Right behind MyEyeDr. in terms of size and scope is EyeCare Partners of St. Louis. The group has almost 300 locations where doctors see patients and is now in 11 states following a move into Alabama in March. EyeCare Partners launched in April 2015, when the private equity firm FFL Partners invested in St. Louis-based Clarkson Eyecare group, which had 63 locations at that time.

Kelly McCrann, chief executive officer, said he believes the outlook for a continuation of PE investment in the eyecare sector is strong, in part because ODs and others are better-informed and more aware of the opportunities to align with larger management groups. “They are getting smarter about it,” he noted. This increase in awareness of the PE environment also covers a wider range of experience levels, from ECPs approaching retirement to mid-career doctors and even new graduates, he said.

One of the ways EyeCare Partners attempts to differentiate itself is with a focus on full-scope optometry medical model. “It’s a doctor-first approach,” James Wachter, OD, chief professional officer, said. “A lot of companies are focused on the retail side of things. Our model is a little bit different in that we lead with the doctor.” He noted that EyeCare Partners seeks to invest in the latest medical technology for the practice to enhance patient care, and that the group also has a vertically integrated model that helps to coordinate care with secondary and tertiary providers.

In addition, McCrann said EyeCare Partners takes “a very long-term view” on its business model, and that it views itself as having only two fundamental roles. “One, we’re a business partner that helps practices grow, and that can apply to practices of any maturity. And, what we are more known for is exit capitalization opportunities, which we also can provide to the more senior practices.”

While the “exit” process opportunity is relevant to some practices, McCann said, the role EyeCare Partners plays as a supportive business partner is relevant to all practices. “With that mission, we think the world is huge as we look forward,” he added.

Also part of the group’s “intentional strategies,” according to McCrann, is the vertical integration of optometry and ophthalmology. This begins with development of a “pyramid” structure in each operating area, with a broad base of optometry supporting general ophthalmology and topped off with specialty ophthalmology at the peak. EyeCare Partners has established this pyramid approach in varying levels of maturity across its operating areas, with ophthalmology contributing about 40 percent of overall group revenue. (The group also has a support infrastructure consisting of about 550 employees.)

Wachter noted that 92 percent of optometric practices operating today have not been consolidated, which sets up a robust marketplace. Wachter is one of five ODs who sit on the company’s nine-member board of directors.