By Paul Mormon, OD
Sept. 28, 2022
The major threat to independent optometry is not the invasion of private equity, but rather, that so many independent ODs have neglected to create a transition plan of ownership.
Independent practice owners often realize too late that a transition plan is needed. When an OD reaches the point where they want to exit practice, yet have no transition plan in place, there are several challenges that arise: optometrist burnout, short-term availability of an OD candidate for transition, or worst case scenario, illness. When any of the aforementioned occur, the optometrist often jumps to the conclusion that there is only one way out–selling to private equity.
Forward-thinking optometrists have the foresight to understand that when an optometry office reaches a certain stage of growth, there are two options: continue a course of stagnation or add an associate and use the knowledge and skills of the incoming OD to re-invigorate the office with growth in a new service, renovation of the current office, or opening an additional location. This strategy solidifies the optometrist’s goal of creating a legacy for the office, staff, and most importantly, the patient community. It also ensures that a high level of care will continue to be provided to patients.
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Creating a Plan to Sustain Growth & Legacy as an Independent Practice
In our practice, when we get to a point where growth is inhibited due to limited available appointment slots or limited space to provide additional services, we look at our patient demographics to determine if there is a significant enough proportion of patients coming from an under-served area. We research these under-served areas and define them as either an area without eyecare or without high-quality eyecare. Our patients have confirmed the accuracy of this research either through office reviews or direct reporting to our office team.
We started two practices in areas that have non-independent eyecare offices, and have been successful in growing those practices by bringing high-quality eyecare to those areas. When we add a new associate, our contract includes a pathway to ownership after one year of working in our offices. Our agreement also includes a personal financial growth strategy for the associate. This energizes the associate, as there is a model for increased compensation and ownership.
You Never Have to Sell to PE. There Are Resources Offering Alternative Options.
There are many resources available to the optometrist who is looking for alternatives to private equity. Most OD schools and state associations have programs to match associates with optometry offices. The Vision Source Next program is a service provided to Vision Source member offices to assist in practice transition.
For those optometrists who want additional training and assistance, the GRT Summit was formed. The GRT is a live CE meeting for attendees who are looking for education and strategies on Growing, Retaining and Transitioning their practice. The GRT Summit is just the beginning of the journey for the attending ODs. The GRT Movement will be the continuation of the meeting, which will include study groups, webinars and other resources for the independent-minded optometrist. More information can be found at www.grtsummit.com.
There are many vendors in the optical industry that are dependent on independents. These vendors have many resources and programs to assist ODs and their team members in Growing, Retaining and Transitioning independent practices. We encourage you to take the time to meet with these independent-minded vendors and learn all the ways vendor programs can assist in the growth of the office, gaining new associates and developing team members.
We also recommend that you join an alliance and study group, and use the collective knowledge and energy of these groups to ensure your success in Growing, Retaining and Transitioning your office and legacy.