BUSINESS Healthy Eyes Advantage: The ‘New Kid’ on the Block By Mark Tosh Monday, April 16, 2018 12:18 AM Healthy Eyes Advantage www.healthyeyesadvantage.com The new kid on the block in terms of OD alliances and buying groups is Healthy Eyes Advantage, which was formed from four separate entities in late 2017. The alliance is based in Boca Raton, Fla., and also operates from additional locations in San Diego, San Clemente, Calif. and Vicksburg, Miss. Nautic Partners, a middle-market private equity firm, announced the formation of Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA) last November. HEA acquired substantially all the assets of Block Buying Group (BBG), C&E Vision Services (C&E), HMI (including Red Tray and Club Zero) and Vision West. Nautic said at the time that HEA would be “the largest alliance of eyecare professionals in the country,” serving more than 10,000 independent eyecare professionals. There are now six brands and four different locations under the HEA umbrella following the closing of the transaction. “These buying groups have a long and rich history of, actually, competing in the market and supporting their membership,” chief executive officer Jeff Rinkus told Vision Monday. “Each of them had a slightly different way that they would support members. So it was important to each of the owners of the groups to make sure that this was retained as the groups came together.” Founded in the early 1980s when independent practitioners faced growing corporate competition, BBG, C&E, HMI and Vision West set out to support the competitiveness of the independent by aggregating purchasing services and creating efficient supply chain interaction. Thirty years later, the four companies that started the buying group sector in eyecare have come together to bolster their support of independent optometry. The newly formed Healthy Eyes alliance expects to expand upon this commitment to independent optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians. As the largest alliance in the country, HEA said it will “set the standard of independent community and network services offered to the industry.” After its consolidation, HEA today serves on a geographic basis the vast majority of the U.S. market, noted Rinkus, who previously was chief operating officer of ABB Optical. HEA continues to manage one of the largest continuing education forums on the West Coast, the C&E Ocular Symposium, which is held three times each year and draws more than 400 doctors on each occasion. “This is an example of what we do to bring these companies together,” Rinkus said. “What’s important to us is that our members have a longstanding relationship with these groups,” he added, noting that the average tenure of the members is 15 years. “Clearly, there has been a long relationship and a trusting relationship with these groups,” he said. HEA also has relationships with 275 vendors in the optical space, Rinkus said. “We seek to align ourselves [with firms] in optical that support the independent practice. The one common theme that we see in all of these groups is how enthusiastically and without compromise they stood for the growth and profitability of the independent practice. If there was any common thread that we pulled on as we brought these groups together it was that.” Looking ahead, Rinkus said HEA is working on a new tier of vendor relationships under the name Healthy Eyes Advantage 20/20 Program. No more than 20 vendors in the optical space will participate in this program, he said. HEA announced the first of these new 20/20 partnerships at Vision Expo East. “Choice is important to our members, so we will make sure that we maintain and continue our good relations with our entire vendor base,” Rinkus said. “But we are getting deeper with no more than 20 vendors. Extending those vendor relationships to our members is what we are going to be about over the next two quarters.” Another key element of HEA’s mission is to continue and expand partnerships with state associations of optometry. “We’re busy making sure that we continue to support those relationships,” Rinkus said. “One of the first things we did is to renew our [sponsorship] agreement with the California Optometric Association (COA) for 10 years,” he said. HEA is the endorsed practice solutions network for COA and 17 other state associations. “We know there is a lot of good work being done at the state and the national level, and we are going to support that,” Rinkus said. Diane John, vice president of marketing, noted that HEA strives to bring a unique viewpoint to the alliance marketplace. “A lot of practices are looking to be outside a traditional alliance relationship. We’re not trying to fit our members into a program per se. We’re looking to support them in their quest to be unique in the particular market they serve and to help them to grow [specific] categories where their opportunities are,” she said.