Article Date: 1/1/2010

Independents Gain Market Share
business advisor

Independents Gain Market Share

During slow times, a decades-old trend reverses itself. Here's why.

JERRY HAYES, O.D.

I recently attended a presentation by Steve Kody, director of Optical Industry Research with the Vision Council. It was interesting to hear that the decades-old trend of independent eyecare providers losing patients to corporate optometry and optical chains has stabilized, for now. Steve reported that market share for independents is up by 1% for the 12-month period ending June 2008.

Granted, 1% isn't much. But it is a move in the right direction for private practices. Consider that the market share for independents was down by 2.4% for the 12-month period ending June 2005.

Sales at retail

This is how the total retail optical market looks today, according to Vision Council research (note: The council doesn't break out data between independent M.D. and independent O.D. sales figures):

► The total U.S. market for eye examinations, eyeglasses, contact lenses, sunglasses and readers is approximately $30.6 billion per year at retail.
► Of that $30.6 billion, 44.2% ($13.5 billion) in retail sales revenue is spent in independent offices, a figure that excludes refractive surgery and LASIK.
► The independents' share of the eyeglass frame market, is 46.7% (in dollars, not units).
► Independents' share of spectacle lens sales, in dollars, is 49.7%.
► Independents' share of all contact lens sales, in dollars, is 38.1%.

What do the data say?

If you practice in a private office, stop and think. The numbers tell us that the majority of American consumers choose to get their eyecare and eyewear from optometrists who work in corporate offices and optical chains.


ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL GUSHOCK

The independent practice is running second in a two-horse race.

Why? Are independents doing something wrong? Or, more to the point, are we open enough to learn from what corporate offices and chains are doing right?

Why the gains?

Vision Council research cites three main reasons for why independents are gaining in market share during the recession.

  1. Trust. Consumers who are concerned about eye health tend to place a higher level of trust in independent offices.
  2. Third-party acceptance. Independents tend to accept a broader range of third-party payment programs. This is especially important during tough economic times.
  3. Adaptability. Independents are positioned better than geographically dispersed, centrally managed chains to adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace.

What's the lesson?

Optometrists working in corporate and optical chain environments appear to be suffering from the recession more than optometrists who work in independent practices. Based on the Vision Council's research, here are three things you can do to prepare for the economic rebound, regardless of your mode of practice:

  1. Reward your patients' trust. How? By always putting their best interest above your own economic gain.
  2. Accept popular vision plans that pay you fairly. Why? Because your patients want them. But, do choose wisely.
  3. Use the Marine's motto, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” Your practice is sure to fall behind unless you're willing to change. OM

THE FOUNDER OF THE HAYES CENTER FOR PRACTICE EXCELLENCE AT SOUTHERN COLLEGE OF OPTOMETRY IN MEMPHIS, DR. HAYES IS A REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR TO OM. E-MAIL HIM AT DRHAYESBLOG@GMAIL.COM

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2010