In a Challenging Year, Pearle Vision Experiences Strong Growth and Interest
Even as the world grappled with an unprecedented health and economic crisis, Pearle Vision remained steadfastly focused on growth in 2020.
As in most industries, franchises have begun to categorize business in 2020 in two distinct ways: before and after March. Before March, the legacy brand was positioned for a great year. There were a number of deals in the pipeline, including several area development agreements. New stores were opening. The marketing department was working on a new installment in the award-winning “Small Moments” consumer advertising campaign.
And then, like the proverbial lion, March arrived, bringing the declaration of a pandemic. In days, the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. swelled from dozens of cases in cities like Seattle and New York to thousands cropping up in every corner of the country. States closed schools, sports seasons ended and many businesses were shut down while health officials struggled to “flatten the curve.”
Because Pearle Vision provides critical or urgent care for patients with vision problems or who need to replace or repair their glasses, Pearle Vision was designated an essential business. Almost all EyeCare Centers stayed open throughout the pandemic. Priorities and resources were redirected as the brand pivoted to help ensure the health of its licensed owners, associates and patients and also to provide licensed owners with the guidance they needed to operate safely.
After March, area development agreements continued to move forward, and several new deals were signed. Although some prospects stepped back initially, the interest in Pearle Vision as a business opportunity remained very high.
“Traditionally, we hear that an economic downturn brings increased interest in franchising, because people want to control their own destiny,” says Alex Wilkes, general manager of Pearle Vision. “When you couple that with our operating in the healthcare industry and being an essential business, it made the Pearle Vision franchise opportunity very attractive to investors.”
Interest Grows in Area Development Agreements
Since the fourth quarter of 2019, Pearle Vision has signed several area developments, including Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Irvine, Sacramento and the East Bay area in California. Colorado Springs, Sacramento and East Bay are new markets for Pearle Vision with EyeCare Centers owned and operated by new licensed owners.
A Pearle Vision licensed owner with an area development agreement is granted exclusive territory rights and pays a reduced franchise fee and lower royalty fees in exchange for signing a contract to open a certain number of units in a particular market within a defined timeframe.
Wilkes says, “The pandemic helped investors and prospective licensed owners identify which businesses they feel are truly essential, and that gave them confidence in businesses like Pearle Vision. We provide a service that customers and patients want and need, even during a health crisis and economic downturn.”
In all, 2020 saw the opening of 16 new EyeCare Centers, including 14 since March, plus Ignite conversions.
Ignite Program Gains Traction
The Ignite program gained significant traction this year, as eight independent practices converted to Pearle Vision franchise locations, with four more conversions in process and expected to be completed in early 2021.
Launched in 2018, Ignite allows independent optometry practice owners to retain control of their business while gaining infrastructure from Pearle Vision to help strengthen their business. Several current licensed owners who are interested in adding locations are exploring Ignite as a quicker route to become multi-unit owners.
Because Ignite involves converting an existing practice, the capital requirements are lower and the EyeCare Center can open sooner than would be possible with a new location and new construction. Additionally, the Ignite program features reduced franchise fees and royalties.
“The challenges that Pearle Vision faced in 2020 have given me confidence in the future of our brand and our industry,” Wilkes says. “I am proud of our organization and how we have handled a truly unprecedented year. I think we will continue to grow and become stronger and better for what we have learned in 2020.”