BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—Keplr Vision, like other groups within eyecare practice management, spent much of the March-April period this year reviewing operations and planning for the expected recovery in the back half of the year. The goal was to prepare to restart the dealmaking process with independent ODs once the coronavirus situation cleared and eyecare, like other business segments, returned to something resembling normal.
This is still much the mindset at Keplr, which announced a series of transactions with independent ODs in July. “We have a lot going on,” Keplr chief executive officer Nick Williams told Vision Monday in mid-July. He noted the group is in “a good spot” in terms of financing.
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The group made a significant move in early July with the announcement of a series of transactions involving practices in the Pacific Northwest that added 10 practice locations and several distinguished ODs, including Dr. Bradley Smith and Dr. David Wolf, two of the co-founders of Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA). (Neither Keplr nor Drs. Smith and Wolf are currently affiliated with PECAA.)
Keplr Vision, which offers a comprehensive operational and support platform for optometric practices, launched in July 2019. It now has about 150 practice locations across approximately 30 states. This includes the combination of practice locations that previously were part of either Visionary Eye Partners or Total ECP—two portfolio companies of Canada’s Imperial Capital that merged to become Keplr Vision.
During the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic, Williams said the No. 1 priority at Keplr was “to protect the investment of our partner doctors” and to review the performance of these practices that had become part of the group. Keplr management spent much of the time “paying earnest attention to the practices that we already have,” Williams said. As a result of this planning and ideas put in place, Williams said the group’s practices returned to about 90 percent of pre-COVID-19 revenue performance by early to mid-June.
He added, “We wanted to make sure we protected their staff and their health as well the health of their investments. We didn’t want to do acquisitions until we made sure the practices we had already partnered with had regained economic health.”
Later in July, Keplr made another major move with two announcements, including a strategic partnership with Cockrell Eyecare Center in Stillwater, Okla. At the same time, Keplr announced the launch of Keplr Advocacy with Dr. David Cockrell as its leader, a key development given the increasing importance of advocacy around important issues in eyecare, according to Williams. (Dr. Cockrell has held several roles at the American Optometric Association (AOA), including membership on its Statutory Scope Committee and board of trustees. He also was AOA’s president in 2014.)
Along with Dr. Cockrell the inaugural members of Keplr Advocacy are: Keplr Vision chief medical officer Dr. Ben Gaddie and Keplr Vision partners Dr. David Nelson (a former AOA president) and Louisiana Senator Dr. David Heitmeier.
Keplr Advocacy was created to “pursue policy and regulatory changes at the state and federal levels to expand and protect the practice of optometry, allowing Keplr Vision providers to practice the highest level of care while increasing access to the patients that they ultimately serve,” according to the announcement.
“When I learned about the opportunity to launch Keplr Advocacy, it was clear that Keplr Vision was the right place for myself and our practice,” Dr. Cockrell said in the announcement. “By joining Keplr Vision, I know that I will be able to continue to do the work that will make our industry better, now and into the future.”
Williams said that Keplr—as of mid-July—anticipates significant M&A activity within eyecare and optical in the third and fourth quarters of 2020. “We are hopeful that we come close to accomplishing our [pre-COVID-19] annual goal,” he said, noting only that it was an “aggressive” goal that Keplr had set at the beginning of the year.
Keplr expects to close shortly on two additional deals with large independent practices and then expects in August to resume the pace it had established prior to the coronavirus in the spring, Williams said. For Keplr, the transactions it completes tend to be with large practices operating one or two locations. This is the type of independent practice that best fits the Keplr model, Williams said.