An Eyecare ‘Alliance’ Forges a Higher Profile

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 Vision Source’s exec team at the company’s new Kingwood, Texas HQ office/member support center: (L to R) Glenn Ellisor, OD, founder and exec chairman; Bryan Pinciaro, SVP and chief marketing officer, Derrick Artis, OD, EVP, operations, and Jim Greenwood, president and CEO.
NEW YORK—Vision Source, the largest membership alliance of eyecare professionals in the U.S., is asserting its visibility in the optical market, owning up to its franchise structure and the substantial size of its members’ collective revenues while encouraging both current and prospective members to see the value of its many programs, services and infrastructure.

As illustrated by VM’s discussions with Jim Greenwood, CEO and other senior execs at the Kingwood, Texas-based company, the group is forging a higher profile to attract new members into the fold as it is also working “outside” the traditional boundaries of the vision business to develop new business relationships and contracts with health care organizations, hospital systems and accountable care groups across the country.

Vision Source’s appearance for the first time in VM’s 2014 Top 50 Retailers ranking this month (see page 43), which places the group in the Top 10 with a collective $1.96 billion member locations’ revenues in calendar year 2013, is evidence of a change at the top management levels of the organization, originally founded in 1991 by Glenn Ellisor, OD, and colleagues as a way to provide independent optometrists purchasing power as well as professional and staff development assistance.

It was in August 2011, in an announcement at the group’s annual Exchange meeting, that Vision Source reported it had closed a transaction with Brazos Private Equity Partners, LLC, a leading Dallas-based private investment firm, which had made a significant investment in the group. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

At the time, Ellisor told the meeting attendees, “There were three factors that made them the hands-down choice among the 42 investors that we interviewed in the process: their eagerness to continue to invest in our network, extensive experience and business relationships in health care, and their whole hearted endorsement of our mission to bring extraordinary value to our members and support private practice optometry.”

Today, optometry remains Vision Source’s core business line, although the company also expanded in 2006 into the dental market with the formation of its Smile Source subsidiary and it continues to pursue expansion in that field.

In August 2013, Ellisor transitioned from chairman and chief executive officer to the newly created position of executive chairman of the corporation and Greenwood, who joined Vision Source in January 2013 in the new role of president and COO, assumed the CEO title.

 
Vision Source members can access a range of customizable marketing tools which are designed to help them communicate about their eyecare expertise as well as others which enable them to better leverage media choices and impact their local markets. Resources include detailed demographic and customer target info to trunk show guidance and insights about trends in health care reform.
Ellisor continues to lead the company’s board of directors and remains actively involved in the company’s strategy development, including being the full-time clinical lead of the company and setting the strategic direction of the optometric alliance. Working closely with Ellisor, Greenwood leads the senior team and is responsible for the execution of major strategic plans, investments and initiatives.

Greenwood brings more than 20 years of health care experience and a track record of accomplishment at Concentra, a $1 billion physician practice management company, where he worked in close partnership with clinical leaders during a time of rapid transformational change.

“It’s a time when the vision care area is facing a number of business challenges. I hear from young doctors all the time about those,” said Greenwood, “whether it’s new technologies or health care reform, but I also hear how much they value the mentorship and expertise of seasoned veteran doctors and appreciate being part of a strong group. It’s great to be independent, but independents, via Vision Source, can depend on one another in many ways.”

Vision Source, management at HQ plus a team of nearly 200 individuals, including regional directors, district managers and administrators (member optometrists) assist with member satisfaction and engagement. Vision Source hosts approximately 1,300 meetings held during the year, including local member meetings, Vision Source Facilitator meetings, Vision Source Experience meetings, large practice meetings and meetings held for administrators and members at national, regional and local industry conventions.

Noted Greenwood, “This is a group which helps small business people compete with large retailers. And, as I’ve learned in my 15 months or so in the vision field, the clinical capabilities of independent optometrists present a huge opportunity, it’s almost a ‘secret’ that the greater medical community is not aware of the value optometry provides to help diagnose a wide variety of health conditions. And with our resource teams and vendor partners, we can better help our members’ accomplish much in that regard to better compete.”

Citing such mega trends as the aging population, the rise of obesity and diabetes among millions of Americans, and what he calls the “convergence” of health systems and medical insurance, Greenwood believes that Vision Source “is positioning itself to change the perception of optometry in the medical/health care community, taking it one market and one organization at a time.” To date, Vision Source optometrists have become a part of organized collaborative care teams through more than 35 signed partnerships with health care delivery system groups in Arizona, Florida, Missouri and Texas.

Updated marketing initiatives for members, in exchange for their franchise royalty, as well as a range of continuing education, online resources and a wider roster of vendor partner product purchasing arrangements are part of the investments being made by the group, including its new HQ resource “membership support” center being built in Kingwood.

Bryan Pinciaro, EVP and chief marketing officer, lists a range of member resources and programs, many of which have been coalesced in the past year or two, to facilitate business improvement and/or Vision Source branding. Some 1,200 of the group’s almost 2,800 locations and current total of 3,500 members are now branded with the Vision Source logo.

“Vision Source members use VS BrandCentral.com, our intranet, which has all of our brand standards and a range of communications from marketing tools to social media assistance and digital program help. Members utilize marketing toolkits to market their practice to any patient type or patient base in their local markets from messages which reach the parent/kids’ market to multicultural patient tools,” he explained.

 
 Walter West, OD, Vision Source’s VP Practice Development, is a familiar face to Vision Source members for his training and education series and ‘road trips’ around the country. Vision Source’s Managed Vision Care Profit Analysis Tool is one of many developed in that arena, delivered in person, online and via videos in the group’s intranet system.
“Starting this year, we built seasonal packages—including, for example, an allergy package or year ends benefits communications. There are four ‘buckets’ or seasonal programs they can choose from. We also have worked out outbound marketing programs, including LeadsPlease with Fedex, where we can one-to-one target market patients with pertinent eyecare or product messages. And a new and exciting program is one we do in partnership with another company, which facilitates members targeting new patients in their geographic area, a program based on Census data, these can identify marketing targets as well as new location/real estate opportunities,” Pinciaro said.

Derrick Artis, OD, Vision Source’s EVP, operations, added, “There have been changes here at Vision Source, but the mission of the company remains the same as it’s been for 24 years. Our mission statement is ‘enriching lives by enabling independent ODs to reach their full potential.’”

Said Artis, “ From a high level, we remain all about supporting independent optometry, but it’s important for folks to realize that patients are really the new currency in today’s market. Our core philosophy is to provide doctors with the best pricing from the best vendors in the industry and we do bring our members incredible programs and, when they feel it’s clinically appropriate, we ask them to support our elite vendors first. We are also debuting new private label initiatives—an example is our new private label contact lens program with Sauflon, Fresh Day.”

He concluded, “As the industry changes—whether vendors are vertically integrating or ACOs are controlling patient flow, it takes an organization as strong and sizeable as Vision Source to be able to influence change. That’s a huge value and a return on their own investment for our members in today’s world.” ■