Lincoln Road Advisors Acquires U.S. Vision Optical Business from ACON Investments

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GLENDORA, N.J.—Lincoln Road Advisors Inc., an investment company operated by optical industry veteran Eric Bertrand, has acquired the holding company Refac Optical Group, which owns the U.S. Vision optical business, from its majority owner ACON Investments. U.S. Vision operates roughly 375 optical locations in licensed retail spaces at J.C. Penney, Meijer, Boscov’s and Optical Center/AAFES Exchange locations. Bertrand, a former chief executive of OptiCare Health Systems of Connecticut and Vision Center at Meijer, confirmed the acquisition by Lincoln Road to VMAIL earlier today. He is the principal at Lincoln Road, and also manages the digital marketing agency Mod Op

In 2011, ACON purchased Refac Optical Group from an affiliate of Palisade Capital Management for an undisclosed amount, as VMAIL reported

Bertrand said Lincoln Road acquired all of the assets of Refac from ACON and its other minority shareholders, and noted that in a related transaction a third company will acquire from Lincoln Road the manufacturing and lab facility here in New Jersey. The other firm involved in the deal was Zeiss Vision Care, which announced on March 4 that it had acquired U.S. Vision’s optical laboratory in Blackwood, N.J.

Bertrand also owned and helped manage the Barry Optical lab on Long Island, N.Y., several years ago.

Bertrand will assume the role of president and chief executive of the new business entity and he noted that the current management team would remain in place. Adam Levy, the former chief executive of Refac Holding, had left the company late last year as U.S. Vision was reorganizing. And in December 2020, U.S. Vision informed the state of New Jersey that it planned to lay off 299 workers at its lab facility, as VMAIL reported

The move to reduce staff at the lab facility followed Refac’s sale of its Nationwide Vision business segment to EyeCare Partners in late 2019. It also was affected by the loss of its BJ’s Wholesale Club optical departments after BJ’s moved the optical business in-house.

Bertrand said his familiarity with the U.S. Vision and it business model was one of the factors that attracted him to the deal. “I know the company really well because I was involved with it for a long time previously,” he said, noting that he was an executive with Palisade Capital Management when that firmed owned the business before selling to ACON.

“The company has been around for over 50 years and has a long history of being a licensed operator in a host environment.” He said he believes the company has a strong understanding of the patient care aspect of eyecare and that it has experience operating successfully in a “host” environment with a retail partner.

He added, “I believe in the experience of the company and it has survived all of these years, and that’s not easy to do for any company. It has all of the underpinnings necessary to be successful.”

Asked about the U.S. Vision locations’ recovery from the COVID-19 slowdown, Bertrand said he is optimistic.

“My outlook is very positive,” Bertrand told VMAIL. “I think we’re going to see traffic in the stores increase as people come back out. We are definitely seeing some movement there, and we’re seeing some positive signs. But we’re not there yet,” he said noting that the goal is to have the optical departments return to their 2019 performance metrics.

“I’m hoping that we start to see some robustness in the [store] traffic once the vaccines get fully [administered] and now that the J&J vaccine is available.”