Since its founding in 2019, The Eye Consortium (TEC) has earned its stripes as one of the fastest-growing alliances for independent-minded eyecare and optical practices. The group’s mission and philosophy are built upon the idea of creating a community of like-minded business people on the ECP side and to match them with a curated, specialized group of vendors who want to see independent eyecare continue to grow and thrive.

Indeed, TEC describes itself as “a high-level strategy” that is designed to accelerate the performance and success of independent practices in the challenging business environment that has become the standard in optical and eyecare today. Practice differentiation and premium patient experiences are among the keys to operating a successful and thriving independent and profitable practice, the founders noted.

These founders—Matt Alpert, OD, and Robert Chu, OD, who are practicing optometrists—have experience working in various roles across the eyecare industry and came up with the idea to launch the alliance out of a small study group they had initiated.

The goal of The Eye Consortium, in part, is to help practices maintain a unique environment for their patients, while increasing profitability. The founders note that after years of watching profits erode and dispensaries become commoditized, “a novel approach is imperative. Practice differentiation and the patient experience are keys to an independent and profitable practice.”

“We’ve had a pretty consistent growth pattern, and we’re up to about 1,700 or closer to 1,800 members as of March,” Alpert told Vision Monday in a recent interview, noting that he expects TEC to show continuing and consistent growth. “The message that we’re putting out in the marketplace about where [independent ECPs] spend their money matters, and differentiation [in the optical] matters … This is gathering steam,” he said.

The group was “under the radar” at the beginning, Dr. Chu noted, but “word-of-mouth and referrals have been the absolute No. 1 driver to get us where we are now.”

There are no membership fees and no long-term contracts.

At the heart of its model is the idea that TEC will partner with industry leading independent suppliers who do want to support independent practices and to see these ECPs succeed. A recent addition is the Evolution program, which offers additional benefits to support member practices and to enhance differentiation and independence.

The new Evolution supplier partners include Alcon, De Rigo REM, OCuSOFT, Zeiss Meditec, and an enhanced offer from Carl Zeiss Vision.

Along with offering its ECP members best-in-class products, TEC has been established around the idea of vendor exclusivity, as well. This idea “really kind of caught fire,” Alpert said. “We don’t just take any company as a vendor if they’re willing to offer a discount. We want the best-in-class and unique offerings for each slice of our industry. So our premier lens vendor is Zeiss, and because we’re offering them exclusivity, the deal we get is the best-in-class.”

As a result of the vendor exclusivity concept, there’s a unique relationship between TEC and its partners that produces benefits for the doctor and the vendor partner alike. And it enables TEC to continue to build innovative, best-in-class programs, differentiated products with the highest levels of service, and maintain the ability to make you more profitable, the group said.

Alcon is the sole contact lens vendor, and one of the newest to come on board with TEC. The founders call the new partnership “the final piece of the puzzle to make our basket of offerings complete.”

TEC also has added OCuSOFT for disposable, ancillary products, and new frame vendor De Rigo REM. (The frame offerings, designed to offer a broader selection because of the uniqueness of the category, includes Modo and Lafont, also.)

Asked about the ongoing changes among the competitive marketplace for alliance groups in eyecare, the executives noted that they believe TEC has benefitted from this evolution and helped in the effort to add new member doctors, Alpert said.

“I think there are two things here. There’s a dissatisfaction about working with your competitor, and also doctors don’t want to be all homogenized into the same group,” he explained, noting that TEC is designed to steer clear of the product homogenization that might be characteristic of the mainstream retail channel or via other buying organizations.

“It’s similar to how the consumer experience is in the eyewear world,” he added. “A consumer goes out and they think they have choice …but really it’s the same thing [at all of the major retailers]. And in the Alliance space, it became the same thing. It was all the same thing but with a different wrapper. We wanted to have something that was truly independent and differentiated to offer, and that didn’t just have a different wrapper around it, but the nuts and bolts inside, were actually differentiated.”