VIENNA, Va.—It’s a cliché, of course, but still it’s often said that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Some will say this is how they look at the ups and downs of 2020 and the way it roiled the eyecare sector with practice closings, PPE requirements and new in-office protocols for patients, among other challenges. But putting this “down time” to productive use has prepared many groups for a strong recovery.

Count the team at MyEyeDr. as among those who are on board with the “if-it-doesn’t-kill-you” view of last year.

“It certainly has been a wild past 12 months, with many ups and downs,” MyEyeDr. chief executive Sue Downes said. “I could not be prouder of our team of more than 5,000 associates who never lost sight of our top priority—taking care of the patient. There are endless heart-warming stories of serving essential workers, delivering glasses to an elderly patient’s home and adapting to new protocols to keep folks safe.”

David Sheffer, chief growth officer, agreed 2020 presented major challenges, but also was “refreshing and motivating in many ways” because of the way MyEyeDr.’s team came together. “We rallied as an organization and we have come out of this as a stronger team at every level. Our culture has benefited from the humanity that comes with seeing each other with our kids and our dogs running across the room on Zoom and understanding that many of us have children, or sick parents, we have to tend to.”

Sheffer noted that MyEyeDr. was fully shut down —with the exception of the occasional essential patient—from mid-March until the end of May last year. Offices began reopening in phases beginning in June. (In June 2019, a fund managed by Goldman Sachs agreed to acquire Capital Vision Services, which provides management services to MyEyeDr. practices.)

One of the silver linings of 2020 was that it allowed MyEyeDr. to take a closer look “inward” at its processes and strategies, Sheffer said. “For years, we have been so busy expanding and implementing new procedures, expanding our medical scope and adding new states, adding new doctors and bringing on new investors, that we didn’t have time to stop and strategize. This 90-day window, when we didn’t have a business to operate, allowed for the advancement of strategic initiatives that might have otherwise taken years. We just bore down and did them.”

For example, he said, MyEyeDr. sought to reimagine the patient journey, advance a number of omni-channel, online and tele-medicine type initiatives and “do the things that we knew we needed to do [because] that’s where the world is headed,” Sheffer said. “Everyone worked harder during that time period on future initiatives, and I think it will benefit the business, the industry and the patient for years to come.”

The Pace of Acquisitions in 2020
MyEyeDr. finished 2020 with a net addition of 90 new locations (with some existing locations consolidating, it was roughly 100 practice additions) and finished 2020 with 659 locations total, an increase of more than 15 percent compared with 2019’s 569. Virtually all of the deal making occurred in Q1 and the August-December period. “We did not slow down recruiting of acquisitions, but we halted the closings and then picked up with a fury from August until December,” he said.

Top-Line Growth Overall
Annual revenue did grow year-over-year, also, (likely a rare occurrence across most practices in 2020) which MyEyeDr. attributed to the addition of 90 net new locations. On a same-office basis, the comparisons were down for the year—the first time in MyEyeDr.’s 20-year history—but started bouncing back in Q4. “We had a very good fourth quarter and we had a very good first quarter, and we are now trending positive again on a same-office basis,” Sheffer said. Patient demand for exams has remained strong but safety processes has limited availability of office visits.

Planning Process for 2021
In building a 2021 plan, MyEyeDr. used 2019 results as a starting point and built in growth “on a quite measured basis for the first six months of the year because that feels to us like it has the most risk and uncertainty,” Sheffer said. “And then we get back to a more normal world in the second half of 2021.”

If 100 locations were added in 2020, Sheffer said MyEyeDr. would target 20 percent growth on that this year. “That has been our history. We’re in the business of taking care of the patient, but we also are in the business of growing. Those are two not competing priorities, but they are two that we have to have top of mind with every decision.”