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The OD's Guide to Optometry Alliances and Buying Groups

Sep 18, 2020
10 min read
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When it comes to practice ownership and management, one secret weapon private practice owners have at their disposal is access to optometry alliances and buying groups. Here's our guide to the big ones, and how to find the right fit for your practice.

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The optometric landscape is becoming more competitive every day, and now in the COVID-19 world practices are looking for even more ways to stay competitive and remain profitable during this tough time. One of the greatest advantages independent ODs have available are practice alliances and buying groups. These groups help smaller practices pool together their resources and knowledge to gain leverage in the way of better pricing and deals from many of the major players in the eyecare space. This provides some leveling of the playing field between large corporations (Private Equity & Retail) and independent doctors to help keep private practices alive.

When I graduated from optometry school I was aware of a couple “big name” optometry alliances and buying groups, like Vision Source. Little did I know that there are numerous different practice alliances out there to meet the specific needs or many practice modalities. What I admire about all of these groups is their number one goal is to help optometrists continue to provide exceptional patient care.

The difference between a practice alliance and buying groups used to be fairly clear. As the optometric landscape is changing these organizations are also adapting. Now it is hard to differentiate a buying group from a practice alliance because all of these benefits are included in some capacity in the single groups. Benefits include discounts to members from strategic business partners, business management consulting/resources, continuing education, and networking events to promote camaraderie and share best practices amongst members.

If you are looking for ways to step up your practice, joining a practice alliance is a great first step. Here is an overview of what you need to know about the main players out there so you can determine which alliance and/or buying group will be the best fit for your practice. Let's dive in!

IDOC

This group was founded in 1999 and currently is the largest independently owned alliance. IDOC became more than just an alliance as it grew and evolved over the years. After the acquisition of Prima Eye Group, a practice management consulting firm, they were able to develop a consulting platform that now is becoming standard amongst optometric alliances. This update has resulted in IDOC becoming a well-rounded option that may suit the needs of many independent ODs.

Janice Dody, VP of Membership for IDOC said “IDOC is committed to helping the independent optometrist succeed and this starts with our ‘why’ that Empowers Independent Owners to Live the Practice of their Dreams. We do this through our core values of, People First, Always, Service at Our Core, Trusted Relationships, and Better Together.” She is very proud to have the opportunity to help independent optometrists thrive every day.

IDOC arguably has the strongest practice management consultants available for members. This provides significant value to ODs along with peer networking study groups & continuing ed opportunities

Membership Cost:

  • $129/mo IDOC: Essentials
  • $199-$239/mo: IDOC Select
  • $395/mo: IDOC Advisor
  • No long-term contract

*The IDOC Essential plan is for practices mostly focused on taking advantage of the negotiated rebates and discounts, while the IDOC Advisor level is for those who also want on-call business advisors to assist with HR, finance, marketing, and general practice management. IDOC Select provides the benefits of IDOC Advisor in addition to being a share-based, not growth-based plan.

Other helpful info:

  • Owned by Investment Management Corp.
  • Only for Independent Doctors of Optometry
  • Based out of Norwalk, CT

PECAA: Professional Eye Care Associates of America

PECAA is a great example of an organization that is constantly evolving. This group has changed a lot since it began in 2006 and continues to adapt to meet the needs of its members.

During a conversation with Sara Campbell, Membership Manager for PECAA, she said “The PECAA community of IECPs comes together in many ways to support one another to become better business leaders. Our community is what has shaped PECAA’s core pillars to be Connect, Build, and Prosper. I am honored to work with such an engaged community of like-minded IECPs and talented PECAA staff members with years of practice experience.”

One of the most stand-out differences between PECAA and other options is their ability to offer a health insurance plan through their organization. This is a huge benefit for small practices who want or need to provide benefits to help attract and retain employees. Additionally, PECAA has business consultants that help provide advice to members to assist with general business questions, including billing/coding and cold start assistance.

In 2018 PECAA merged with another practice alliance, ODExcellence (ODX), creating greater diversity in the benefits available to members. With the addition of more quality CE, staff training, and medical office advice; the groups combined have made PECAA an even more beneficial partner for the independent OD.

Another great thing about PECAA is the variety in choice available throughout PECAA’s diverse vendor partner network. One may find that many of the companies they already work with have discounts and incentives available through PECAA. Speaking of incentives, PECAA’s IncentivEYES® provides even greater savings for members, adding a lot of value to the flat membership fee.

Membership Cost:

  • Standard: $149/mo for the first 12months, then $199/mo thereafter
  • Cold Start Program: Free/6mo, then $99 next 6/mo, then $199/mo after the first full year.*
  • No long term contract
  • One membership fee per practice, no fee for additional locations

* The Cold Start Practice Program is meant to help new practices get the start-up advice and resources they need right away. For the first 6 months the cost is $0 (from the day you join until 6mo after opening), then $99/m for 6months. After the first full year, the membership goes to the standard $199/mo rate.

Other helpful info:

  • Owned by Rev360
  • Merged with ODExcellence in 2018.
  • Based out of Portland, OR
  • Student membership available

Vision Source

I would be very surprised if you haven’t heard of Vision Source. There are a lot of Vision Source practices out there (over 3,300) with a strong following and commitment to private practice optometry. Here is a fun fact for you, there have been 11 Vision Source members that have served as President of the American Optometric Association. Talk about a commitment to optometry!

As a franchise, Vision Source has some really cool and specific programs available to its members. This also allows for more exclusive to member benefits other groups don’t have access to. With this being said, member optometrists don’t have to actively advertise that they are Vision Source practices. It is entirely up to the specific wants and needs of the individual OD.

Every year Vision Source hosts a meeting called The Exchange. This is always a great opportunity for members to snag new technology and instrumentation for reasonable prices. Many members recoup all of their membership fees in purchases made at this meeting, and this is a huge value add to membership.

Vision Source has some very strong and valuable industry partnerships that can add significant value to a practice. The biggest downside is that to make the most of the high membership fee, you must commit to working with these partners and/or take advantage of other deep discounts available through specific optical brands.

Membership Cost:

  • Variable: 2.5% of gross revenue annually. Its goes down the larger the office (3+ practices)
  • 18-month commitments at first, then if you decide to stay, a long-term commitment to the franchise is required (5yr contract)

Other helpful info:

  • Owned by EssilorLuxottica
  • Vision Source is a Franchise Optical Alliance Group

HEA: Healthy Eyes Advantage

This group was born when four different buying groups merged in late 2017. They now have things integrated as one message across all of the older unique brands that are known as Healthy Eyes Advantage(HEA). When these four different groups came together it has allowed for increased diversification of benefits and resources for members based on what their legacy organizations were able to offer.

I really like that HEA allows for one unified bill from all of your vendors. No more having to worry about if each individual invoice was paid and accounted for. With HEA all of the bills come bundled together on one easy-to-read statement to help simplify the buying process and accounting.

One of the things that makes HEA really special is its commitment to working with state optometric associations. HEA has partnership agreements with 18 state associations to help support organized optometry. For some states (like Pennsylvania) they provide refunds on your purchases in the form of “dues credits”, essentially paying your AOA and state association dues for you.

Membership Cost:

  • No monthly fee and you only pay for the discounts you access. This can be variable and won’t exceed a 5% fee.

Other helpful info:

  • Owned by Nautic Partner (Private Equity)
  • Open to Opticians and Ophthalmologists, in addition to ODs
  • Partnerships with State Associations
  • Dual Headquarters based out of Boca Raton, FL & San Diego, CA

PERC: Professional Eyecare Resource Co-Operative

PERC offers its members access to networking, consultation, and education, with a core focus on reducing members’ cost of goods. With over 6,000 members, PERC leverages its combined buying power to negotiate competitive pricing and exclusive programs for the membership. A stand-out, exclusive benefit for members is the PERC Advantage Program. PERC Advantage is a no-hassle dispensary solution where members receive steep discounts on top brands like Ray-Ban, Oakley, Tory Burch and more and free next-day delivery on all frames. Because PERC stocks all PERC Advantage frames in a centralized warehouse, members don’t have to worry about delays or backorders.

The real advantage of PERC is that no one can refute is the cost of membership: FREE! This is really great for a practice on a budget looking for ways to help increase cash flow. There is a caveat to this—to maximize benefits you will have to use more specific strategic partners/vendors to generate real savings, but with more than 60 vendor partners, members find competitive discounts and premium service across all vendor categories.

Membership Cost:

  • FREE

Other helpful info:

  • Owned by EssilorLuxottica

Last words

If you are an independent optometrist you need to be part of an optometric alliance and/or buying group to stay competitive in the changing landscape. Make sure the money is worth it, and take advantage of the strategic vendor partners. The last thing you want is to be spending money every month on a membership if you aren’t making the most of the benefits. There are a lot of things you have to evaluate before joining one of these groups. Consider what you really want to get out of your membership and use this to help drive your decision.

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About Erick Henderson, OD

Erick Henderson is a 2017 graduate of SCO and currently practices in Pittsburgh, PA. While at SCO, Erick served as the President of the AOSA and is currently very active with the Pennsylvania Optometric Association. His practice focus is specialty contact lenses and dry eye treatment. Outside of the office he is a lecturer/consultant for Alcon and part of the Educational Consultant team with Valley Contax. Dr. Henderson also serves on the board of the Lamu Center of Public Health, a non-profit operating a free preventative healthcare clinic in Lamu, Kenya.


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