Keplr: A Change of Name, But Not Philosophy


Keplr, another private equity-backed firm, debuted in July as the management platform that rolled up two of the PE firm’s portfolio companies: Total ECP and optical retail company Visionary Partners. Under the new name and combined businesses, Keplr currently has about 80 eyecare clinics across 19 states under its corporate umbrella. It seeks to provide “exceptional levels of clinical, operational and marketing support with its more than decade-old and highly successful business services platform,” the company announced at its launch.

Toronto-based Imperial Capital backed the formation of Total ECP in late 2017, and its early practices included Gaddie Eye Center (Louisville, Ky., area), Shady Grove Eye & Vision Care (Rockville, Md.), Gailmard Eye Center (Munster, Ind.) and DW Nelson and Associates of Madison, Wis. (Keplr expects to reach about 100 practice locations by the end of August. Its Visionary Eye Partners unit ranked No. 23 in Vision Monday’s Top 50 Optical Retailers Report with annual sales of $56 million.)

“There’s too much confusion in the industry, with everyone’s name sounding the same,” Keplr chief executive officer Nick Williams said of the firm’s new identity and structure, noting that Johannes Kepler was a leading 17th century scientist who did much of the foundational work on optics. Williams said by adopting the Keplr name the group can tie into its roots as a technology-driven group of practices.

The Keplr name is a “great metaphor for who we are,” Williams said. “We are a best-in-class lens technology company, best-in-class in operations and we are also best-in-class medical. We think the name is a differentiator … and you are going to see us make a marked push to establish ourselves not as a private-equity backed group, but really as a collegial amalgamation of the best-in-class ODs.”

Still, Williams noted that the current eyecare marketplace—with a handful of PE-backed firms buying up independent practices at a steady pace—is “by far the most competitive time for a private equity-backed group to acquire a practice.” But over the past five years, ODs who are considering the sale of their practices have become better informed about the private equity option and are asking better questions of the firms, Williams said. (The leaders of the other PE-backed groups agreed that this is a notable change in the marketplace.) As a result, there is going to be greater emphasis by the PE-backed firms on establishing a strong company culture and improving practice settings for the ODs, Williams said.

One of the key attributes of Keplr, Williams said, is that it has set up a model that allows the OD owners of acquired practices to become owners in the overall group. “They still feel like owners and operators,” he said. “But they get to see their patients and, after handling a couple administrative things, they get to go home. The benefit is being able to focus on the practice.… You don’t have to go through the grueling work of running a business.”

Keplr also offers business support services from its corporate offices in Bloomington, Ill., which has a staff of about 70 people across a variety of roles. Williams said the philosophy is to practice level staff to focus on “the real job they should be doing, whether it’s selling or fitting glasses.” He added, “We don’t come in with an iron fist and say you are going to do X, Y and Z and you are going to do it today. It’s immensely disruptive to the practice and it’s not what the seller OD wants most of the time.”