A few years ago, we published a whitepaper called Clearing Up the Vision Market. Since then, the demand for vision networks has increased significantly with the number of people who take a vision plan when it’s offered growing from 78% in 2012 to 83% in 2013 in a 2014 SHRM study on vision care, so we decided to take another look.
As of March 2015, there are 48,000 optical locations in the top 10 national vision networks. They fall into two categories: independent eye care professionals (ECPs) and retail chains.
- ECPs are defined by VisionWatch as having three or fewer locations with an ophthalmologist, optometrist, an optician, or an optical retailer on site. Nearly all ECPs are small businesses. According to a whitepaper sponsored by Vision Source, ECPs are typically single location operations with less than $1.5 million in annual revenue and 12 or fewer employees. They have been in practice on average for 20 years.
- Retail chains have 4 or more locations and may or may not have an ophthalmologist or an optometrist on site. The best-known brands in this category are widely available, such as LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Walmart, and Costco.
ECPs make up two-thirds of locations and 45% of market share while retail chains are the rest. A recent Bain and Company study shows the second most influential factor (after cost) in selecting a managed vision care plan is the retail network the plan provides. This helps explain why retail chains account for 55% of vision sales, with only one-third of the locations.
A Consolidating Market
In a recent Wall Street Journal blog post, Optometrists Catch FFL’s Eye, Thomas Puckett of merger and acquisition advisory firm HPC Puckett & Co., said “There aren’t many operators with over 100 locations, but there are quite a few independents with under 50 locations. It is logical for businesses to consolidate in a geographic area.”
Private equity firms are projecting that the number of retail outlets will drop by half over the next five years through consolidation. Investors are most interested in firms valued at $10 to $50 million and the expected growth from the Affordable Care Act and the aging US population makes the industry even more attractive.
Other Vision Network Trends
A recent review of the top 10 national vision networks in NetMinder found some interesting trends:
- Vision networks are growing. The number of unique providers in these networks grew about 8% annually from 2011 to 2015. Unique locations grew more slowly (3% annually) and access points grew more quickly (11% annually). This is most likely because retail chains, such as Pearl Vision or Lenscrafters, generate more revenue with fewer locations.
- Some ECPs practice at many locations. On average, ECPs are listed in provider directories at 2.4 locations with a range of 1.6 to 3.2 locations. This could be the beginning of a trend toward overstated access in vision networks. We see about 25% access point inflation in dental PPO networks and have put a validation process in place using claim data to adjust counts. We are watching vision networks closely to see if a similar filter is needed.
- ECPs are joining more networks. In March 2011, the average ECP participated in 2.5 networks. By March 2015, that count was up to 3.7 networks. This shift is quite dramatic: five years ago 75% of eye care providers in these networks were in 1-3 networks and now only 53% are while 15% are in 7-10 networks.
Are you seeing these trends play out in your network? Are vision benefits in demand among your customers and their employees?