Identifying as a “fiercely independent, solutions-driven and truly transparent optometric alliance,” Vision Trends was established in 2007 by co-founders Douglas Inns, OD, and Michael Toups, OD, “to protect the success of independent optometry, first and foremost.” The group currently serves 360 optometric practice offices located in 32 states.

(L to R) Douglas Inns, OD, Michael Toups, OD, Troy Hall

Drs. Inns and Toups practice in the North Houston metro area, serving vision care patients and doctors alike. Because they are both still practicing optometric physicians, they said they stay attuned to the ever changing needs of their eyecare patients and the challenges facing independent optometry.

“Year in and year out, we have seen the same two major pain points affecting independent optometric practices—stagnant insurance reimbursements resulting in lower profit, and the challenge of hiring and retaining quality staff,” said Dr. Toups, co-founder and president of Vision Trends.

Over the last several years, Vision Trends leadership set out to confront these challenges with a two-pronged approach: maximize insurance reimbursements and cash pay profits through lab services, and by taking a holistic approach to retaining staff through education and training.

The company launched Vision Trends Lab Solutions to provide Vision Trends member practices with an opportunity to own a stake in a private ophthalmic lab to optimize insurance reimbursements and maximize practice profits from cash pay patients without raising patient lens prices and still providing superior lens technology, lab quality and service.

The company has also invested heavily in building educational programs for every level of the practice. Last year, Vision Trends offered accredited CE for doctors, hands-on workshops on high value topics, an online staff training program designed to cross-train all employees to deliver consistent, high-quality care to patients, and initiated a new online forum to offer practice management advice to owners.

While Vision Trends has always understood the challenges facing independent practice, the pandemic forced companies to take a deeper look at business operations as a means of survival, and independent practice owners were looking to their doctor alliance for support, executives said.

“At the height of the pandemic, the Vision Trends team found itself supporting our members in a completely different manner,” said Dr. Inns. “We restructured our membership fees and worked with vendor partners to help members manage cash flow, translated federal legislation and public health advisories into step-by-step to do lists, and established a proactive multi-channel communications protocol to disseminate information to our members so they could make informed business decisions, and take care of their employees and patients.”

Vision Trends offers practice memberships to independent optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists throughout the U.S. Vision Trends offers its members two distinct programs to choose from. With the VT Affiliate Program, member fee is 1 percent of adjusted revenue capped at $20,000 per year per practice plus a $500 start-up fee per practice.

Members sign a 5-year agreement and can cancel membership with a 60-day written notice. With the VT Profit+ Program, the member fee is $199 per month; additional practices owned by the same owner are $99 per month. There are no contracts and members can cancel at any time.

Vision Trends negotiates vendor programs designed to lower their costs with more than 120 vendor partners, offers free accredited online and in-person continuing education events, invitations to member meetings throughout the year and a variety of subsidized products and services to improve practice performance as part of its membership dues.

In addition, Vision Trends listens to its members and built new programs to address the critical pain points for independent optometric practices.

Among these programs is VT Lab Solutions, where Vision Trends Affiliate members who choose to become a VT Lab Solutions shareholder have access to full service, superior lab services, exceptional lens technology, and dedicated customer service at a lower cost. In spring 2023, Vision Trends will launch the first in a series of Management Training Courses designed to build and enhance the skills of the employee practice manager as part of its VT Learning Solutions platform.

And with VT Insurance Solutions, Vision Trends members can choose to outsource a variety of insurance-related functions required to become an in-network provider for their patients. Throughout 2023, Vision Trends will continue to explore opportunities to partner with insurance carriers to increase the financial value of an insurance patient.

As for the challenges ahead in 2023, the team at Vision Trends noted, “industry consolidation will continue to impact how the vision care industry delivers exam services and ophthalmic eyewear to the vision care consumer. These changes will likely impact the industry’s most important player… the independent optometrist.”

At one end, the industry’s largest corporations are buying up smaller competitors, and at the other end, private equity firms are buying up independent optometric practices at inflated multiples, according to Vision Trends.

“While independent practices are still navigating the uncertainties of a post-pandemic economy, cash-rich corporations are expanding their footprint in the market and increasing shareholder value,” said Troy Hall, chief operating officer at Vision Trends. “Unless the independent practice owner owns stock in these companies, they aren’t seeing the financial advantages of market consolidation. They are likely paying higher prices for the same products and services.”

“We can’t change what’s happening in the industry, but we can advocate for the important role independent optometry plays in the eye health and vision wellness of the vision care consumer,” said Dr. Toups. “We remain committed to developing and delivering programs that support profitable growth for our Vision Trends members, and we will continue to be an independent voice that champions their continued success for years to come.”