By John Sailer
Partners in Vision jumped from number 40 among Vision Monday's
Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers in 2011 to become the 32nd largest optical retailer in the U.S. for the 2012 calendar year. Last year, the company added ten locations, increasing from 42 to 52. This year, that dramatic growth continues with six new locations opened already and six more slated to open over the next few months.
What started 15 years ago as a single optician running an optical dispensary for an ophthalmological practice in central New Jersey has grown into a company that specializes in opening and managing optical dispensaries for ophthalmologists throughout the country.
Judd Sky, LDO, FNAO, founder and president of Partners in Vision, single handedly took the optical dispensary for an ophthalmologist in Short Hills, N.J., from zero to $1 million. "When his friends asked him how he had done it, the doctor was kind enough to turn me onto helping them," said Sky. He soon added a pediatric practice and then another practice a few miles down the road. "At the point that I was running one dispensary full time and another couple dispensaries part time, I realized it was a viable business," Sky told dba.
Growth has been primarily through word of mouth and doing a good job, according to Sky. "In a small industry where you live and die by your reputation, we've been able to preserve ours," he said. "Although patients don't necessarily know who Partners in Vision is, we do our best to make the ophthalmology practice we work with look better."
Much of the organization's more recent growth he credits to his vice president of operations, Angelo Benfante, LDO, who joined the company almost four years ago. "Angelo has been very helpful in expanding our growth and getting us to the next level in the last three to four years since he came on board," said Sky.
Reflecting its name, Partners in Vision partners with ophthalmologists, both those that already have existing optical dispensaries and those that want to open new ones. While ownership of the dispensary technically and legally must belong to the doctor, Partners in Vision owns the frames and the furniture and employs the opticians, ultimately managing everything and paying the ophthalmologist a percentage that represents the "lion's share" of the revenue. "I run the day-to-day operations for them and assure them a percentage higher than they could get on their own," said Sky. "We work on very small margins."
While there are many factors that enter into making the dispensaries that Partners in Vision manages a success, Sky points to his staff of opticians as a key element. "We hire above average opticians and pay above average salaries," said Sky. In fact, he cites, "a limiting factor to our growth is finding opticians."
While ownership of the dispensary belongs to the doctor, Partners in Vision owns the frames and the furniture
and employs the opticians, managing everything and paying the ophthalmologist a percentage of the revenue.
Optician training is one of Partners in Vision's ongoing initiatives, relying part on lens manufacturers for some of that education. Sky cited Essilor as "helpful not only to educate our opticians but also some of our doctors."
Patient education and customer service are also key. "We're not just trying to sell people things," he said. "Patients walk out with information, knowing what they bought and knowing why they bought it. Taking the time to find out information about our patients and helping them make informed decisions differentiates us from other stores."
Describing his customer service as "Nordstrom's on steroids", he said, "We want optical to be known as an integral part of the practice...not just the gift shop in the corner."
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