Pearle’s New Senior VP to Focus on Franchise Growth By John Sailer Wednesday, December 14, 2011 3:15 PM MASON, Ohio – Pearle Vision tapped a seasoned franchise executive to “rapidly grow and expand the number of franchise locations,” according to the company. The new senior vice president and general manager of Pearle, Srinivas (Srini) Kumar comes to this division of Luxottica Retail (NYSE: LUX) after his most recent position as president and COO of Baskin-Robbins International, a division of Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. At Baskin Robbins, Kumar “led a team that enjoyed significant growth and built strong relationships with the company’s 4,100 franchised restaurants,” according to Pearle Vision’s statement. Vision Monday caught up with Kumar as he passed through New York City on his way to Canada while spending his first 30 days on the job traveling around meeting the people of Pearle Vision. Kumar: One of my jobs is to figure out who is Pearle Vision. I am very impressed with the people in Luxottica and the people in Mason across all the brands. I love the culture, I love challenges, I love leading teams, and I enjoy turnarounds. What impressed me about Luxottica is that it is a quality organization with a quality mindset. I felt that Pearle Vision was a little bit of a diamond in the rough. VM: Why do you say “turnaround”? Kumar: I framed it as a kind of turnaround because if a business is not growing and is flat there is something you can do to turn it around. If you’re not growing market share, somebody is growing market share. VM: What have you learned during your first couple of weeks on the job? Kumar: I visited stores as a mystery shopper in Boston, went to markets like Columbus and Cincinnati, and I visited doctors and franchisees in the Atlanta market, where Stanley Pearle got his start. I’ve done two weekly webcasts to the whole team, franchisees, employees and company associates. The first was about who am I and what are we going to do on this journey together. The second was about some of the emerging themes I observed in last week. There are three emerging themes. First, there is tremendous heritage in this brand, and whether it’s somebody who knew and worked with Dr. Pearle or a patient who’s come for 30 years because they knew the neighborhood optician or doctor, celebrating that heritage within the store is important. I found stores with community service pictures near the doctor’s office, very powerful. The second theme is tremendous pride despite the fact that there have been so many changes with Pearle Vision. Having pride in your business is very important. If you have that, there is a willingness to do better. I found pride even in stores that were not doing well in areas where the demographics had changed and the doctor was not getting enough business. The third theme was kind of mixed, with some who said that this company has changed a lot and who asked, ‘Do you think we can grow?’ As I peeled the onion, I found a strong desire to win. VM: What are your goals for Pearle Vision? Kumar: My primary goal is to build this business. My vision is very clear, no pun intended, there is an opportunity for growth. We’ve got to be disciplined. In any franchising business you need to understand what’s known as unit economics, several groups working on several things. Growth will come if fundamental unit economics are strong and profitable. If that is there it creates its own progress for growth. In this industry, there will be three tactics—the operator who is your doctor, which is how this industry started, which would be different if the optician is the franchisee, which would be different if it was an investor who just came in. Understanding the economics of each of these makes sense, so we need to think that through. On the other side, we need to understand the marketing and advertising team to position Pearle in the appropriate manner in the consumer landscape. If I were to ask you when you wake up when you think of eyewear, I would hope that Pearle Vision would be number one or two. VM: How will you apply your experience as president and COO of Baskin-Robbins? Kumar: Franchising is a unique competence. In my last assignment, I wanted to double the international business, and we were in 39 countries before I left. I have experience leading not only the U.S. but across the world. Each is different. Running a franchise in the U.S. is different than a multi-country, joint venture franchisee. Each one teaches you how to manage a business through an investor or an operator. VM: Is global expansion one of your goals? Kumar: My view is first build a strong foundation here. I will take it a step at a time. The first step is to fix what’s here. I want to make sure that we go narrow and deep Franchising teaches you to have the patience and humility to listen. Investors and entrepreneurs by nature have fantastic ideas, and the very fact of being closest to the customer will come with ideas. The franchisor must pull those ideas. Ideas are not born in the head office; they are born in the field. Franchising is one of the best because you have multiple ideas coming in. VM: What are your plans regarding franchise stores vs. corporate stores? Kumar: I don’t know the answer at this point. There is a road for company stores and a road for franchise growth. We just need to make sure they grow and grow well. McDonald’s has both company and franchise stores, and I know why they do what they do. Another brand, Subway, is 100 percent franchise. The beauty of Pearle is that it’s a bit like McDonald’s with competence in franchising and competence in corporate stores. My job is to take both.