Bon-Ton Stores to Launch mEYEwear Rx Optical Shops, in New Deal With VVOptique

By


MILWAUKEE, Wis.—The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:BONT) is launching mEYEwear Rx Optical Shops within its department stores. Twenty locations have already been opened and plans call or at least an additional 40 stores across 11 states, the company said. The shop-in-store concept has been developed in partnership with Bon-Ton and operated by VVOptique, LLC (VVO), a new fashion prescription eyewear company, headed by longtime optical industry exec Ed Weiner, who is chairman. Anthony Fuller, former senior executive Wal-Mart executive, is CEO.

The Bon-Ton Stores operate in 24 states in the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains under the Bon-Ton, Boston Store, Bergner’s, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers nameplates. “We are pleased to deliver this new merchandise category to our customers,” said Bill Tracy, president and CEO for The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. “The new mEYEwear Optical shops offer convenience as well as affordable style in eyewear.”


mEyewear Rx optical shop within Bon-Ton department stores will feature a mix of fashion frames. Some will feature a “Selfie Station” try-on, enabling users to see four frames on their face and then share their images with friends via social media.

Steve Byers, Bon-Ton’s executive vice president of stores, told VMail, “We are always looking for additional opportunities to expand our fashion offerings to our customers. We believe the fashion eyewear business fits perfectly into this objective. With the well documented challenges brick-and-mortar stores face today, we are looking at businesses to add that provides our customers with more options and convenience when they are in our stores. Adding this new category gives our customers another reason to visit and shop in our stores.”

Operating in approximately 150 square feet, each Bon-Ton store mEYEwear shop is staffed by both opticians and stylists trained to assist customers in finding the perfect prescription frames or sunglasses for every lifestyle. Noted Byers, “Today’s customer views eyewear not only as functional but as a fashion accessory. We wanted this new category of business to be presented in a convenient and highly visible location. Based upon these factors, we located our new eyewear boutiques adjacent to the fashion accessories area on the main level in each store.”

Pricing starts at $95 for frames with single-vision anti-reflective lenses, progressive and bi-focal lenses also available. Bon-Ton mEYEwear Optical offers a daily Buy One Pair, get a second pair at 50 percent off. Where vision insurance is applicable, associates will provide the necessary information for customers to submit claims to their providers. Byers also told VMail, “We will continue to carry non-prescription sunglasses from our current vendor partners.”

A spokesperson for The Bon-Ton told VMail that the first 20 stores already open are in certain Boston Store locations in Milwaukee, Carson’s locations in Illinois and Michigan, Bergner’s in Illinois and Herberger’s in Minnesota.

Atlanta-based VVO was formed earlier this year. Weiner and Fuller met years ago when Fuller was a senior executive at Wal-Mart Stores in charge of all leased in-store concepts for the group and Weiner was involved in forming National Vision Associates (NVA), which launched optical departments at the time. The two recently became reacquainted.


Anthony Fuller (l) and Ed Weiner.

Said Fuller, “There are always new opportunities to compete and retail has always been in a state of evolution as it is today. Our intent is to be customer centric, we’re in the business of satisfying the customer and everybody in the retail space is looking for fresh new ways to do that. Optical is a traffic driver, a concept that generates newness in a retail environment.”

VVOptique has developed an executive team and staff to gear up for the Bon-Ton and other future projects. Weiner was the founder of Optique DuMonde, founded National Vision Associates and also founded M.O.D.E. CEO Fuller started working with Walmart founder Sam Walton and the company’s five subsequent CEOs and retired as a SVP from Walmart in 2014. He founded Walmart Realty, was involved in other in-store leasing programs and led global procurement and store planning efforts. Bart Hahn is COO of VVO and Cathy Weiner is CMO of the new group.


Kevin Marschall.

VVO is also looking to extend its store-within-a-store prescription optical business, via an exclusive contractual partnership with a division of CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBG), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (based on 2016 revenue). 

Kevin Marschall, who joined CBRE in February, is now part of CBRE’s retail services group and he is now VP, retail partnerships. Part of his background was several years at Sears, where he ran all the third-party leased department relationships in the stores. Marschall told VMail, “Some of these were in highly-regulated categories like optical and others were not. I joined CBRE to bring that practice capability over here. Our retail clients were asking for this type of service.”

Added Marschall, “With VVO, we are looking for additional host relationships, similar to what they have with Bon-Ton, for other department stores , other large or even mid-sized format retailers, to provide this service which is a logical fit for their customers.”