A couple of headlines recently caught my attention:
"VSP Vision Care will no longer provide in-network coverage for eyewear manufactured and/or distributed byAspex Eyewear."
"Carl Zeiss Vision is canceling its lens distribution agreements with the prescription laboratory networks operated by its two biggest competitors,Essilor of America and Hoya Vision Care."
In each of these cases, it appears that both VSP and Zeiss are attempting to legislate where and if the independent provider will have access to certain products. I find it interesting that these firms feel that limiting access to certain products for the independent is a good thing. VSP purports to be the "savior of the independent" and yet continually makes it more difficult for the independent to thrive (see my many posts on "VSP and Managed Care"). Their action against Aspex, while clothed as resulting from separate litigation with Aspex, appears to be a case of them flexing their muscles with little consideration for their constituents. I find this interesting as Aspex is also partnering with Pixel Optics…clearly a potential competitor with VSP (and Zeiss) in the lens business. Are these two issues connected? Is there more to this story?
In the case of Zeiss, limiting access to its products appears to be an attempt to force the independent to use Zeiss labs. Or is it? On the surface, if you want Zeiss products, you can no longer do so through either Essilor or Hoya labs. Essilor has also done this with other lab networks…while Hoya has not (my understanding). Both Zeiss and Essilor took this action while serving both the Walmarts and other major chains. Are not these actions at the expense of the independent?
Now superimpose VSP and Zeiss' actions against the significant rumor that VSP is about to acquire Zeiss.. Are all of these issues connected? What's the rest of the story?
In recent speeches, I've communicated that it's no longer a question of whether or not the independent will align with industry partners, but simply a question of with whom. The competitive landscape is changing rapidly. The independent is under siege. The supply side is consolidating. Forces are at work that we've yet to clearly understand.
In my opinion, few companies can serve multiple masters effectively. Just as retailers find it virtually impossible to successfully serve both the "carriage trade" and the "bargain shopper," it's my opinion that vendors will find it increasingly difficult to serve both the independent and the "Walmarts" of this world. Are not the needs of these two worlds strikingly different?
Before you make a decision about which vendors with whom you'll partner, carefully check out what is driving your prospective partners' business. Look deep at their long term strategy. Ask the hard questions. You could be aligning yourself with the proverbial "wolf in sheep's clothing.