Mass Merchants/Clubs’ Near One-Third of Top 50 Sales

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NEW YORK—As the economy gradually recovers, 2011 optical sales by leading mass merchandising chains and warehouse clubs grew by an estimated 8.2 percent to an estimated $2.5 billion, according to VM estimates, representing nearly a third of Top 50 sales for 2011. Their combined number of in-store vision centers grew 6.5 percent to an estimated 4,626, an increase of an estimated 281 optical locations over the previous year.

As it has for years, Walmart once again led the mass merchant/warehouse club segment of the optical business in 2011, with an estimated 2,785 company-owned vision centers in its Walmart discount stores, an estimated 524 Sam’s Club optical departments, and 227 leased departments operated inside Walmart stores by National Vision. Those three operations gave the discount giant an estimated 3,536 optical locations under its two retail brands, including its leased vision centers.

Maintaining its position at number four, Shopko has expansion plans for 2012 as it merges with Pamida’s 193 locations, adding optical departments where appropriate. Shopko now operates 138 Shopko Eyecare Centers in 12 states, filling more than 500,000 prescriptions annually. The company maintains its own optical laboratory and last year invested $2 million in free-form and anti-reflective coating equipment.

Again ranked at number six in the mass merchant/warehouse club segment, BJ’s Wholesale seems poised for growth. With optical departments (operated as leased departments by Refac Optical Group) located in all but a handful of the 192 warehouse clubs it operated by the end of last year, BJ’s Wholesale got an infusion of cash last September when it was acquired by private equity firms Leonard Green & Partners and CVC Capital Partners. The deal, estimated at about $2.8 billion, was first agreed to in June 2011.

jsailer@jobson.com