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We Asked ECPs ‘Do You Think Independent Eyecare Is Dying?’ and Here’s What They Said

Look anywhere on social media and there are those that would have you believe any number of factors are killing independent eyecare. This is what your peers and colleagues really believe.

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Question:

Spend any time on Facebook and you’ll no doubt encounter posts lamenting the influences killing independent eyecare. Do you believe independent eyecare is dying? Or do you believe independent eyecare is not at risk?
  • We offer personalized care, time with the patient, and not rushed encounters. — Joanne Larson, OD, Palmer Family Eye Care, Easton, PA
  • I think it will continue to grow. We have too much knowledge among providers and opticians to phase out. — Caitlin Wicka, San Juan Eye Center, Montrose, CO
  • There will always be a demand and preference for personal attention and service. The big box outlets can’t deliver that to customers. People want to be made to feel important and special, not just another sale that meets a store’s daily quota. — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY
  • Independent eyecare is more important than ever. People want a personal experience and customer service. I hear it all the time from my patients, how much they appreciate the personal service they receive from my office. — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY
  • It is dying. Look at the chains, the purchase of independent eyecare practices, etc. — BJ Chambers, Carrera Optical, McQueeney, TX
  • Perhaps we spend too much time on Facebook. Spend that time working to take care of your customers, offer your full personal attention, get to know them and establish a long-term relationship. People will seek out people over online anytime they require repairs, have questions or are looking for an honest opinion. We are only at risk if we lose track of our customer service. — Deb Jaeger, Eye Center of the Dakotas, Bismarck, ND
  • Only the basic and unoriginal that compete at the lower price points are dying. Corporate will not be able to match the service and products of higher end offices. Patients before profits = bigger profits. — Jason Klepfisz, OD, Urban Eye Care LLC, Phoenix, AZ
  • Old fashion personal care and attention still have a place in the eyecare/eyewear world so the best independents will survive and some will thrive. They will need a competitive advantage in product and/or services to meet people’s needs. — Scott Mann, OD, INVISION, Christiansburg VA
  • We can offer unique care and experiences to our patients that corporate cannot. We don’t have to strictly follow CYA policies. We can creatively problem solve and make the patient happy. Drop VCPs. They are not in the business of making independents money. They are in the business of making themselves money. — Jenna Gilbertson, McCulley Optix Gallery, Fargo, ND
  • I think the old way of doing business is dying but in any industry the best always survive and adapt, the ones that can’t and don’t just complain and DIE. — Adam Ramsey, OD, Socialite Vision, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
  • I worry about the future of independent eyecare as private equity is purchasing very large and successful practices. There is a place for independent eye care. Private equity cannot replace all of us. We try to set ourselves part with the quality of the patient experience and the attention to detail. — Sonja Franklin, OD, Modern Eyes, Austin, TX
  • Private equity is becoming more and more common in our state. We do see a shift in the dynamic of ownership and how doctors play a role in their own business. It also changes the way vendors sell to private practices. These private equity companies are centralizing their frames and we see frame reps loosing territory quickly. — Heather Aites, Family Vision Center, Westminster, CO
  • I believe it is dying. To compete, we try to offer the best service possible. Still, we are outgunned by larger competitors. Independents need a stronger, more unified voice to compete. — Douglas Holle, OD, Sunset Eye Care, San Angelo, TX
  • It has been dying as long as I have been in the industry (a long time) but the pendulum swings both ways and soon us little independents will be in demand for our personal service and the ability to adjust to changes faster than the “big boys.” — Michael Davis, OD, Opti-Care, Eldersburg, MD
  • Independent eyecare isn’t dying, just evolving. No one can predict the end result, but there are definitely some high-risk “best practices” that many practices cling to like lifelines. We focus on our customer care and the rest always seems to fall in place. None of it requires rocket science, just logic. For example, our exams are priced to be profitable without a single optical sale — if the pressure is off everyone, we can truly advise patients according to what they need versus what we want them to get and all parties are happier. Plus, it helps that we drop-kicked our one and only MVC plan almost 10 years ago. — Jen Heller, Pend Oreille Vision Care, Sandpoint, ID
  • Independent eyecare, in my opinion, is not dying because a lot of patients have needs that a big box or an online optical simply cannot fulfill. Pair that with a number of high-quality eyewear brands that cannot be found online or at the big boxes and you get opportunity. Having said that, opticians nationwide need to unite and set uniform standards for the profession or we will become just the low paid hired help some interested parties they would like us to be. — Pablo E. Mercado, Highland Eye Boutique, Woodstock, GA
  • I don’t believe the independent eyecare is dying but managed vision care doesn’t help. Especially with so many conflicts of interest. For instance VSP owning Vision Works. — Rick Rickgauer, Vision Associates, Girard, PA
  • We’re independent and we pride ourselves on thinking outside the box. What do we need to do to make the patient happy and achieve their best no matter what the product? — Carol Marx, The Eye Care Center, Canandaigua, NY
  • Keep up the TLC and give them a reason to see you for adjustments like giving them a free small bottle of cleaning solution. — Alexander Saper, Great Glasses, Houston, TX
  • When I first came out of optometry school in the late 80’s, we were told the sky was falling because of the one-hour LensCrafters model. Well, 30 some years later, I am doing better than ever, but I had to come up with a niche to set myself apart. I will say, the stress on independent eyecare is greater now than back then. Can we adjust and thrive? Time will tell but you defiantly can’t depend on what used to work. — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH
  • No it’s not dying! We just had our biggest year ever and we have all independent designers. Boutiques like ours will stay strong with the support of customers that want quality eyewear that doesn’t look like everyone else’s. — Paula Hornbeck, Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids, Delafield, WI
  • Oh, this is a hot topic to me. We have seen several private equity groups buy out practices. My personal opinion is that the ‘care’ in eyecare is being eliminated. This holds true in the medical care community also. Doctors have quotas. Their focus is directed to production versus building long term relationships with patients. Diagnosis and treatment take a back seat. Managed vision care continues to monopolize and control your business. Having been an optician for over 40 years, I have seen the effect it has on business. It didn’t take long to realize the insurance companies profit at the expense of the practice. They collect premiums from patients, continue to decrease reimbursements, make demands on you to use their contracted labs and then present what a great benefits they provide. They have a win-win while the practice struggles to meet the current demands for higher wage and benefit packages for their employees. Then of course, many patients only want what insurance pays for. Whoopi, we get reimbursed for the cost of the frame and a small allotment for the basic lens product. We do local advertising that stresses the importance of eyecare and how we care about the eye health of our patients. We specialize in customer service. We work with all patients and discuss their choices for optimal vision. We work one-on-one in frame selection, offering advice both in fashion and suitability to their prescription. We make recommendations. It is more important than ever to fully understand what your reimbursements are and if a vision plan is profitable. Some decisions are difficult but must be made. Should you be a provider for most vision plans? The question should be can you afford to be? — Pam Housley, Texas State Optical of Nederland, Port Arthur, TX
  • I think patients desire the more personal approach that independent eyecare provides. — Laura Miller, OD, Northwest Hills Eye Care, Austin, TX
  • No independent eyecare is not dying. The very large offices will be consolidated as private equity is often the only route to succession. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL
  • It is to a SMALL extent. There are a lot of us who want to be our own boss and that will never change. I also have to say that without Vision Source things would certainly be different. — Mark Perry, OD, Vision Health Institute, Orlando, FL
  • Yes, I believe that the smaller independent stores are threatened. It is very hard to compete with other stores’ pricing. — Colby Spivey, Vision Center South, Dothan AL
  • We are definitely seeing a shift, and yes, the herd will get thinned. However, those that can adapt, innovate and impress (positively) will thrive. — Amie Robinson, Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN
  • Independent eyecare will never die. There will always be consumers who seek out non-corporate providers in all fields, not just eyewear. — Steve Burek, Metro Eye, Milwaukee, WI
  • I believe that we are at risk of dying if we don’t innovate. — Tiffany Firer, Lifetime Eyecare, Jenison, MI
  • Independent eyecare has to evolve. We have to give customers amazing service and product they cannot get online. — Kristina Jordan, The Eye Site, Mishawaka, IN
  • It’s dying, but not because of the reasons often listed. It’s dying due the arrogance and ignorance of optometry. They are their own worst enemy. — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI
  • I’m saddened that my colleagues worked so hard to build a practice and give it away with a price not indicative of what it took to get it there. I want an OD to become a partner who eventually buys me out when I’m ready to give it up. — Robert M. Easton Jr. OD, FAAO, Oakland Park, FL
  • Independent eyecare will fade away with the death of opticianry. — John LaShorne, Brown County Eye Care, Nashville, IN
  • Just do a good job, be kind and solve the vision problem that brought the patient to your office. All the others don’t hire locally, volunteer, or belong to Rotary and Lions Club. — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associate., Citrus Heights, CA
  • As long as people still value care, quality and service the independent doctor can hang on. Interesting how many people concerned about the environment will buy what they refer to as “disposable” glasses. — Pam Peters, Midwest Eye, Downers Grove, IL
  • I think there will always be a place for independent eyecare. The key is to provide niche services and quality products that stand out. I am a neurovision specialist and patients routinely travel many miles and sometimes states away to see us. — Kathryn Collins, OD, Kissel Eye Care, Lititz, PA
  • If you are innovative you will be fine. Corporate eyecare is lowering the bar in both quality and service. Cream rises to the top. — Bret Hunter, Sports Optical, Denver, CO
  • With eyewear there will always be a need and all aspects of the market are booming. We all want different styles in frames and are always looking for that next best seller. — Chris Clark, Advanced Eye Care Optical Shoppe, Panama City, FL
  • No. ODsTogether has been extremely successful in addressing these issues. — Richard Frankel, OD, Atlantic Cape Eyecare, Wildwood, NJ
  • I don’t believe independent eyecare is dying. Independent ODs and staff have a different philosophy to patient care, patient experiences, and a personal touch that wins out over generic. — Melanie Jenkins, Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN
  • I think independent opticals that are doing the same thing they have been for the last 10+ years should be worried. Being independent is all about filling niches and doing things differently than anybody else. We do this by not taking vision plans but still saving patients money, we offer an e-commerce option via Optify, and we offer brands and styles that can’t be found anywhere nearby as well as our own brand that we design and manufacture in house. It’s just all about being different and giving reasons to come to you rather than optical A, B, or C down the street. — Travis LeFevre, Krystal Vision, Logan, UT
  • I think there will always be a place for some independent eyecare. In our neck of the woods, a lot of people prefer to stay local. Many have also had bad experiences with “big box” or online vendors, so they realize the quality and care that we can provide. — Judy Scheuerell, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI
  • I would say it’s at definite risk, but with some hard work the ECP can maintain their status through customer service. If we cannot match what the other competitors are selling glasses for we should go above and beyond in our service to them and the quality of what we carry. — Jessica Brundidge, Clarity Vision, Clayton, NC
  • Private practice is in trouble. I prefer to educate patients the best I can about how much more we can do for them rather than the internet. Patients have come back after experimenting with the internet. — Jeff Grosekemper, Casa De Oro Eyecare, Spring Valley, CA
  • There may always be a place for independent eyecare, however the cost of doing business is getting higher and higher including IT expenses, HIPAA, security compliance, and staffing. — Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision, Pine Beach, NJ
  • I truly believe that independent eyecare is going to become stronger. Most people believe that independent eyecare is more expensive than “chains.” Once they come in, they realize that is not true. They also are coming to me because the “doctor’s office” or “chain” all have the same styles. Most people are starting to want something more unique. — Dorothy Reynolds, Eyes on Fairfield, Fairfield CT
  • I think the independent will have to evolve to survive. We have gone more upscale. We are also carrying more American made. We are choosing not to carry Luxottica. If you can buy it only for less than I can buy it, it does not need to be in my inventory. — K Elizabeth Bouravnev, Bergh White Opticians, Springfield, IL
  • I like to talk about trends and I believe independents providing an online shopping experience like Optify will be the norm. — Ansel T. Johnson, OD, Vision Salon Eye Care Associates, Blue Island, IL
  • It will never die. There are still a lot of people that want that personal touch. — Diana Bishop, Eclectic Eyewear, Austin, TX
  • I don’t think so. As much as people like a deal there are too many customers who still love personal service, a familiar face and someone they know they can call in a pinch. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical, Lewis Center, OH
  • I don’t necessarily think independent eyecare is dying, but I do feel “generic” eyecare is dying. If you’re offering the basic services/products it’s becoming harder and harder to survive. We as ECPs can certainly tell the difference between quality products and inferior products, but the average consumer cannot. So to them, price/ease/convenience can direct their decision-making. However, if you offer specialty products/services you can stand out from the rest and thrive because of the value you are offering your patients. — Christine Howard, Eyes on Plainville, Plainville, MA
  • I believe it is hurting, I don’t feel it is dying. People still like the hometown feel of their doctor and staff. — Susie Phillips, Dr. Brendon Johnson, OD, Pekin, IL
  • I believe independent eyecare as we once knew it died a long time ago. I think companies that find a niche, commit to it, and excel in it, will never die. Provide a product or service you can’t get somewhere else, that people want, and you’ll live forever. — Justin Tenczar, Berkshire Eye Center, Pittsfield, MA
  • Not dying provided they know how to be a real optician. — Chris Gregg, Inver Grove Heights Family Eye Clinic, Inver Grove Heights, MN
  • I don’t believe independent eyecare is at risk. Consistency and retaining valued associates keep happy patients coming back year after year. — Randy McMurry, MyEyeDr, Birmingham, AL

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at [email protected].

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