NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A combination of new optical products and programs, top-flight speakers and extensive advance planning helped push Vision Source Exchange conference to a double-digit increase in attendance and a sold-out exhibit floor at the Gaylord Opryland Resort here this week.

Registration for 2017’s Exchange meeting had reached 4,631 people as of midday Thursday, and 37 percent of the attendees were first-timers at the conference, according to Vision Source executives. The meeting opened Wednesday night with a welcome reception and concludes Saturday. The attendance total represented a 10 percent increase over last year when the alliance celebrated its 25th anniversary and featured the legendary band ZZ Top as the entertainment.

“The team did a really good job putting together and marketing it ahead of time,” said Glenn Ellisor, OD, founder and executive chairman of Vision Source, who acknowledged that the record turnout was surprising given that the 2016 event had been so strong.

“But the thing that I’m most proud of and excited about is that I think this is the launching pad for more value than we have ever provided to our members. And I think a lot of it is due to our new partnership with Essilor,” he said.

“This year will be a big year in which not only do our members understand why we made that partnership, but I think the rest of the industry will as well,” Ellisor added. (Essilor acquired Vision Source in the fall of 2015.) “We’re able to offer more value in almost of every facet of what we do.”

Vision Source introduced new private-label products at the event: TruClear XD2 and SD2 progressive lenses by Essilor, and also launched new private label contact lenses Aquaclear 110 and the Aquaclear 110 Toric.

Derrick Artis, OD, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the alliance’s Frame Dream program, which launched in a pilot program a year ago, has been ramped up to cover 500 Vision Source practices. In the Frame Dream program, select, top-selling frames are housed in Dallas near a Vision Source distribution center and an Essilor lab dedicated to the program. This enables participating retailers to cut delivery times in half, Artis said, and in some instances they can get one- to three-day turnaround on a progressive lens.

“This is pretty impressive and it enables our members to compete against some of these Internet retail options that promote fast turnaround,” he added. Six to eight frame companies are participating in the Frame Dream project, including Safilo, Luxottica and Tura Inc., among others, but this could grow to 10 to 12 companies, Artis said. “We selected the companies who would partner with us to put the best-sellers on the board,” he added.

Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer, noted that the new “My Vision Source Family’ advertising campaign has seen success since its launch in six markets earlier this year. “I think what we will see coming out of this is that more and more Vision Source doctors with an appetite to brand. We will see more members want to put up signs and take advantage of the investment that Essilor made in working with us to create this campaign.”

Shazeen Ali, OD, a recent optometry school graduate and owner of Ranch Road Vision Source in Austin, Texas, also participated in the meeting with the press Thursday. Ali, who opened her office just over a year ago, commented on a Vision Source program that allows new optometry school graduates to join Vision Source for free during their first year in the alliance. Membership fees are reduced in years two through five of membership, also.

“The group feeling is what I wanted,” Ali said. “It helps to get everyone’s opinion who is going through the same thing that you are going through.”

The new optometry grads “will actually save more in our incredible equipment discounts and inventory purchases up front than they will pay us throughout their entire five-year contract,” Ellisor explained. “So this is what we call a no-brainer in East Texas for a new practitioner to come into Vision Source. And we’re going to try to be more active with this because we want to see more young doctors come into independent optometry.”