possible.” While the connection with EssilorLuxottica provides a benefit to members, the alliance also provides members the option of working with other vendor partners, also. “Our job is to provide a value proposition and it is the members’ job to choose what they want,” Lake said. “It’s my job to make sure that we have a value proposition [in which] our members see true value.”

He added, “It’s a bit of a cliché, but as much as we were all isolated, I think community now is more important than ever. That’s the thing I see people leaning into.”