NEW YORK — Private equity firm KKR has agreed to buy 1-800 Contacts, the largest retailer of contact lenses in the U.S., from AEA Investors. Terms of the deal weren’t announced.
AEA Investors purchased 1-800-Contacts in 2016.
Over the last several years, the company has made significant investments in technology and expanding its offerings, including acquiring vision technology startup 6over6 in late 2019 and launching new app-based offerings including ExpressExam, which enables consumers to renew contact lens prescriptions online in minutes. The company’s sister brand Liingo Eyewear also introduced Rx Reader, an app that extracts optical parameters directly from a pair of prescription glasses.
“1-800 Contacts was founded 25 years ago to offer consumers a better way to buy contact lenses. Since the very beginning, we’ve kept the customer at the center of everything we do,” said John Graham, CEO of 1-800 Contacts. “It’s gratifying that KKR sees such incredible value in our brand and that they will continue to support us in doing what we do best – delivering the best vision care to consumers with the highest quality customer service.”
Nate Taylor, KKR Partner and Co-Head of Americas Private Equity, said, “1-800 Contacts is a customer-centric, technology-enabled business that is bringing more convenience to the optical space. We are excited to invest behind John and his world-class team.”
Felix Gernburd, KKR Managing Director, added, “We believe 1-800 Contacts’ singular focus on providing a consistent and high quality customer experience, fueled by industry-leading capabilities and telemedicine solutions, positions them well to continue to drive innovation in the category.”
As Americans dealt with stay-at-home orders and business closures in response to COVID-19 earlier this year, many contact lens wearers turned to 1-800 Contacts in place of traditional brick and mortar sellers. During the peak of the COVID-19 shutdown, the company experienced a 100 percent year-over-year increase in new and returning customers. During that period, usage of the ExpressExam app also increased 200 percent and the Rx Reader app experienced a 700 percent increase in monthly active users. In order to maintain the highest quality customer service, 1-800 Contacts also invested in more than 200 new hires in its Utah and North Carolina operations.