Vision Source L.P.
Vision Source, a North American network of independent private practice optometrists, has once again found itself at the top of this year’s VM Top 50 Optical Retailers list. Founded in 1991 with a focus on and commitment to the long-term success of independent optometry, the organization in calendar year 2023 reported 2,994 practice locations in the U.S. with a membership of 4,500 optometrists and sales of $2.938 billion. At The Exchange 2024, held in April, Vision Source announced two new programs that expand on its offerings to members: an Associate OD Placement Program and an employee health care benefits program.

The OD Placement Program, a student loan debt relief initiative, enables Vision Source members to feature employer-funded tuition reimbursement as part of their associate OD compensation package. The program takes a proactive approach to helping private practice owners add associate doctors, allowing Vision Source members to access up to $150,000 in membership fee credits to earmark for associate doctor student loan repayment, along with support resources to bring on highly motivated professionals with the desire to provide patient care within a private practice setting.

In addition, an employee health care benefits program was introduced that provides practice owners with health plan options for themselves and their associates. All members have access to this program, the company noted, which at time of offering included medical insurance benefits. Practices with at least two employees can participate.

"We leverage our member network framework to secure options for our Vision Source member practice owners versus what is traditionally available to them on the small employer group market,” executives stated. "Vision Source is committed to making advancements accessible to all practice owners. Our new programs, like the Associate OD Placement Program and Employee Healthcare Benefits, aim to empower practices of all sizes."

Vision Source is a part of Essilor of America, which is a division of EssilorLuxottica. In accordance with franchise law, Vision Source is a franchisor, and its members are franchisees who own their respective practice(s). The collective revenue of those practices is reported in the VM Top 50. Essilor acquired Vision Source in 2015.

Luxottica Retail
Part of the EssilorLuxottica retail network, Luxottica Retail (Reuters: ESLX.PA) maintained its position this year in the #2 slot of the VM Top 50 ranking. Offering a diverse selection of brands, the group added 12 units, bringing total storefronts to 2,185, and demonstrated an approximate 4.8 percent year-over-year growth in sales, with VM-estimated total sales of $2.620 billion for calendar year 2023.

A notable standout this year among Luxottica Retail brands includes Pearle Vision, the largest optical franchise business in the U.S., which has been recognized once again in Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 list as the #1-ranked health and wellness franchise in the country. Closing 2023 with 510 locations, including 61 corporate and 449 franchise, Pearle Vision had a record year, demonstrating total revenues of approximately $550 million, the company told VM.

Ten years ago, the company noted, its network was 50 percent corporate owned and 50 percent franchised; it has since doubled down on its franchise model, complete with support and tools to help owners and independent ODs run a successful practice. Close to 90 percent of the company’s fleet is now franchised, and the company indicates it has plans to open several new locations in 2024.

Other businesses within the Luxottica Retail group include LensCrafters, with 932 total locations (including 95 LensCrafters inside Macy’s). In 2023, LensCrafters launched its first virtual experience, LensCrafters Eye Odyssey, on the global immersive platform Roblox, offering participants an online edutainment experience that provides an engaging and educational way to promote healthy eyecare habits. Season 2 of the experience was launched earlier this year.

Target Optical operated 574 locations (an increase of 12 stores) and saw sales increase to a VM-estimated $525.6 million. Additional Luxottica Retail brands include For Eyes (107 locations); Oliver Peoples (24 locations); Persol (1 location); Ray-Ban (33 locations); OSA (3 locations); and Alain Mikli (1 location).

In May 2022, EssilorLuxottica announced the launch of OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation, and in 2023, the foundation scaled up its global efforts to help eliminate uncorrected poor vision, the company stated. In collaboration with like-minded partners, the foundation has provided 177 million people with permanent access to vision care, dispensed more than 14 million pairs of eyeglasses to those in need and established more than 4,900 permanent access points, bringing vision care to areas where it was previously unavailable.

National Vision Holdings, Inc
National Vision (NASDAQ: EYE), one of the largest optical retail companies in the U.S. with stores in 38 states and Puerto Rico, ended 2023 with 1,413 U.S. optical locations, and a total U.S. optical revenue of $2,126 million. National Vision operated under six national retail trade names in 2023: America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, Eyeglass Word, Vision Center brought to you by Walmart, Vista Optical in select Fred Meyer stores, Vista Optical in select military exchanges and AC Lens. The company did not report any acquisitions or divestitures in 2023.

In the 2023 fiscal year, National Vision opened 70 new stores, closed seven stores and transitioned four stores to Walmart. These transitions to Walmart were part of the partnership termination; National Vision’s partnership with Walmart Inc. ended in February 2024. This partnership included supplying and operating Vision Centers in 229 Walmart stores, providing contact lens distribution and related services to Walmart and its affiliate, Sam’s Club, and arranging for the provision of optometric services at certain Walmart locations in California.

In addition, in 2023 National Vision announced its decision to wind down its AC Lens operations which primarily supported the contact lens distribution and related services to Walmart and its affiliate, Sam’s Club.

For the 2023 fiscal year, the combined Walmart Vision Center and AC Lens operations generated approximately $403 million in revenue and earnings before income tax of approximately $17 million. Effective as of Feb. 23, 2024, the company has completed the transition of 229 Walmart Vision Center stores and remains on-track with its plans to wind down its AC Lens operations by June 30, 2024.

For the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2024, the company expects net revenue to be between $1.965 billion and $2.005 billion. The company also expects to open 65 to 70 new stores in fiscal 2024, most in the America’s Best brand, according to CEO Reade Fahs. The company announced that it will convert its 20 Eyeglass World stores in California over to the America’s Best brand.

National Vision told Vision Monday, “National Vision’s greatest achievement in 2023 was that it was another year of continued improvement to optometric retention and a record year for optometric recruitment coupled with the ongoing expansion of our in-house remote optometric practice offering. In short, we were able to provide increased access to the eye exams that patients desire from us across the country.”

The company said, “National Vision continues to invest in technology to expand patients’ access to eyecare and offer greater flexibility to doctors.”

National Vision said it “Continues to pursue opportunities to make quality care more affordable and accessible, such as by investing in the development of AI tools to analyze retinal images for biometric markers linked to overall health risk factors, and America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses becoming the first national optical chain to make retinal imaging an included part of comprehensive eye exams for children.”

Walmart Inc.
In its directly-managed optical business, the departments at Walmart and Sam’s Club totaled a collective number of 3,421 locations in 2023. Sales increased from $1,880 million in 2022 to $2,025 million in 2023. VM estimates of Walmart’s Inc.’s optical business includes the company-owned and operated Walmart optical departments (2,875 locations as of the end of 2023) and Sam’s Club optical departments (546 locations at the end of 2023).

In May of 2024, Walmart announced it would close its 51 U.S. health clinics across five states and instead reaffirmed its commitment to its vision centers and pharmacies. This focus on investing in vision centers began in early 2023, when Walmart announced it was raising wages and investing in careers for more than 7,000 opticians and pharmacists across its locations.

“Through our experience managing Walmart Health centers and Walmart Health Virtual Care, we determined there is not a sustainable business model for us to continue,” the company said in an announcement. “This is a difficult decision, and like others, the challenging reimbursement environment and escalating operating costs create a lack of profitability that make the care business unsustainable for us at this time,” the announcement said.

In February 2024, optical retail chain National Vision completed the transition of 229 Walmart Vision Center stores as part of the conclusion of its 34-year partnership with the company. Walmart also launched a suite of optical tools, including virtual try-on capabilities, in January 2024.

EyeCare Partners LLC
EyeCare Partners, a portfolio company of Partners Group, ended 2023 with 682 ECP-affiliated locations consisting of ophthalmology and optometry offices. The PE-backed group finished the year with 314 MDs and 745 ODs under their umbrella, with corporate total U.S. optical revenue of $1.728 billion consolidated from clinically integrated operations.

While the company made no public disclosures regarding acquisitions or divestitures in 2023, it did open the Cincinnati Eye Institute Retina Clinic at The Landings. According to a company executive, its singular focus on medical and surgical treatment of the retina is the largest of its kind, and the site is unique with state-of-the-art retina equipment, including the most advanced imaging platforms available. The site also supports expansion of clinical trial and research services.

EyeCare Partners’ growing network of 1,000+ doctors and team members served more than 3.5 million patients across 18 states in 2023, according to company executives, leveraging its physician-led model of clinically integrated eyecare, along with innovation and research advancements.

Chris Throckmorton was named as chief executive officer at EyeCare Partners in late January 2024, succeeding the role held by Ben Breier as interim CEO. Other leadership appointments followed this year, with Joel Day named as executive vice president of finance and chief financial officer, effective June 1, 2024. In April 2024, the company appointed Mark Barron as chief growth officer.

For the duration of 2024, EyeCare Partners plans to stay assertive in seeking out opportunities that “best fit its vision.” Company executives told VM in April, “EyeCare Partners will remain aggressive on opportunities that fit our long-term strategic vision and reflect appropriate valuations in this inflated cost environment. We also remained focused on new clinic and ASCs builds, site expansions, innovation and other strategic growth initiatives.”

Costco Optical
Part of Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST), Costco Optical ended 2023 with 568 U.S. optical locations, an increase of 13 compared with its 555 U.S. locations at the end of 2022. Costco Optical also reported a corporate total U.S. optical revenue of $1,683.9 million.

Costco Wholesale is a worldwide business. Ron Vachris was appointed to the role of CEO, effective January 1, 2024.

Costco Optical did begin offering remote or tele-optometry exams prior to 2023 and intends to expand those efforts in 2024, company executives said.

Capital Vision Services dba MyEyeDr.
MyEyeDr. finished 2023 with a total of 842 offices, 1,481 doctors, and $1,400.0 million in revenue. Executives told VM in April, “MyEyeDr. spent much of 2023 focusing on integrating the 200 practices we acquired in 2021 and 2022. We took the time to ensure the patient, doctor and associate experience was up to MyEyeDr.’s standards. We partnered with 10 additional practices in 2023 and accelerated our practice acquisitions and integrations through the fourth quarter of 2023 and into 2024.”

The senior leadership team at MyEyeDr. also said the organization will continue to integrate technology and service operations, invest in clinical excellence and training, and accelerate its acquisition activities in 2024.

MyEyeDr. co-founder and CEO, Sue Downes, said, “Investors continue to be interested in vision care due to the stability of the sector. With consistent global turbulence over the last four years, optometry and the optical industry remains strong and growing.”

Downes also told VM, “From an acquisition perspective, we plan to accelerate activity, and partner with new practices at a rate similar to our pre-COVID time frame. We will also grow in selected markets by opening 10 locations as ‘cold‘ We continue to strengthen our class-leading patient experience by making significant investments in medical equipment and practice management technology.

“We have plans to support and promote our doctors’ medical and specialty practices in new and exciting ways in 2024, while better meeting our patients’ needs through omni-channel expansion,” Downes said.

Visionworks of America, Inc.
Visionworks of America, a VSP Vision company, unified its stores across the U.S. under the Visionworks name. It closed 2023 with 773 locations and revenues of $1,173.0 million. Online sales accounted for $2.3 million, mostly in contact lenses (76.7 percent) and in eyeglasses (21.9 percent). VSP Vision acquired Visionworks in October 2019.

In 2023, the company said it “continued simplifying the customer journey by creating an experience that is straightforward and hassle free.” This included its online scheduling tool and comprehensive exams that include retinal imaging in all Visionworks locations. The company also noted that it completed its first full year of organizing its frame selection by shape and price, along with a seamless checkout process, complete with digital order tracking. The company also offers a 100-day guarantee on all purchases.

In 2023, the company said it focused on store expansion in California and Washington state. It also introduced the Visionworks brand into three markets with multiple retail locations.

Visionworks continued to employ some remote exam/tele-optometry technology in its group prior to 2023 and said it expects to expand that this year.

Warby Parker
Warby Parker (NYSE:WRBY) ended 2023, its second full year as a public company, with 237 stores across the United States and Canada, including 40 stores opened during the year. Full-year net revenue was reported at $669.8 million, including both online sales and those from North American storefronts. Warby Parker operated 5 stores in Canada. VM estimated that the company's U.S. sales for the year ended 12/31/24 were $659 million.

“2023 marked our second full year as a public company and one in which we executed on our commitment to growing sustainably, delivering double-digit revenue growth each quarter while improving margins and creating exceptional customer experiences,” said co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal.

Warby Parker ended 2023 with $216.9 million in cash and cash equivalents. The company also entered into a new $120 million revolving credit facility with JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Citibank, N.A., and other lenders from time to time party thereto, which remains undrawn, the company said.

In January 2023, VM reported that for the third consecutive year, 20/20 Onsite, a leading provider of on-site vision care, partnered with Boston Public Schools, the New England College of Optometry and Warby Parker to provide free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses to Boston public school children. The program, called Vision for Boston, brought eyecare to students in their schools.

Warby Parker has designed a line of glasses specifically for students that are part of this program through Warby Parker’s Pupils Project initiative.

“Warby Parker created Pupils Project in 2015 to eliminate barriers to vision care access in schools across the country, while also helping students feel excited by and confident in their glasses," said Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. "Since then, we’ve seen the positive impact that prescription eyeglasses have on students’ learning experiences. We’re excited to continue this important work in Boston alongside our Vision for Boston partners.”

In February 2024, Warby Parker expanded its relationship with Versant Health, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of MetLife, Inc., and one of the nation’s leading administrators of managed vision care. This expansion will bring an additional 15 million lives in-network with Warby Parker, nearly doubling the number of lives with in-network access to Warby Parker to more than 34 million. The company expects members under these plans to be able to access their in-network benefits later this year.

“Looking to 2024, we’re excited to meet millions of customers where and how they want to shop as we expand our retail presence, deploy disciplined marketing spend to support growth across our omnichannel experiences, and nearly double the number of insured lives who can use their in-network vision benefits with Warby Parker to over 34 million individuals,” added Gilboa.

AEG Vision
Company executives said AEG Vision continued its steady growth in 2023 generating +6 percent comp sales in their base practices along with strong earnings growth. Seventy-five new practices were added and integrated onto AEG Vision’s common platform, the company said. Today, 95 percent of the practice network is on a common platform that includes technology, product supply chain and significant back-office support, AEG told Vision Monday.

AEG Vision finished calendar year 2023 with 425 practices. The company, backed by Riata Capital Group, ended 2023 with revenues of $650 million and moved to number 10 on the VM Top 50 U.S. Retailers Chart.

“We have grown steadily during the past three years, adding between 70 to 90 practices annually,” Eric Anderson, CEO of AEG Vision, told Vision Monday in April of this year. “Our acquisition activity has not been impacted by external factors and we have not experienced any lack of interest from potential sellers.”

The company’s community of 4,000 doctors and associates allows it to deliver elevated levels of eyecare to more than 2 million patients each year, Anderson noted. “Our business strategy remains unchanged, given the success we have experienced,” he said. “We look to partner with leading optometrists across the U.S. who wish to elevate their practice. We make significant investments in each practice (e.g., technology, equipment, back-office support) that elevate outcomes for all of our doctors, associates and patients,” Anderson said.

Looking ahead for the remainder of 2024, AEG Vision is planning to stay the course, searching for partnership opportunities while helping optometry to meet its goals along the way, Anderson said. “In 2024, we plan to continue the same steady growth we have demonstrated over the past several years,” he noted. “Our goal is to continue to help elevate optometry wherever we operate—while maintaining the strong positive culture that has been the cornerstone of our success.”