Perhaps one of the newer PE-backed management groups in the eyecare sector is Acuity Eyecare Group, which was formed in early 2017 when Riata Capital acquired Crown Vision Center, Eyetique and International Eye Center and combined the practices under the Acuity management services umbrella. The group has now expanded to almost 125 locations following a pair of late July acquisitions that added 11 locations and marked the group’s entry into Texas. Acuity jumped four spots and ranked No. 17 in VM’s recent list of Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers.

“We’re like the youngest kid on the block,” said Acuity chief executive officer Eric Anderson. “But now we have the infrastructure in place and we have our executive team built.” (Acuity also has partial ownership of an ophthalmology practice near St. Louis, and has set up a “hub and spoke referral model,” Anderson said, and is intrigued with similar opportunities.)

Anderson said Acuity, which typically acquires 100 percent of a practice, finds itself distinct from other groups in terms of its approach to handling transactions and integrating new practices into the group. “We take a more personal approach and we try to keep the business model that [prospective deal partners] have built, but just help them to do it better,” he said, noting that Acuity avoids any attempt to “create homogeneity across all of the businesses” in its holdings. He calls it “more of a bespoke model.”

For example, there are significant differences in the practice models of Eyetique in Pittsburgh and International Eyecare Center in Missouri, with the former more of a boutique-type optical shop and the latter a medically focused practice. “We’re able to leverage the synergies that you get by combining these businesses, but at the same time do it in a way that you preserve the DNA that made the businesses special,” he added.

This is possible, he said, because Acuity has developed a common platform that each acquired practice can plug into, including a custom lab, EHR software and recall programs.

The First Look lab near St. Louis was supporting about 30 locations at the time Acuity acquired it, and now following investment supports about 125 practice locations with capacity for further growth, Anderson said.

Acuity sees a clear advantage in owning its own lab by virtue of the impact on net promoter scores, one of “the most important things that we follow,” Anderson said. With its own lab, Acuity has more control over service delivery, which is typically one of the biggest components of patient satisfaction, Anderson said.

In terms of merchandising frames, about 70 percent of an Acuity assortment might be standard across every location, with about 30 percent customized to the specific demographic. “We are professional buyers, allocators and planners so we know what bestsellers look like and we are able to populate a frame board in a way that’s [successful],” he said.