KINGWOOD, Texas—Perhaps lost in the initial response to Vision Source’s launch of its Vision Source Next program was just how broad and comprehensive the program intends to be, and how it has a range of offerings for optometrist practitioners across all stages of their career.

Vision Source executives unveiled the details of Vision Source Next in May at the annual Exchange meeting, the attention fell upon the group’s plan to support the opening of up to 10 new practices in the Dallas/Fort Worth area by year’s end. In the three months since Exchange, Vision Source has been able to showcase new marketing initiatives around Vision Source Next and to provide more details around the breadth of the program that go beyond Dallas-Fort Worth.

“We’ve progressed very positively since we kicked [this] off at Exchange,” chief operating officer Jeff Duncan said in a recent interview with Vision Monday. He noted that a dedicated website and marketing program for “Next” have provided a more holistic context to the initiative. “Opening practices in a specific market is just one component, or one piece, of Vision Source Next,” Duncan said.

He added, “The entire initiative is [about] how can we help this next generation of private practitioners.” This might be through finding a position as an employee of a Vision Source member practice, or it might be helping an existing member navigate expansion plans that would add a location or add an exam lane, or, potentially, helping a doctor start a new practice or acquire an existing location.

About 10 percent of the ECPs across Vision Source’s 3,300-plus locations have expressed interest in some form of the Vision Source Next program, president and chief executive officer Jim Greenwood told VM.

Greenwood said the “Next” program is designed so that it can touch upon the four milestones in an optometrists’ roughly 40-year career. These are: first, deciding to open a new practice and having to make the decision of where it’s going to be. “There’s nothing more important, arguably, than where your practice is located,” he said. The next milestone is hiring an associate, followed by deciding either to expand the existing footprint or add a new, second location.

“The final milestone is how do I realize or monetize the value of the practice that I have built,” he said. “It’s that whole spectrum that we are trying to solve for with this. The DNA of our membership is so grounded in private practice, this is something that we really had to do. We have to reduce the barriers in the minds of the young doctors about going in and owning a practice, whether it’s in an urban setting or a rural setting,” he said.

Another of the motivations for Vision Source Next, according to Greenwood, was feedback received from members in the context of current industry dynamics. “For the last five or six years, our outbound marketing was really focused on the private practice ODs who were not part of Vision Source,” he said. “We wanted [these non-members] to understand who we are, and we invested very little in the younger ODs who were either getting out of school or just starting down their career path.”

He also noted that Vision Source has roughly 700 members operating practices in rural markets, and addressing the career stage of those doctors is “a very important element” of Vision Source Next. These are doctors in smaller towns who might be nearing the end of their careers, and who may not have a succession plan in mind.

One way to address this is to help younger ODs and new graduates to better understand and appreciate the value of working and living in smaller towns, the executives said. New graduates today tend to prefer practicing in larger metropolitan areas.

Another element Vision Source Next addresses is highlighting the virtues and advantages of private practice optometry. “There is a belief within Vision Source, both here at the support center and among our membership, that the private practice story has not been told to the student population and to folks who have ended up in corporate-affiliated settings,” Duncan said.

Greenwood also noted that few Vision Source practices have been acquired by outside investors. “Most of the private equity groups are going to be more interested in aggregating some mass. To go into a market and buy 10, 15 or 20 separate doctor practices is .. hard to manage,” he said.

Duncan added, “When you boil it all down, what we’re trying to do as the leader of private practice optometry is to make sure that private practice optometry can be successful for the long term. …. This was not just our idea at the member support center, but this was our members coming to us and saying that we have needs in these particular areas.”