Mass Merchants, Clubs See Optical Gains


NEW YORK—With most Americans still feeing the pinch of the recession—including possible job cutbacks and/or loss of insurance benefits—the mass merchandising chains and warehouse clubs that participate in the eyewear/eyecare market generally saw their optical sales increase during 2009.

As ongoing economic conditions make the everyday-low-price market position more appealing to consumers, these big-box “value” chains appear to have attracted additional eyewear customers last year, even as other optical retailers continued to struggle just to stay even with their 2008 sales volumes.

During calendar 2009, these national and regional retail players increased their U.S. optical revenues to an estimated $2,272.2 million. Their combined number of in-store vision centers grew last year as well, to 4,306 units—an aggregate increase of 62 optical locations over this group’s 2008 optical store/department count.

Their aggregate eyewear/eyecare volume last year took these giant retailers’ share of the total VM Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers’ combined sales volume to just over 31 percent in 2009.

Wal-Mart Stores continued to dominate the mass merchant/warehouse club segment of the optical business in 2009. Between the nearly 2,500 company-owned vision centers in its Walmart discount stores, the 227 leased departments operated inside Walmart stores by National Vision, and its more than 500 Sam’s Club optical departments, the discount giant finished the year with an estimated 3,222 optical locations under its two retail brands.

Many of the mass merchants and clubs in this group continue to expand their store counts this year, despite the economy. For example, although it closed 10 underperforming locations early in 2010, Sam’s Club will add six new locations during the current fiscal year, and plans to open five to 10 more in FY 2011. And Costco has opened one more new warehouse club so far this year; company executives have said they plan to add seven to eight new warehouse clubs by the time Costco’s current fiscal year ends on Aug. 28.

While these chains’ expansion strategies are slower in 2010 than in previous years, they maintain store growth as the appeal of the “value” segment continues to attract customers.

—Cathy Ciccolella