Snapshots of Optical’s 10 Largest Retail Players

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LUXOTTICA RETAIL

Leading the VM Top 50 Optical Retailers for the 13th consecutive year, Luxottica Group’s Luxottica Retail division rebounded slightly in 2011 with a VM-estimated increase of $50 million for its stores in the U.S., a 2 percent increase over 2010 sales. The company reported that comp-store sales were up overall 4.7 percent at LensCrafters and 1.4 percent at Pearle Vision, but its Licensed Brands retail division sales (Sears Optical and Target Optical) were collectively down 2.1 percent.

Against a backdrop of organizational changes made earlier in the year for all North American operations, Luxottica is investing substantially in U.S. LensCrafters stores as it is all around the world. In addition, LensCrafters is strengthening the brand through continued investment in the I Love LensCrafters campaign. Key initiatives for LensCrafters in 2012 include a new store design and a pilot in-store digital experience for patients.

In December, Pearle Vision named Srinivas (Srini) Kumar senior vice president and general manager. Using his experience as president and COO of Baskin-Robbins International, a division of Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., he plans to “rapidly grow and expand the number of Pearle franchise locations.”

 
WAL-MART STORES

Wal-Mart Stores is estimated by VM to have topped the 3,300 mark for company-owned vision centers in its U.S. discount stores and Sam’s Club warehouse clubs during 2011, generating an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue through the two retail brands.

Its optical operations are part of the retail giant’s health and wellness segment, headed by Paul
Beahm, senior vice president for health and wellness. Beahm told VM future plans include adding vision centers to most new stores on the drawing board for the next several years.

The mass merchant’s optical services segment manufactured more than 5 million pairs of eyeglasses last year, sold with a free one-year breakage guarantee; Wal-Mart’s opening price point is $38 for single-vision eyeglasses. In addition to its eyeglass sales, the company sells contact lenses through its exclusive partnership with 1-800 Contacts.com. Nearly 3,000 independent optometrists practice in Walmart and Sam’s Club vision centers. Walmart has also linked with key training partners to provide its optical associations with free training materials for national ABO and NCLE certification.

 
HVHC RETAIL GROUP

The Highmark Vision Group of companies organized under HVHC Inc., a wholly owned Highmark subsidiary, expanded its retail operations in 2011. Continuing as the third largest optical retailer in the U.S., HVHC Inc. consists of a group of companies, including Visionworks of America (formerly Eye Care Centers of America), Davis Vision and Viva International Group. Visionworks of America operates more than 550 retail stores in 39 states and the District of Columbia through 12 store names. Nearly 200 stores are currently branded as Visionworks, and HVHC Retail Group is in the process of consolidating its 14 regional retail brands under the Visionworks banner.

During the past year, Davis Vision relocated its national headquarters from New York to Texas and joined HVHC and Visionworks of America at a new downtown San Antonio location. The new space accommodates executive and administrative offices, a conference and training center. A flagship Visionworks store opened in the building in January 2012.

 
NATIONAL VISION

Again the fourth largest optical retailer in the U.S., National Vision operates nearly 700 retail locations with over 6,000 employees in 44 states. In 2011, National Vision added over 40 locations and increased revenue by an estimated $90 million. National Vision has plans to open over 40 America’s Best and military locations annually. The company also operates a lab network with over 600 employees at two domestic locations in St. Cloud, Minn., and Lawrenceville, Ga., and two international locations in China and Mexico.

In June 2011, National Vision expanded its online presence with the acquisition of Columbus, Ohio-based AC Lens, which had been handling online contact lens sales for National Vision’s America’s Best and Eyeglass World superstores for several years. In addition to continuing to implement online contact lens sales for National Vision, AC Lens also sells directly to consumers via websites such as ACLens.com, DiscountContactLenses.com and others.

 
COSTCO WHOLESALE

Costco Wholesale added five new, everyday-low-price Costco optical vision centers last year within its U.S. warehouse clubs. Of the 433 Costco Wholesale locations in the U.S., 419 of them have vision centers. The company sells 3 million pairs of eyeglasses each year and reported eyewear/eyecare revenue in 2011 of $628 million. Costco Optical also maintains a website to educate patients about lenses, lens materials and contact lenses, with a Healthy Eyes section that recommends an annual eye exam. Costco currently has more than 65.7 million cardholders, representing 36 million households and providing a built-in traffic flow for its in-store Costco Optical locations.

 
REFAC OPTICAL GROUP

Since last year’s VM Top 50 report and acquisition of Refac Optical Group by ACON Investments in mid-March 2011, Refac’s number of optical units has decreased 2.5 percent from 706 to 688, and overall revenue has decreased by 6 percent from $239.7 million to $225 million. However, its number of BJ’s Wholesale optical departments is on the upswing. At the end of September 2011, BJ’s Wholesale was acquired for an estimated $2.8 billion by Beacon Holding Inc. (an affiliate of Leonard Green & Partners) and funds advised by CVC Capital Partners, bringing in an infusion of capital. Since then, BJ’s opened three more wholesale clubs with optical departments toward the end of last year and added three more in January 2012. Refac took over operation of BJ’s Wholesale’s optical departments in 2008.

Refac has also begun opening optical departments in Meijer retail stores, a regional supercenter retailer based in Grand Rapids, Mich., with about half the company’s more than 200 stores located in that state and additional locations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. In addition, the Refac Optical Group operates its own optical manufacturing laboratory.

 
EYEMART EXPRESS

Continuing its expansion, “value” retail chain Eyemart Express added five stores in 2011 for a total of 135 while increasing its sales 11 percent to $180 million. In addition, Eyemart Express took the leap into online optical retailing with eyemartexpress.com, entering a realm that most of the major brick-and-mortar retailers have been reluctant to venture into so far. The company describes the website as “an extension of our retail locations helping eyeglass wearers save money without sacrificing selection, quality, service or convenience.” The site also offers a home try-on service that enables patients to choose from among four styles during a five-day trial period, complete with prepaid return packaging and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. Eyemart Express is still focused on its “everyday low price” philosophy, offering single-vision eyeglasses starting at $38.

 
COHEN’S FASHION OPTICAL

Adding seven stores in 2011 to reach a total of 121, this 85-year-old retailer that traces its roots back to a pushcart selling eyewear on New York City’s Lower East Side saw its revenues increase 7 percent to $137 million. Purchased by Houchens Industries in 2008, the franchise chain now has locations in seven Eastern Seaboard states and in Puerto Rico.

The Cohen’s stores actively work to retain patients through eye exam recalls, direct mail programs and internet marketing, including frequent discount coupons available in the Cohen’s Fashion Optical website. In addition, an Internet Eye Exam Scheduler available to every Cohen’s location allows patients to set up their eye exams online. Taking advantage of social media, Cohen’s informs its patients about eye health issues through its own WordPress blog and stays connected through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

 
FOR EYES/INSIGHT OPTICAL MFG.

As part of a larger corporate strategy to invest in its infrastructure and internal resources, For Eyes welcomed several new executives to its key departments in 2011, building talent from outside and within, working to strengthen and streamline all aspects of its operations. Integrating social media into its marketing platform, For Eyes is expanding its presence on the web. The company’s aggressive marketing continues to focus on For Eyes’ position for value, customer service and experience.

The reinvestment continued in store renovations, primarily closing less productive units and taking advantage of real estate opportunities to open new ones, with the group still concentrating on existing markets of Florida and the East Coast along with the greater Chicago area and Northern California. For Eyes is considering growth in new markets, both organic expansion and potential acquisitions. For Eyes is still owned and operated by the same family and friends who started the company in Philadelphia in 1972. The company continues to operate its own lab in Hialeah, Fla.

 
TEXAS STATE OPTICAL

Steadily rising from the 12th position two years ago to number 11 last year, Texas State Optical made it into the Top 10 this year, entering at 10th place. The number of locations increased 11 percent to 126 while revenues increased an estimated 21 percent to an estimated $98.3 million. Substantial growth began 10 years ago when the franchisees purchased the company in 2001 and converted it to a member-owned company. The company has opened over 43 locations in the last seven years alone.

Six new locations are already scheduled to open this year with a potential of four more additional locations by the end of the year. These represent brand new startups that take between nine and 12 months to open. To guide its growth, Texas State Optical conducts its own research, qualitatively testing marketing campaigns before they are launched, for example.

One recent study compared the behavior between someone using third party payment versus someone paying with cash. While continuing its upward trajectory, Texas State Optical remains focused on its mission statement, “We help people see the important things in life.”