Several important initiatives are moving ahead at Vision Source, which is building upon a very strong revenue year in 2017. The success of its member practices in 2016 already had moved Vision Source to the No. 1 ranking in Vision Monday’s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers report (for the 2016 calendar year). Vision Source is included in the ranking because it operates as a franchise organization and reports its members’ collective revenues. In 2017, the group’s 3,323-member network of practices followed up with another outstanding sales year, according to executives.
On tap for 2018 at Vision Source, North America’s largest network of independent optometrists, are continued enhancements to The Optical Dream program and efforts to further emphasize the development of relationships with health care delivery systems.
“Our members continue to show that independent, 100 percent doctor-owned practices can thrive even when the overall industry growth trend is relatively flat,” said Vision Source president and chief executive officer Jim Greenwood. Yet perhaps the most significant development at Vision Source over the past year is that the network of private practice optometrists under the company’s umbrella reported a weighted-average revenue growth rate of 5.7 percent during calendar 2017, according to a recent announcement.
This organic growth was about 10 times the 2017 industry estimates of 0.5 percent revenue growth for the vision care market overall, according to VisionWatch. As of late March, Vision Source membership included 4,702 optometrists practicing in offices across all 50 states. These practices recorded more than 16 million patient visits last year, according to Vision Source.
Greenwood attributed the network’s growth, in part, to member engagement in a number of initiatives, including The Optical Dream, enhanced outreach to health care delivery systems and comprehensive multi-channel marketing efforts. “We provide an array of support to help [member practices] build and then monitor relationships with primary care groups and other provider organizations,” Greenwood told Vision Monday in an interview.
In this way, Vision Source practices are able to encourage health care professionals to direct patients who need to be seen by an eyecare professional into member practices. As a result, the clinicians in the Vision Source network enjoy access to newly evolving patient channels, including an expanding list of leading medical groups and integrated health systems with whom Vision Source optometrists collaborate.
Another factor in Vision Source’s success is the effort the company makes to help its doctors increase patient flow into their practices, Greenwood said. Once a patient visits a practice, The Optical Dream program is a core Vision Source program that helps doctors and their staff increase optical sales through the effective presentation and communication of options for second pairs, Rx sunglasses, annual supplies of contact lenses and other options. More than 1,600 Vision Source practices are participating in The Optical Dream program, according to the executives.
Launched as a pilot program in late 2014, The Optical Dream program is “a fantastic combination of staff learning and competition across practices,” Greenwood said. All participating practices are assigned into one of six divisions based on size, and the staff in those practices compete on metrics and compliance measures that align with specific training programs offered by Vision Source.
Every year, The Optical Dream training is updated to be more relevant to the behaviors that are most important to a practice’s success and based upon “where we are as an organization and the market conditions,” according to Jeff Duncan, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “You have to tweak it to keep people engaged and motivated and even though the program has been out for multiple years, we refresh it each year,” he added.
On the marketing side, Vision Source members benefit from an industry-exclusive geospatial analysis platform that identifies geographic areas of marketing opportunity for their practices along with consumer demographic profiles and their preferred marketing channels. Using this information, the Vision Source marketing team builds personalized marketing programs using both traditional and digital marketing assets from an online toolkit. In addition, more than 1,000 potential patients access the doctor locator on VisionSource.com every day.
Vision Source, which was acquired by Essilor in mid-2015, also will build upon its effort to develop deeper relationships with health care delivery systems. A key element of the effort is the 175 local leaders, or administrators, who are trained to help member practices develop these relationships. The local leaders regularly conduct doctor-to-doctor meetings where ODs share best practices.
“We provide an array of support to help [members practices] build and then to monitor those relationships with primary care groups and other provider organizations,” Greenwood said. One of the goals of developing these stronger relationships is to ensure that optometry is viewed as an integral component of the delivery of health services in the U.S.
Vision Source plans to announce a new aspect of this health care focus that will include an exclusive national network, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, to detect and monitor ocular side effects of medications used to treat chronic diseases. “There will be more to come about this, but it is just another example of the way we are leading the industry in terms of optometry and connecting optometrists to health care delivery systems and constituents of all kind,” Greenwood said.
Another advantage of the Vision Source model is that it allows doctors to have complete flexibility in terms of the decisions they make with respect to programs and products that are offered. “If we offer a fabulous brand and the marketing services to support that brand, the doctor doesn’t have to fly the flag,” Greenwood said. “They have autonomy in terms of the vendors they decide to work with, the meetings they decide to attend and how they engage in our strategic health care relationships.”
Vision Source also is active in philanthropy. Its members have donated more than $1 million to their international charity of choice, Optometry Giving Sight, and these funds were used to help underwrite the building of Haiti’s first optometry school, l’Université d’Etat d’Haiti, which is scheduled to open this month. In 2017, Vision Source Foundation received member donations of more than $440,000 in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma to aid optometrists—not just Vision Source members—impacted by the storms, the company noted.