Snapshots of Optical’s 10 Largest Retail Players

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Luxottica Retail


Luxottica Group’s Luxottica Retail division once again leads the VM Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers. Luxottica Retail’s two leading brands, LensCrafters and Pearle Vision, both began substantial updating of their retail operations in 2012.

Early last year, LensCrafters began exploring a more contemporary service model featuring a new store design along with a “next generation digital eye exam” and digital lens surfacing technology. This includes installing the Accufit measurement system (introduced in LensCrafters in September 2011) in nearly all of its 888 stores in the U.S. This new model was announced in March 2012 by Mark Weikel, LensCrafters’ president and general manager at the time and since named president and CEO of Luxottica Retail Optical North America.

Pearle Vision is also pursuing a rebranding effort set in motion after Srinivas Kumar became Sr. VP and GM last year. Previously president and COO of Baskin-Robbins, Kumar is overseeing Pearle as it redesigns its logo and retail stores while converting corporate locations to “licensed operations.”

(Note: VM’s 2011 unit and sales estimates were revised to reflect U.S. store count and revenue.)


 
Wal-Mart Stores


Wal-Mart remains firmly entrenched in the number two spot among U.S. optical retailers. At the end of last year, Walmart Vision Centers/Sam’s Club Optical ended their four-year strategic alliance with 1-800 CONTACTS for the sale of contact lenses. (In June 2012, 1-800 CONTACTS was acquired by WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health care organizations.) Walmart and Sam’s Club subsequently launched all-new online and phone contact lens programs and announced the introduction of Walmart’s own private Equate brand of contact lenses. The new contact lens sites are powered by Arlington Lens Supply, owned by National Vision, Inc. (the fourth largest U.S. optical retailer on the list).

Independent optometrists operate private offices next to more than 3,000 Walmart Vision Centers and Sam’s Club Optical Centers to provide comprehensive eye exams, lens fitting and prescriptions by appointment and on a walk-in basis. In addition, Walmart and Sam’s Club have on-site opticians in the Vision Centers and Optical Centers to assist with fitting glasses in store or in club.

(Note: Wal-Mart’s 2011 sales and unit VM estimates were revised.)



 
Visionworks of America

(Formerly HVHC Retail Group)

Currently operating in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Visionworks and its affiliated stores totaled 586 by the end of 2012. The company is rebranding them all under the unified Visionworks banner. By the end of 2012, 420 units had already been rebranded, with all remaining stores to be named Visionworks by the end of 2013.

Visionworks expanded during 2012, emphasizing the Greater Philadelphia region, where it opened 17 new stores and plans to open a total of 23 to 25 stores throughout that market by the end of this year and additional stores into 2014. Expanding in other key markets such as New York, Florida, Texas and Illinois, Visionworks added 29 new stores during 2012. Visionworks president Jim Eisen told VM, “2012 was one of the biggest growth years in the five years since I’ve been here.”

Visionworks of America (formerly Eye Care Centers of America) is a subsidiary of HVHC Inc., which also includes Davis Vision and Viva International Group. HVHC, Davis and Visionworks are located in a new national headquarters building in downtown San Antonio, where Visionworks opened its flagship store in the building in January 2012. In June 2012, Sherry Lay joined Visionworks as chief merchandising officer after serving as executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for sister company Viva, since 2009.


 
National Vision


Operating in 44 states, National Vision added 33 locations in 2012 to reach a total of 715 by the end of the year. The number four U.S. optical retailer established a multi-year extension of its relationship with Walmart. 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 2012, the company expanded the capacity of its Lawrenceville lab by 50 percent, allowing it to process a maximum of 28,000 jobs per week or 1.25 million jobs per year.

After acquiring Columbus, Ohio-based AC Lens in June 2011, National Vision’s Arlington Lens Supply began in January 2013 to power the online and phone contact lens programs launched by Walmart Vision Centers/Sam’s Club Optical after they ended their four-year strategic alliance with 1-800 CONTACTS for the sale of contact lenses. In September 2012, Bruce Steffey was promoted to president of National Vision, Inc., from his previous role as chief operating officer. CEO Reade Fahs told VM that he’s proud of National Vision for achieving record levels of associate retention in 2012.


 
Costco Wholesale


Costco Wholesale added 18 new Costco Optical vision centers last year within its U.S. warehouse clubs. Of the 448 Costco Wholesale locations in the U.S., 437 of them have vision centers. The company sells well over 3 million pairs of eyeglasses each year and reported eyewear/eyecare revenue in 2012 of $696 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 67 million cardholders, representing well over 36 million households and providing a built-in traffic flow for its in-store Costco Optical locations.




 
Refac Optical Group


Refac Optical Group is a leading provider of vision care products and services in the U.S. and Canada. Its main operating company, U.S. Vision, Inc. has been engaged in the retail optical business since 1967, and it is the second largest independent operator of optical stores in host retailers in terms of store count and the first in terms of the number of brands. The company operates optical departments primarily in national and regional department stores and a major wholesale club, BJ’s.

Refac took over operation of BJ’s Wholesale’s optical departments in 2008 and has expanded its business there significantly. Overall, the company added almost 40 locations primarily in its J.C. Penney, BJ’s and Meijer brands. As of May of this year, Refac now operates 761 locations in 48 states and employs over 3,300 people.

Refac also operates a state-of-the-art manufacturing laboratory. Its licensed departments are full-service retail vision care stores that offer an extensive selection of designer brands and private label prescription eyewear, contact lenses, sunglasses, ready-made readers and accessories. A Refac spokesperson told VM, “We plan on continued organic growth within our existing hosts and will opportunistically look for acquisitions to continue to grow our company.”


 
Eyemart Express


Eyemart Express performs more than 1 million eye exams and sells 2 million pairs of prescription eyeglasses. Eyemart Express also continued selling eyeglasses online via its www.eyemartexpress.com website, which not only offers a store locator button and lists insurance plans accepted but also offers eyewear for sale direct from the website.

In June 2012, Eyemart Express founder, Doug Barnes and his wife, Molly, made a $5 million pledge to the University of Houston to expand its College of Optometry. The first two floors of the new Health and Biomedical Sciences Building will be named the Molly and Doug Barnes Vision Institute in their honor. Both Molly and Doug Barnes stress that this gift would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of all the people involved in the Eyemart Express family.


 
Cohen’s Fashion Optical


With sales figures including revenue from both company-owned and franchised stores, Cohen’s Fashion Optical can trace its roots back 85 years to a pushcart selling eyewear on New York City’s Lower East Side. By the end of 2012, the eyewear retailer has grown to 124 locations in major malls and city locations in seven eastern seaboard states and Puerto Rico.

Cohen’s Fashion Optical’s website and Internet Eye Exam Scheduler available for 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.


Continuing its overall corporate strategy to invest in infrastructure and internal resources, For Eyes furthered that investment in 2012 by converting to SAP, by building talent from both within the company and from the outside to put in place a new retail leadership team. The team has been focused on adding stores in existing and new markets through real estate opportunities and acquisitions, with six locations already on tap for this year and as many more in the planning stages. Focusing on social media in 2012 proved to be a successful addition to the company’s marketing platform which emphasizes value, customer service and experience. For Eyes is still independent and privately 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


Texas State Optical again held steady at number 10 even though its stores dropped by four units from 126 to 122 and its sales revenue for 2012 was down approximately 3 percent from an estimated $98.3 million to an estimated $95.5 million. TSO joined the Top 10 last year at this spot after steadily rising from the 12th position in 2010 to the 11th position in 2011. The turning point for the company’s growth came in the late ‘90s when, after a series of corporate owners, the franchisees decided to acquire the company, a process that was completed in 2001, when the network of independent, professional optometrists became a member-owned cooperative.

Early in 2012, 25 of the network’s doctor leaders met for two days with consultants in the areas of branding, organizational culture and strategic focus to define the organization’s mission and values. That mission statement and core set of values were then introduced at TSO’s annual “Vision Quest” conference in San Francisco in June 2012. “Those two things have caused a watershed moment in the organization,” John Marvin, president/CEO, told VM. “In the last seven months, we began to see a new energy like we haven’t seen before.”