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FFL charts add-on deals for 2nd eyecare platform, Clarkson

  • St. Louis company seeks rapid growth
  • FFL sees opportunity to build large platform
  • Firm purchased Eyemart Express in January

Harris declined to discuss FFL’s stake in St. Louis-based Clarkson Eyecare, but called it a growth investment with management.

Compared to FFL’s deal for value retailer Eyemart Express late last year, Clarkson offers optometric and ophthalmologic services, including Lasik surgery, aimed at an upscale clientele. But both companies represent pieces of an attractive sector for FFL.

The optical industry fits FFL’s effort to find sectors that don’t exhibit large cyclical patterns. “It’s pretty recession-resistant,” Harris said.

Harris said he initially reached out to Clarkson Eyecare more than two years ago. The company worked toward a deal more recently to get capital to speed up growth. It’s already one of the largest optometry chains in the Midwest with 63 locations in Missouri and southern Illinois, and 19 in Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

“We’ve met with 30 companies in the optical space and we have a meaningful pipeline of deals,” Harris said. “We’d like to grow and we do expect to be quite acquisitive here.”

Company management will remain including Anthony Nunn, president, Jim Wachter, chief medical officer and co-chairman, as well as Lawrence Jehling, founder and co-chairman.

Harris said most of the optometric business is fragmented with few chains and lots of smaller players with only one or two locations.

He declined to talk about FFL’s fundraising efforts. The firm expects to close FFL Capital Partners IV LP above its $1.5 billion target, according to sources.