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About 60% of Eyecare Biz Owners Believe They’re on a Recovery Track

They’re wary but see signs of hope.

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WHILE IT’S FAR too early to start throwing around words like “optimistic”, the outlook expressed by 118 eyecare biz owners and managers responding to INVISION’s third COVID-19 Impact Survey could be described as wary, skewing ever-so-slightly to the positive. We asked respondents to rate their fear of the threat posed to their business by COVID-19 on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being “not worried“ and 10 equating to “terrified”.) A bet-hedging 5 was by far the most popular rating (chosen by nearly 28 percent of respondents), with 59 percent rating their threat level at somewhere between 1 and 5, and 41 percent placing themselves between 6 and 10. (Looking at the extreme ends of the scale, it’s worth noting that only 13.4 percent rated themselves an 8, 9 or 10, versus 22.7 percent in the very relaxed 1, 2 or 3 category.)

The sense that they are ultimately on the right track was brought out more explicitly when we asked respondents what kind of recovery they see their businesses making (120 answered this question). Some 60 percent currently expect either a “J-shaped” or “V-shaped” recovery (stronger growth ahead, or a quick recovery, respectively), with about an even split between them. “W-“, “U-“ or “L-shaped” recoveries, suggesting another slump or at least a prolonged period without growth, were expected by a combined 40 percent—still a worrying figure, to be sure.

Owners and managers were generally more sanguine when asked to quantify the threat to their own health from COVID-19 (using the same scale). Of the 120 who answered this question, the largest group (15.8 percent) said they weren’t worried, followed closely by 15 percent who rated themselves a 2. The concerns over personal health were reasonably evenly distributed, however, with all of the ratings from 1 to 8 scoring somewhere between 7.5 and 15.8 percent. Only 7.4 percent rated themselves a 9 or 10.

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Finally, we gave respondents a chance to identify their most valuable partner throughout this ordeal. Far and away the most popular choice (picked by 41.3% of the 116 respondents to this question) was “Your staff”. Biz owners’ praise for their teams was neatly summed up by Gayle Bergthold at Bee Cave Vision Center in Bee Cave, TX, who told us, “The staff are 100 percent strong and have a great attitude. We are a family. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

The next most popular choice was “Your customers”, rating a distant 14.5 percent, followed by the federal government with just 12 percent and vendors, banks and state governments all rating less than 7 percent each.

Interestingly, a full 17.2 percent chose “other”. We asked respondents to volunteer some more detailed information on these “other” valuable partners in the comments section, and unsurprisingly perhaps, many people took time to thank their families and partners.

The wide diversity of comments directed at the federal and state governments seems to reflect the wildly different experiences people had trying to get PPP assistance—and their assessments are further complicated by the fact that in many cases the availability of PPP came down to the skill of their local bank in negotiating the paperwork. Susan Whaley, OD at Tallahassee Eye Center in Tallahassee, FL, listed the “PPP loan, online CL ordering through vendors [and] waiver of dues for several buying groups” as the main factors helping her get through.

This was echoed by Jen Heller at Pend Oreille Vision Care in Sandpoint, ID, who told us that “The Medicare provider grants and the PPP loans put the federal government in a strong, contending position [for most valuable partner]. And our small local bank navigated the PPP fiasco with such ease that we were approved and through the process before we even realized it was supposed to be a ginormous hassle.” Not all respondents were so enthused, however. Brian Courtright at Prescott Valley Eye Care in Prescott Valley, AZ, commented, “I am on my own. Fed/state government run by ignorant clowns, lying. Bailout funds are insufficient and with huge strings. Employees make more money on unemployment than working, so have little need to return.”

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To end on a positive note, other shout-outs of gratitude went to forgiving landlords, understanding labs, as well as industry associations and media for getting as much advice out there as they could. Susan Halstead at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs, NY expressed her indebtedness to “online webinars, both industry specific and non. Access to so much free advice from experts” really helped her, she said.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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