NEW YORK—In a year like no other, against a backdrop of an overall vision care industry retail sales decline due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collective sales of the VM’s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers fared slightly better. In 2020, U.S. total market sales declined about 17 percent to $31.2 billion according to The Vision Council’s VisionWatch market research estimates. Compared to that, the Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers, according to VM’s report and estimates, saw a decline of 5 percent on average, for the year, and 6 percent, collectively, among the Top 10 Retailers. (The 2021 VM Top 50 Report reflects sales, locations and rankings based on calendar year, ending Dec. 31, 2020.)

Looking more closely at the numbers, however, this year’s overall report and ranking reflected a very mixed range of performance and experiences—from positive to downright tough, across those companies in this year’s VM Top 50. There were 15 groups whose estimated dollar sales were up while 30 groups’ sales were down in 2020 vs. 2019. But sales and company rankings don’t tell the whole story.

All companies, faced with closed offices for an average of two months or longer in some cases—whether in a concentrated geographic market or spanning many states—fought to protect their people and patients and to manage topline sales and operating expenses. Several recovered to post higher sales than in 2020, many of these with the same or fewer locations.

Others grew partially via acquisition as consolidation regained its pre-pandemic pace in the latter half of 2020. And some retailers opened new stores too. Some groups fought to recover to within “even” or a few points below 2019’s record sales. Nevertheless, several longtime players on the VM list were clearly faced with painful choices and closed locations.

In the face of such a dramatically changed business climate, the VM Top 50 still rose collectively as a percentage of the total U.S. market sales, comprising 47.7 percent of the market in contrast to 41.6 percent in 2019. The Top 10, too, grew for the most part, organically and through acquisitions to account for a 40.4 percent share of the overall market compared to 35.4 percent in the calendar year 2019.

Based on these market-share shifts across the spectrum of optical retail in 2020, the indication seems to be that the largest U.S. optical retailersperformed better on a top-line basis last year and continued—or perhaps even accelerated—their market-share growth.