BUSINESS Pearle Vision’s Ignite: Providing a ‘Strategic Conversion’ Program By Mark Tosh Monday, August 12, 2019 12:22 AM RELATED CONTENT Seeking Solutions Private Equity-Backed Firms Seek Bigger Slice of Health Care Pie MyEyeDr.: Valuing Doctor-Patient Loyalty EyeCare Partners: A Doctor-First Approach Acuity: Launched in 2017, but Growing Quickly Keplr: A Change of Name, But Not Philosophy Vision Source Next: Building a Community of Support for Independent ODs VSP Ventures: Care-Focused Alternative for ECPs in Transition ‘Demystifying Private Equity’ Seminars Launched by Review of Optometric Business Another option for ECPs seeking to transition practice ownership is Pearle Vision’s Ignite program. Pearle launched “Ignite” as a way to offer “a strategic independent optometrist conversion program,” which Pearle said was tied to its commitment to growing the Pearle brand in new communities. The announcement noted that the Ignite program would provide “an attractive opportunity for independent eyecare practice owners” looking for options to manage their own business. It also explained that Pearle (a unit of EssilorLuxottica) was seeking to expand its business with optometrists “who embody contagious entrepreneurial spirit and have passion for providing genuine eyecare.” The conversion program is an ideal opportunity for independent practices seeking greater structure, support and marketing expertise. Alex Wilkes, president of Pearle Vision, said the company has seen a positive response to the Ignite program across the industry. “Creating awareness of the opportunity has prompted a lot of great dialogue,” he explained. “We have already begun to convert practices to franchise locations and are in discussions with several candidates.” The Ignite program comes at a time when consolidation is becoming a common occurrence in the eyecare sector. “I don’t see the consolidation of the industry changing or slowing down,” Wilkes said. “We’ve seen this happen across other industries and eyecare is in the midst of it right now. Franchising continues to provide an alternate path for ODs and practice owners in planning the trajectory of their business,” he added. Wilkes notes that it is important for ODs to understand that joining with a private equity group or trying to “stick it out on your own are not the only options.” He added, “Whether an independent is looking to exit the business completely, or looking long term at growth and an eventual exit, converting the practice to a Pearle Vision franchise location allows [the OD] to retain ownership while being affiliated with one of the leading optical retail brands. You get to be in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” he explained. When recruiting prospective owners for the Ignite program, Pearle Vision considers both the financial health and physical location of the business. In addition, the owner’s alignment with the Pearle brand principle of providing genuine eyecare is critical. “Partnering with ODs and owners who share that commitment to care is important to our business and our patients today and in the future,” Wilkes noted. In its effort to differentiate itself from other “consolidator” groups, Pearle Vision highlights its position as a “heritage brand that was founded by an optometrist,” Wilkes noted. “We’ve established ourselves as a premium eyecare retail brand that delivers genuine eyecare in your neighborhood,” he added. “That national recognition provides value to our franchisees and is not something they could create on their own—in fact, Pearle Vision has 80 percent-plus brand recognition amongst consumers.” In the coming weeks, Pearle will be announcing a new program that deepens its relationship with the philanthropic organization OneSight, which Wilkes said he believes will be “another key differentiator for Pearle Vision within the category.” Separately, Pearle Vision has signed eight area development deals, most recently reaching agreements that cover parts of San Diego, Charlotte and Greater Chicago. (San Diego and Charlotte represent new markets for Pearle Vision.) The company continues to look at multi-store franchise deals as a key driver for growth, Wilkes said. “We will also be announcing a new alternative channel partnership in the coming weeks that we see as a potential driver of growth,” he added. While the area development deals are outside the Ignite program right now, Wilkes said the developers who have signed the agreements “are looking at Ignite as a potential way to fill their area commitments. As an example, the individual who is developing five stores in the Greater Chicago area is actively looking to acquire an independent who he could roll into the area development agreement and then take advantage of the Ignite offering. So the two programs actually coexist and fit together quite nicely,” he said.