Sustaining a Passion for Eyewear and A Focus on Independents

By Marge Axelrad: Editorial Director

BUFFALO GROVE, Ill.— Europa International has not stopped growing. What began as a regional eyewear distributor in the Midwest in 1977, founded by the late Alan Shapiro and his wife, Cynthia, is now a multi-faceted company bringing a diverse portfolio of original, non-licensed, targeted eyewear brands to independents and regional ECP groups throughout the U.S. and across the world.

For 35 years, in fact, the company has continued to see its sales expand and is experiencing record increases this year, its close-knit executive team explained to VM.

The company’s quiet and relatively unassuming headquarters in this northwest suburb of Chicago, almost contradicts the passion and involvement that Europa’s senior team—Jerry Wolowicz, president, Cyn Shapiro, creative director and Scott Shapiro, chief operating officer—and their associates and sales reps bring to what they consider their true company mission: being an independent eyewear company and serving an independent eyecare professional and retail customer base.

With 50-plus sales reps across most of the country, Europa decidedly and almost methodically has not pursued licensed consumer brands. The team relies on its own, internally developed styling and product development efforts, very targeted and original imaging, creative photography and marketing of its own 10 collections. Europa believes that its lines’ sell-through performance and product quality, combined with the company’s service, is what is making the difference for Europa, which, Wolowicz related, has doubled its business in the past five years.

He explained, “There’s no way we’d have the number of accounts we do if our lines didn’t perform, we know that. We offer a 100 percent lifetime warranty on our four major brands, we enable our customers to provide better value and make higher margins, and our sales force, we believe, is second to none.”

There are many collections in the house. Cinzia, which debuted in 2003, and is a signature creative endeavor of company co-founder Cyn Shapiro, combines a classic sophistication with chic style, targeting the contemporary, versatile woman. She is looking for a “well-rounded wardrobe” of frames, Shapiro said, who envisions her as a modern woman who is balancing career and family, who shops at upscale department stores and small boutiques, is self-assured and confident in her style choices.

The Scott Harris collection is conceived to be modern, urban and bold. It is more mainstream but has a wide-range appeal for men and women looking for up-to-the-minute style, whether unisex, or distinctly masculine or feminine.

These brands, along with Cote D’Azur for the mature female customer and Michel Ryen, which emphasizes a large range of eye sizes for the male customer, are part of Europa’s wide range.

 Independents are the primary focus at Europa.
Admittedly, the Europa family, friends and colleagues were rocked by the sudden passing in early 2010 of co-founder Alan Shapiro. Son Scott Shapiro, who is today Europa’s COO, literally grew up in the company, coming to industry trade shows as a kid, hearing and learning about the business from his parents and long-time friend Wolowicz. After a radio broadcasting and stand up career, Scott immediately came into the business full time with his mother and long-time friend, Wolowicz, and is now, “wholly part of the flow,” he explained, very much involved with customers and the company’s operations. “I’m inspired by Jerry every day, and of course by my mother’s creativity and my father’s spirit,” Shapiro said. He has focused on learning all aspects of the company’s business, and, he said, hasn’t looked back.

Cyn Shapiro added, “We all feel a renewed energy, I am so excited that Scott is here and we are all committed to our future.” Shapiro is planning a large expansion of Cinzia and the launch of a new Cinzia sun collection for next year.

At the upcoming Vision Expo West, Europa/Cinzia Designs will also be stoking its relationship with independents as the sponsor of the ODs on Facebook cocktail gathering in Las Vegas.

—Marge Axelrad