Acquios Alliance, a two-year-old membership group with a program designed to “mitigate the unique challenges private practice optometrists face and help them thrive, independently,” has had a successful debut and continues to add new services, resources and vendor partners as it seeks additional growth and builds upon the way it delivers value to members.

“This industry is always evolving and we are here to help clients evolve and differentiate themselves from the commercial locations and private equity-owned businesses,” Rick Guinotte, a business advisor and owner of Acquios Alliance, told Vision Monday. “Our podcast, ‘Thrive with Confidence,’ continues to deliver messages to guide all optometrists to be more successful in all phases of their career.”

Acquios Alliance, which now counts over 375 doors with more than 310 practices represented, grew out of the Acquios Advisors organization that was founded in 2015 as an advisory firm for ECPs. The advisory unit was founded by Guinotte and Kirk Kastens and they subsequently were joined by partner co-owner and advisor Tim Merrigan.

Guinotte said the organization has increased the number of vendors partners by a significant percentage (almost 50 percent) over the past year to approximately 60 partner companies, “in order to offer our members more variety with a selection of vendors that are independently minded and supportive of independent practices.” Two of the new partners are Norwood Device & Diagnostics, for instruments, and Binovia, which provides IT support, security backup, informatics and biomedical services across health care businesses.

In 2022 and moving forward, Acquios will continue to seek out vendors who are “ready, willing and able to assist private practices to differentiate their practices from others while growing their top and bottom lines,” Guinotte said. “We strive to continue keeping an open line of communication with the vendors. We find communication is important for all to be the best they can [be].”

He added, “Because our vendors are here to support the private practices, their inventory will be prioritized to the private practice.”

Asked about the group’s progress, Guinotte said, “Last year, I think we became more relevant in the industry. People became more aware of us. So we had multiple vendors reach out to us saying, ‘I heard about you through,’ and [that may have been] one of our doctor members or from another vendor. It was a lot of networking, but mainly [the growth] has come through referrals and people hearing about us through the marketing that we’ve done…. We’re very humbled.”

On the ECP membership side, one change Acquios has made over the past year is a revision to the membership criteria. Whereas in the past a practice had to be a client of Acquios Advisors to qualify for membership with Acquios Alliance, now a practice can sign up directly for the Alliance program for a one-time $50 fee. Membership is limited to private practice/independent ODs.

The organization also added to its “learning library” to assist offices with the onboarding of new employees. Many eyecare offices today are experiencing challenges with attracting candidates with experience in the optical industry, Guinotte noted, and Acquios has developed a training library that helps all employees, even those with years of experience.

With inflation hitting consumers and businesses alike, there’s a sense that this and other challenges in the U.S. may actually benefit the growth of alliances and buying groups such as Acquios, Guinotte noted. This is due to a more challenging operating environment leading more optometric practices to seek ways to be better for their patients, and this is a situation tailored to the alliance growth curve.

“Over my many years in this industry, since 1989 to be exact, I have seen the optometric practices I worked in thrive during the economic downturns and rise back up in the best of times,” he noted. “People need and want to see. The general population will reduce their spending on what is not important to them, [but] vision is important and people will continue to come to practices for their eye health needs.”

In 2022, Acquios has scheduled a live event/workshop for Sept. 23-24 in Dallas as a way to help attendees “live and execute their mission” in their practice on a daily basis. (Acquios has held hybrid workshops in the past, but the September event is all live.) “We are encouraging offices to come as a whole team and learn side by side,” he said. The goal is for the attendees to take the information shared by Acquios Advisors and the Acquios Alliance vendors home and put it into standard practice.

He added, “My view of success is to see more private practices participate in the Acquios Alliance to help them remain in control of their inventory, product pricing and decision making for themselves without paying annual or monthly fees.”