Updated on May 20, 2020
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In 2019, Vision Source L.P. retained its top spot in the annual VM ranking of the Top 50 U.S. optical retailers for the fourth consecutive year. Vision Source is an alliance group and franchisor. It was acquired by Essilor in 2016. For calendar 2019, Vision Source reported aggregated sales of $2.88 billion, an increase of 1.5 percent compared with the year-ago total. The location count dipped slightly to 3,250 from 3,279 at the end of 2018.
Vision Source was involved in a number of key initiatives in 2019 that were designed to bolster the overall entity going forward and bring new ECPs into the group.One initiative, under the umbrella of the Vision Source Next program, involved meeting with optometry students across the nation in various engagement events. These “local field trips” included “Practice Crawls,” which became very popular with both Vision Source member practices and optometry students. The group had hosted approximately 20 percent of the nation’s optometry students at these events as of late last year.
“The intent with these events was to showcase some of our member practices to students, in an interactive, fun environment,” said Vision Source chief medical officer Dr. Amir Khoshnevis. “We did not fully anticipate the nationwide explosion in demand, from both students and Vision Source members. In hindsight though, it makes complete sense because our members now have direct access to 20 percent of all U.S. optometry students, while the students are exposed to doctor-owners with successful practices built on the foundation of high-clinical or patient care and are connected to over 4,500 independent, private practice optometrists.”
In September, Vision Source hosted an online Virtual Exchange that set records in member attendance and participation, volume of purchases and total proceeds. Initiated in 2016, the Virtual Exchange brings Vision Source optometrist members and vendors together in a virtual event that has been tremendously successful for all involved, Vision Source said. The event has grown every year since inception, Vision Source noted.
Vision Source noted that it is “constantly working on new, innovative ways to create value for our member optometrists and vendor partners.”
Separately, Vision Source also said that in 2019 the Southern New England Practice Transformation Network (SNE-PTN) had awarded more than 1,100 member practices achievement payments of up to $2,500 per practice. Practices enrolled in SNE-PTN were eligible to receive achievement payments for having completed activities that prepare their practices for success in value-based care and alternative payment models.
Vision Source and SNE-PTN have been collaborating to implement skills that guide Vision Source practices in the value-based payment world, helping them progress through five phases of transformation.
Luxottica Retail North America, part of the broader international Luxottica retail group, continued on a solid path in 2019, the company reported when EssilorLuxottica issued its year-end results. N.A. sales were up, overall, by 4.6 percent at constant exchange rates. That overall number included Sunglass Hut and Oakley store sales, which are not ranked in the VM Top 50 estimates, which just examines stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The company did point to very positive trends at LensCrafters as well as strong performance from Target Optical and Pearle.
LensCrafters posted a very strong 4th quarter, benefiting from an expanding store remodeling program and a favorable price-mix boosted by a higher penetration of value-added lenses.
Target Optical increased its number of locations from 512 locations in 2018 to 525 in 2019, and experienced another strong year of double-digit growth.
Pearle Vision’s franchise expansion was strong in 2019, signing several U.S. area regional development agreements, a program which has continued into 2020. In August 2019, Pearle and the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) partnered in a program that will bring Pearle optical retail centers to naval bases initially in Virginia Beach, Va., San Diego, and Groton, Conn.
This was Pearle Vision’s first partnership with a military organization and NEXCOM’s first partnership with a national optical retailer. In January 2020, Pearle Vision was ranked as the nation’s top eyecare franchise company on Entrepreneur magazine’s highly competitive Franchise 500 list.
With continued troubles escalating at U.S. general merchandise retailer, Sears, Luxottica Retail announced that it would terminate its long-term relationship and close all the remaining Sears Optical locations by February 2020.
Walmart took a big step toward enhancing its presence in health care delivery with the opening of its first-ever Walmart Health Center in September in Dallas, Ga. The concept was made possible through Walmart’s partnering with local providers, the company said in its announcement of the new concept.
The Walmart Health center, a 10,000-square-foot dedicated space, delivers health services that includes primary care, labs, X-ray and EKG, counseling, dental, optical, hearing, community health (nutritional services, fitness) and health insurance education and enrollment. All of these offerings are part of a single facility that is conveniently located outside the store with a separate entrance for customers. The clinic also provides low, transparent pricing for key health services, regardless of patients’ insurance status.
Inside the Walmart Health Center’s optical department, Walmart said it has created “a vision center experience designed around the patient that is convenient, comfortable and affordable.” It’s designed to be a seamless patient experience and features multiple service areas and more technology to drive an enhanced patient experience.
The Walmart Health center will be operated by qualified medical professionals, including physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, behavioral health providers, and optometrists.
The new Health concept offers more services than Walmart’s existing Care Clinics (about 19 are operating) elsewhere in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas. These Care Clinics are only about 1,500 square feet inside the store, and are more limited in service.
The specialty health care group is overseen by Mony Iyer, who joined Walmart in July 2018. Shortly thereafter, Iyer was promoted to vice president, specialty health care, and he oversees optical, dental, hearing and other specialty health care modalities for Walmart Health & Wellness. In 2019, Walmart named John Furner as president and CEO of Walmart U.S., effective Nov. 1.
In March 2019, Sam’s Club revamped its effort in vision care and optical with the appointment of a new executive team and a new approach.
The company named Lori Flees as its senior vice president of health and wellness, which includes optical, hearing and pharmacy. Flees started at Walmart in 2014 as the senior vice president, corporate strategy, and she joined Sam’s Club in 2018 after leading Walmart’s Next Gen Retail and Store No. 8 team (Walmart’s technology incubator).
Once again, National Vision Holdings Inc. (NVI) holds the No. 4 spot on the annual Vison Monday Top 50 list. The company posted sales of more than $1.7 billion last year, an increase of 12.2 percent from the prior year’s roughly $1.54 billion.
In addition to bumping up its top line, National Vision also expanded its store base, growing from 1,082 locations at year-end 2019 to 1,151 locations at the end of 2019. The retailer competed “another record year of revenues”—and its second year as a publicly traded company—as it achieved double-digit growth in both sales and adjusted EBITDA in 2019.
In its year-end earnings announcement, National Vision said same-store sales growth was 6.5 percent, and it opened 75 stores, closed six stores and ended the period with 1,151 locations. Overall, store count grew 6.4 percent in the calendar year.
The company operates stores under the brands America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, The Vision Center (Walmart), Eyeglass World, Vista Optical (at Fred Meyer stores), and Vista Optical on select military bases.
In January, National Vision said it had updated the terms of a management and services agreement (MSA) with Walmart that added five additional vision centers in Georgia to the agreement, and also extended the current term of the agreement by six months, to Feb. 23, 2021. The MSA will automatically renew for an additional three-year term unless, no later than July 23, 2020, one party gives the other party written notice of non-renewal, the company noted.
National Vision operates with more than 13,000 associates, including a network of more than 2,000 optometrists practicing across its store network. In 2019, the company opened 75 stores and achieved its 72nd consecutive quarter of positive comparable-store sales growth.
It continued various philanthropic efforts and rolled out Eyeglass World brand’s “Made Locally, Given Globally” philanthropic program, which provided free glasses to roughly 50,000 people around the world. National Vision also extended its partnerships with RestoringVision and Vision Spring, as well as multiple partnerships involved in the Clear Vision Collective. The latter effort screened over 75,000 people last year in rural Bangladesh and provided glasses to over 12,000 of them.
In January of 2019, the company opened a new state-of-the-art lens manufacturing lab in Plano, Texas.
In 2019, Costco Wholesale turned in another strong performance across its U.S. optical departments, which continue their impressive record of growth. The warehouse club retailer added 20 additional optical departments, increasing its optical location total to 529 clubs from 509 locations in the U.S.
And, on the top line, Costco’s optical group achieved an 11 percent sales increase, with optical sales climbing to $1.26 billion from the prior year’s total of $1.13 billion. (Costco optical had a sales increase of just over 6.1 percent in 2018, after the big retailer posted an almost 11 percent increase in 2017.) As a result, Costco, which is the largest U.S.-based membership warehouse club, held firmly to the No. 5 ranking position in VM’s annual Top 50 Optical Retailers report.
Also based on 2019 optical programs implemented within Costco Optical departments, Transitions Optical recognized Costco as a finalist for its Transitions Innovation Award for U.S. Retailer of the Year. (Other finalists were Henry Ford OptimEyes of Detroit—which won the award for 2019 performance—and LensCrafters.) The award recognized commitment to the Transitions brand and improving patient vision.
As of mid-March, Costco operated 786 warehouses worldwide, including 547 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, 100 in Canada, 39 in Mexico, 29 in the United Kingdom, 26 in Japan, 16 in Korea, 13 in Taiwan, 11 in Australia, two in Spain, and one each in Iceland, France, and China.
Costco also operates e-commerce sites in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia.
A Costco membership is not required to receive an eye exam at Costco warehouse clubs, but it is required to purchase frames and/or lenses from the optical department. Costco optical centers offer frames, contact lenses, and a variety of prescription and special lens options for Costco members. Many Costco optical departments also have an independent optometrist (OD) in or near the optical department.
Visionworks of America
The year 2019 was marked by a momentous transformation for Visionworks of America, which was acquired by VSP Global in a deal that closed in September 2019. At the time, VSP Global said the deal “furthers its vision to provide more access to affordable, high-quality eyecare and eyewear.” Visionworks, based in San Antonio, Texas, was owned by Highmark Inc. The purchase price was not disclosed.
“With the close of this acquisition, we can provide more value to our clients and members and respond to their expectations for a substantial, consistent, and sustainable retail eyecare experience, underscored by the professional care of VSP network doctors,” VSP Global president and chief executive officer Michael Guyette said.
He noted that the deal “marks a major milestone in VSP Global’s 65-year history” and the largest network investment by VSP Global. Visionworks operates more than 700 stores in nearly 40 states. Pete Bridgman, president of Visionworks, continues in this role following the acquisition and now reports to Guyette.
In July, Visionworks launched a new brand campaign, “See the Difference,” that the company said positioned it for a “new phase of growth.” The campaign was designed to introduce audiences “to a comedic cast of villainous eyecare executives intent on making the industry as complex as possible.”
The multimedia effort also was designed to show audiences that “eyecare really doesn’t have to be that difficult,” the company said at the time.
MyEyeDr./Capital Vision Services achieved double-digit sales growth in 2019 and also added more than 100 new practice locations. It finished 2019 with 569 locations (in 26 states), an increase of 132 offices, and also saw sales increase 28.2 percent to $772 million. MyEyeDr. once again ranked No. 7 on the Top 50 list.
But the biggest event for the company in 2019 was the investment by a Goldman Sachs-managed fund. In a deal announced in June, Goldman’s Merchant Banking Division acquired MED parent company Capital Vision Services LP from previous investors Altas Partners and Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ). Details of the transaction were not disclosed, however, a report by The Wall Street Journal valued the deal at $2.7 billion, including debt.
“We had great partners at Altas and Caisse, but we needed to take our expertise and capabilities to a new level,” Sue Downes, MyEyeDr. CEO said. “When Goldman came to us and gave us a complete presentation about what they’d been studying about the industry and what they’d learned about us, explaining what they could do, we were blown away. We also wanted to protect the future and legacy of MyEyeDr. and put the patient at the center of it.”
MyEyeDr. entered seven new states in 2019, and it expects to continue expanding in such new geographies as Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Michigan and Wisconsin. Downes also told Vision Monday earlier this year that MED plans its first office in New York City in 2020.
Increasingly, MyEyeDr.’s almost-1,000 optometrists are offering a range of specialty eye health services and are elevating new training and leadership programs.
The company began in 2001 with a few offices in the Washington D.C./Virginia metro area. It expanded for several years and, at the time of the Altas/CDPQ investment in 2015, the group had grown to 165 practices in seven states.
The year 2019 ended with a significant development for EyeCare Partners (ECP). The St. Louis-based eyecare group was acquired by Partners Group, a global private markets investment manager. Partners Group agreed to make “a significant equity investment” in EyeCare Partners, the vertically integrated medical vision services provider, according to the December announcement.
Under the terms of the transaction, Partners Group took on the role of majority shareholder, while ECP’s management team and physician partners continue to maintain a substantial equity stake in the group, according to the announcement. As part of the transaction, previous owner FFL Partners divested its stake in ECP. Terms of the deal, which was listed to close in the first quarter, were not disclosed.
Following the investment, Partners Group is working closely with ECP’s management team, led by chief executive officer Kelly McCrann, on strategic initiatives to support ongoing organic and acquisitive growth.
Key areas of focus for these initiatives will include the following: increasing the recruitment of high-quality ophthalmologists and optometrists; optimizing the network model; expanding and maximizing ambulatory surgical center utilization; enhancing administrative processes and operating efficiencies; investing in clinical technologies that enhance patient care; and pursuing select M&A partnership opportunities that provide world-class medical vision care and patient experience.
“Partners Group has excellent operational support capabilities and an extremely successful track record of working with high-growth companies to build critical mass in the highly fragmented U.S. health care sector,” McCrann said in the announcement. “We are thrilled to have found a long-term partner that shares our patient- and physician-centric outlook. We are very excited to work with Partners Group to both strengthen ECP’s offering and expand our presence throughout the U.S.”
In terms of 2019 results, EyeCare Partners continued its ambitious growth efforts. The group added 190 new locations, primarily as a result of its September acquisition of 89 locations from Nationwide Vision. The transaction marked ECP’s entry into Arizona (where 80 of the Nationwide practices were located) and strengthened its presence in Florida, with the addition of nine locations.
With the significant increase in its practice locations, ECP also boosted annual sales by about 80 percent to $757 million in 2019.
Warby Parker added 32 more stores around the country in 2019. Combined with its still-strong online sales and visibility via traditional and social media, the company held its #9 ranking on the VM Top 50 in 2019.
The company operated a total of 112 stores plus 4 showrooms in the U.S. during the year. Another 3 locations are in Canada for a total of 119 brick-and-mortar spaces for this now multi-channel, direct-to-consumer retailer.
In November 2019, Warby moved into the contact lens area, not only making branded contact lenses available to its customers and patients online and in the stores, but debuting its own brand, called Scout. The daily disposable lens, offered in a space-saving flat pack, was developed with a Japanese manufacturer. Six-day trial kits were also available. Warby Parker marked its 10-year anniversary in March of this year.
It was a milestone year in 2019 for Eyemart Express. The optical retailer opened its 200th store last June in Destin, Fla.—its first location in the Sunshine state—and then continued its expansion through the latter half of the year. Eyemart Express, which now operates in 40 states, finished 2019 with 218 locations.
“We are proud to celebrate this 200-store milestone and bring our time-saving optical solution to Florida,” chief executive officer Michael Bender said last June. “We attribute our growth to communities nationwide embracing our brand, with its high-quality products and superior level of service thanks to our more than 1,700 employees.”
The company, based in Dallas, also is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Eyemart Express also operates stores under the Vision 4 Less, Eyewear Express and Visionmart Express banners. Private equity firm FFL Partners is the lead investor in Eyemart Express.
In August 2019, Eyemart Express announced the hiring of Bill Butler as senior vice president of store operations. In this role, Butler has focused on executing the retailer’s new-store growth goals, driving customer service, and ensuring associate development.
He works closely with executive and store leadership teams to refine Eyemart Express’ store operations procedures and to optimize retail and lab productivity and deliver a world-class customer experience. Butler formerly served as vice president, operations at CVS Health.
Eyemart Express also kept busy with in-house frame development and launches. In October, the company launched Volo, an exclusive, sophisticated men’s eyewear collection that it said “embodies the weightlessness and strength that revolutionized the golden era of aviation.”
This followed the June rollout of an expanded frame offering that included the launch of four notable designer eyewear collections: Christian Siriano, Longchamp, Moleskine, and Dickies.
“Fashion is focused on evolution—[and] these four new designer collections help our customers elevate their style every day with eyewear,” chief marketing and merchandising officer Paula Blomquist noted at the time of the designer collection launches. “We believe eyewear should be as fun and unique as the wearer, so we curated this launch to expand the selection of fresh and on-trend frames that people have come to expect when shopping with us at Eyemart Express.”