CECOP USA, an affiliate of the global CECOP organization, has been active in the U.S. since May 2020 and then stepped up its activity last year with a key acquisition and the appointment of an experienced leader. The key acquisition, in January 2021, brought The Alliance Buying Group into the organization, and the key appointment followed a few months later with Brent Alvord taking the role of chief development officer at CECOP USA.

On a global basis, CECOP works to deliver collective buying power, operational best practices, strategic solutions and other services to about 8,000-plus members across Europe and Latin America.

CECOP USA has between 1,500 to 2,000 members that bill through the group during any given month, according to Alvord, who officially joined CECOP USA on June 1, 2021, as the organization was assimilating the acquisitions of Combine Buying Group and The Alliance.

“In the last year, we have transformed our business from being a discounts and consolidated billing company with fantastic service to ensure we are trusted partners in many different ways for the practices we serve,” Alvord said. “We want independents to know they are not alone and we have their back. We are helping them to thrive, improve their quality of life and increase their profits.”

Alvord noted that CECOP USA conducted extensive market research in an effort to uncover the true “pain points” that ECPs are experiencing, and then worked to align its solutions into three areas of practice needs: people, growth and profits.

“We added over 20 robust service offerings, of which half are absolutely free to members,” he explained. “For example, we now have a free online training platform that includes four different certification tracks and even an ‘Optical 101’ program for teaching someone outside the industry the optical fundamentals. We increased the number of vendors we work with to over 140 and leaned in heavily with a small pool of vendors to provide extra value.”

In addition, CECOP USA has worked to leverage the international organization’s $1 billion-plus in global buying power to renegotiate many contracts in an effort to deliver best-in-class deals that practices can’t get on their own or through other groups, he said.

“We added new rebate structures that we pay to our members so that the more they spend with us the more they receive. We had eight engagement dinners in the latter half of 2021 and have 20-plus ‘Happy Hour & Education’ events for prospects and members in 2022,” Alvord said.

And, CECOP USA, was the single group with a dedicated booth at Vision Expo East, where the organization had seven executives available to talk about the new offerings. As a result, CECOP USA “attracted many new members,” he said.

“They loved that there is no long-term commitment and no membership fee,” he said.

Another new important addition, Alvord said, is a guarantee for new members: CECOP USA will demonstrate to these new members, in their first six months, various tactics that can add $10,000 a year in profit or it will award $1,000. “We have transformed so much in a short time and we really look forward to continuing to build our community and adding huge value for practices,” he noted.

The group’s 2022 goals are to boost member engagement and to bring real value to members’ practices. “We also want to spread the word about CECOP USA and all the disruptive and innovative things we are working on for the industry.

“For example, we just invested in our first practice and are partnering with an eyecare professional to have it as a sandbox to test out vendor relationships, marketing programs, operational processes, and technology to create a knowledge base of wisdom on how we can help transform a practice and then share that information with our members.”

During the pandemic’s toughest times, practices preserved their cash as much as possible. As a result, it led ECPs to look more closely at their cost structures and find ways to do more with less. “All of this was beneficial for CECOP USA, where our mission is to help provide services that help reduce the hassle factors of running a practice while increasing practice growth and profit,” he said.

Alvord noted that alliances and buying groups in the eyecare sector have been around for many years. About two-thirds of independent ECPs already are a member or utilizing a group organization in some way, and many even have multiple group affiliations. “While many groups have been stagnant with respect to innovation and change, I do think independents value great deals and services and a partner like CECOP USA that can make their lives easier and help them be more profitable,” he said.