Change has been the routine, not the exception, across much of optical and eyecare over the past two years. Perhaps no organization has seen as big an alteration as the now combined PECAA and HEA groups, which have officially become “PECAA, Delivering more with HEA” after a deal combined the two entities in the summer of 2021. The rebranded company launched at the recent Vision Expo East event in late March in New York City.

As the groups came together, they also launched PECAA Max, which the executives said is “the industry’s only single source membership, combining the size and scale of a buying group with the community, connection, and practice growth expertise of an alliance group.”

PECAA Max members have access to all PECAA, Delivering more with HEA has to offer, including industry-leading vendor partnerships, consolidated billing, nationwide peer-to-peer communities, the PECAA annual meeting, and business advisory services in the areas of finance, optical, operations, billing and coding, and marketing. All of these tools and resources are included in a monthly membership fee, the organization noted.

“As an organization, we’ve really had the biggest amount of change in the past year,” Dr. Justin Manning, chief member experience officer, told Vision Monday in an interview.

He added, “Our primary goals focus on expanding the role we play in our members’ practice success. As we are the only organization that provides both buying group and alliance services in a single membership, membership means saving practices even more time and money by allowing them to ‘declutter’ their existing partnerships. More than ever, we are committed to meeting our members where they are, providing them the tools, resources and strategies they need to compete in 2022 and beyond.”

As the organizations came together, an updated leadership team emerged. This team included: Jamie Hughes, the former SVP and GM of PECAA, who has become chief operating officer, and Dr. Lance Anderson, a co-founder and VP of strategic initiatives at PECAA, who has become chief strategy officer. Stephanie Lucas took on the role of chief growth officer, and the group named Michael Freiburghouse as chief financial officer. Jim McGrann, who led HEA, is chairman and CEO of the combined organization.

The initial reaction to the enlarged organization has been very positive. “It’s been extremely, extremely positive, primarily because they are two [formerly] independent companies that have a passion for and a history of supporting and growing the independent channel,” Dr. Manning said. “The members are thrilled to see two companies that are passionate about supporting independent eyecare coming together … and that now have much greater size and scale to work on behalf of the independent.”

The group now serves more than 9,000 members (tied to businesses/Tax-IDs), which encompasses 12,000 independent eyecare professionals across all 50 states. The membership includes optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians, schools of optometry, and large optometry/ophthalmology health centers.

Manning noted the group is working toward placing a strong focus on helping members “win with e-commerce and omnichannel, managed vision care, and the full life-cycle of the business—from starting cold to executing the exit strategy that is right for each of our members.”

In the current environment for eyecare, PECAA, Delivering more with HEA believes there is a significant opportunity for independent eyecare to thrive and grow. “However, the competition continues to get smarter and more sophisticated in how they attract, market to, and sell to patients,” Manning explained.

“Inflation, staffing, managed vision care and [other challenges] impact a practice’s ability to be successful and profitable. Membership groups like PECAA and others exist to serve these needs of independents and allow them to tap deeper into the power they have as practice owners.”

One area that the organization is addressing is staffing at the practice levels. Beginning with the pandemic, staffing has become “far and away the biggest problem our members continue to face,” Manning said. “It is extremely difficult for our members to stay fully staffed, and they are struggling to expand and hire more.”

As a result, now more than ever, practice culture is key to attracting and retaining team members. At PECAA, Delivering more with HEA, the team is working to support the strengthening of its members’ practice cultures to support their staffing needs, the group said.

“Attracting and retaining staff is affecting their ability to grow and be profitable,” Dr. Manning noted. “In addition, stagnant vision care plan reimbursements and inflation/rising cost of goods challenges their ability to be profitable. We’ve listened to our members and are working this year to invest in new tools to help them address these challenges. We’ve expanded our member business advisory team to include an optical consultant and delivered our Optical Success Initiative with our private label frame line—InD Eyewear.”

The private label frame line has been in the market for about a year, and also has received a favorable response, he said.

In addition, PECAA, Delivering more with HEA has expanded its partnerships with and support of state associations. To date, the group has partnered with 24 state and national professional organizations, recently adding the state optometric associations of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Manning added, “As we engage with our members and the broader eyecare community, we look forward to our existing members taking advantage of all PECAA Max has to offer as well as inviting new members into the program to engage with the vendor partners that we believe are most committed to supporting the independent eyecare professional.

“In addition, success is our members engaging with more of our member services, from direct consultations with our Member Business Advisor team to attending more of our business and continuing education events, and attending our annual meeting, which is set for May 19-21 in Palm Springs, Calif., the best live event in eyecare.”