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  • | 12:01 p.m. May 14, 2010
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For years, Richard Sanchez has given three key pieces of advice to business students and other budding entrepreneurs — stick to a sound plan, don't get distracted by fleeting trends and keep doing one thing well instead of trying to “chase two rabbits.”

He now admits to violating that last tenet, though it's actually working out for the best. Clearwater-based Advantica shortened its name to a single word to reflect the fact that it is now a provider of both vision and dental care services.

Advantica Eyecare, which was the Gulf Coast Business Review's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008, was acquired in February by Essex Holding Co. of St. Louis, which also owns Delta Dental. The move allows Advantica to offer Delta plans to its 2.5 million vision members in 16 states, while the much-larger Delta will in turn be able to offer vision coverage.

“Our customers have been asking for this,” says Sanchez, who remains president and CEO of the Advantica, which he launched in 2002. “The demand is certainly there.”

Sanchez points to an important link between vision and dental care and overall health. Eye and gum examinations have been used increasingly in recent years to monitor patients for diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

He also notes a “natural progression” toward promoting overall wellness, which includes regular eye and oral screenings. He says Advantica constantly seeks ways to improve and enhance offerings on behalf of its employer groups, health plans, brokers and members.

“We have absolutely been blessed to be working in the preventative side of healthcare,” Sanchez says. Advantica's network includes more than 16,000 retail locations and independent providers, with services offered through most major health plans.

While Advantica is on track to reach $45 million in revenue this year, Sanchez says greater potential could come from marketing combination vision/dental plans to companies and individuals. He notes that premiums for dental coverage are around four times those for vision.

By the same token, he says while only 45% of health care benefits recipients may have vision coverage, 75% of them have dental plans. Advantica will continue to grow the vision side of its business while adding dental, he says.

Sanchez, 57, is a native of Jackson Heights, N.Y., and moved to Florida when he was 12. He graduated from Florida State University with a degree in organic chemistry and spent nearly two decades working for Exxon in various capacities around the country such as terminals, trucking and industrial sales.

He retired to Florida in 1992 and joined Vision Twenty-One, a Largo eye-care physician practice management company. He left that company in 1999 and served out a two-year non-compete agreement before starting Advantica at Arbor Shoreline Office Park along U.S. 19 North.

Although he still won't disclose the sale price many months later, Sanchez says the Essex buyout has allowed him to stay in charge of Advantica's day-to-day operations and continue to pursue various interests and philanthropic goals.

An ardent baseball fan, he expanded his sponsorship of the Tampa Bay Rays to include naming rights to the Executive Suite at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and a “Caught Looking” promotion in which Advantica gets a plug within the stadium when an opposing player is struck out without taking a swing.

Sanchez and his wife, Sharon, also support local efforts to provide eye examinations and glasses to low-income children in Pinellas County. Early next year, they will sponsor a performance of “Gaspar,” a ballet based on the story of local pirate legend Jose Gaspar, with proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross and Operation Home Front.

Sanchez, who will serve as president of the National Association of Vision Care Plans for the next two years, remarks that Advantica's senior management is well qualified to run the company in his place. “It's not all about me, which I think is fair to the team here,” he says.

Click here to view Advantica's performance over the past three years.

— Carl Cronan


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