The key principles that PECAA was founded upon in 2006—including the idea of being a collaborative community of like-minded, independent eyecare professionals committed to growing their practices together—have remained a constant through the past 15 years. And as the group moves into a new phase of growth and evolution, the organization will continue to help members stay focused and thrive in all kinds of conditions.

“The word that we’ve used often during the pandemic is ‘resilient’—and independent optometrists are just that,” PECAA senior vice president and general manager Jamie Hughes noted. “There’s no question that it’s been a challenging 15 months, but in talking and connecting with PECAA members, we see that they have fared well, all things considered.”

Many members have even taken the time to make fundamental improvements within their practice, such as adding new services, equipment or processes that may yield dividends for years to come, noted Lance Anderson, OD, vice president of strategic initiatives.

Hughes added, “We’ve also seen record numbers of new (cold start) practices join the membership—an incredibly positive sign that the profession of independent optometry will continue to thrive despite the pandemic and other market forces currently playing out.” PECAA has grown to just over 2,500 member practice locations with over 3,800 practice doctors. It has members in 47 states.

Anderson, who is a co-founding PECAA member, said the organization “certainly hasn’t lost any of its passion to help members. “We’re much better at Zoom than we ever thought we’d be, but we’ve really missed connecting with members at the PECAA Annual Meeting and other live events.” The live events will return beginning with the annual PECAA member reception at Vision Expo West.

PECAA executives note that managing through the pandemic provided an opportunity for ECPs to evaluate and recalibrate their practice models, while reinforcing some of the old standards around managing a business. “The pandemic lessons are plentiful, however, the one that stands out is that good habits lead to good outcomes,” Hughes said.

“This is true in normal times, but the impact of good habits really stand out during times of crisis. Practices with a plan, competent leadership, strong internal relationships and meaningful connections to their patient base fared better on the whole. The habits and platform needed to successfully navigate the pandemic were built long before COVID arrived.”

Among the key programs recently launched is the Optical Success Initiative, a way for member practices to grow their profit by transforming their optical approach. Roughly half of a practice’s revenue is generated in the optical, yet it remains one of the few profit centers (or areas) where practices can still reduce their expenses while growing their profit.

The Optical Success Initiative involves the introduction of a PECAA exclusive frame line that features cost-of-goods that are 70 percent to 80 percent below branded frames through a direct-from-factory relationship. It also provides supporting optical management education for practice team members and a community of peers to share best-practices and selling strategies.

PECAA also relaunched its 90 Days to Dry Eye Program, an all-encompassing, comprehensive learning experience that walks participants through the process of building a dry eye profit center in three months. Another key initiative under way is that PECAA is in the process of expanding the offerings under the Cold Start Practice Program, which will provide dedicated vendor discounts and specialized services to new practices. “We’re also expanding our efforts to help practices promote a high-performance culture through enhanced staff education, billing and coding support, marketing insights and human resource solutions,” Hughes said.

One of the continuing challenges, though, is finding good people to hire. “This is, by far, the biggest issue we are hearing from members,” Hughes said. “When the labor market is tight, employers tend to hire less experienced, or completely inexperienced, candidates and this means they have to provide more training. PECAA’s staff training offerings, such as our Office Manager Certification Course, are seeing record enrollments. We expect this issue to persist for members and we continue to add more staff training offerings within our member programs.”