Regaining Control of Your Destiny
Angel Alvarez, the CEO of ABB Optical Group, discusses challenges, opportunities and mutual survival.
This article, the first in our “Industry Insights” series, is a conversation between OM’s chief optometric editor, Scot Morris, O.D., and the chief executive officer of ABB Optical Group, Angel Alvarez.
What do you feel are the greatest threats or challenges to the eyecare profession?
There are four key challenges that could potentially threaten the long-term success of the eyecare profession:
1. The amount of school debt that students face coming out of optometry school, which limits their opportunities going forward as it relates to opening a new practice. When graduates have $100,000 in debt, they become relatively unbankable for starting a new practice, which threatens the long-term growth of the private practice sector.
2. Managed care programs create a lack of control by optometrists when prescribing consumers their optical needs. Managed care is inadvertently creating a scenario where consumer purchases are limited by the “allowances.” Limiting a consumer to one pair of glasses every two years or choosing only glasses or contacts isn’t aligned with the needs of today’s consumer or our industry. In order for our industry to thrive, we must be cognizant of consumer needs by supplying them multiple pairs of glasses and addressing all of their vision care concerns.
3. Integrating a practice with an online retail presence provides value and convenience for the practice and its patients. An online strategy levels the playing field allowing the practice to compete and thwart the risk of losing patients to competing online stores. This strategy helps the private practice survive by offering their patients the same advantages as online competitors in addition to a more efficient supply chain. ABB is the back end supplier to our customers’ retail locations, which allows patients to order directly from their providers instead of pursuing other online options.
4. Finally, where are the young guns? We need to take advantage of the best medically trained optometrists, that are also social media savvy, by integrating them as leaders in our industry. With proper mentorship and education of this evolving industry, these young professionals can help drive industry growth and lead us into the future.
What are the greatest opportunities?
We have the opportunity to interact with the best practices in the country on a daily basis. There are roughly 3,800 to 4,500 practices that are doing extremely well. These practices are dedicated to constant improvement, hard work and creating a great consumer experience. These are the characteristics that make practices exceptional and allow them to thrive.
The consolidation of the industry will make the days of being mediocre less common. Likewise, the days of the single-person practice are getting more difficult. But the forward thinkers and those willing to take risks and work hard will continue to thrive.
How can the profession help itself?
Doctors have to take the responsibility to create value within their practices. Doctors need to understand the value of their recommendation in the selling process to promote what’s best for their patients. If you have the opportunity to promote the latest technology products or the best available option for the consumer, why wouldn’t you? Don’t underestimate your professional relationship with your patient. Your recommendation and ability to address your patients vision needs demonstrates the value you create.
What does the profession need to do for industry to ensure our mutual survival?
The profession needs to regain control of its own destiny. It is my opinion that there are a lot of external sources that are pulling 35,000 practices in any given direction. Our industry needs to do a better job educating the profession on how to sell value, and then the profession needs to take these skills and actually execute all the value options our consumers need. It’s a matter of execution — where we fail is to execute at the practice level. We need to overcome our challenges, such as a poor supply chain, lack of adequate practice management skills, poor communication skills and our biggest issue: a focus on price instead of value. We will not have an option in the future, it will be a given. We need to stop blaming each other and start working together. The biggest challenge is to leverage managed care benefits while at the same time provide the best technology products to patients.
What is the most important thing the profession needs to know about what your company is doing or focusing on through the next 12 months?
We have been working hard implementing technology to align your retail online store with what you have in place so the doctor has control and the ability to compete. Also, we are concentrating on how to streamline the supply chain of glasses and contact lenses by merging those purchases to align them with what each doctor offers in their location.
What one personal item should the industry know about you?
My entire career has been in the optical industry. I have always felt that the industry has given me more than I have been able to give back. Now my driving force is to fight for the industry, protect it and help it to thrive.
Who is your optometrist?
Mark Gendal, O.D., of Coral Springs, Fla.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it that you can apply to your current position?
I started as a VSP sales representative in Florida. I then worked for CIBA Vision (now Alcon) for over five years. Twenty-four years ago, I bought Co-Optics of Pom-pano Beach, which has ultimately become ABB Optical Group.
However, I think the most valuable business lesson I ever learned was when I was 8 years old. I lived in a 36-pod apartment complex that took up a full city block. In the back of each pod was a hallway closet that controlled the electricity for the four apartments in that pod. It was my job to turn the electricity for every pod on at night and off in the morning. This is where I learned that, like an optometrist, the power to provide vision is unmatched. Vision, and maybe more importantly, awareness, is everything. OM