Essilor of America’s Chief Conveys Company’s Innovation Message

By Andrew Karp: Group Editor, Lenses + Technology


 John Carrier, president and CEO of Essilor of America.
Vision Monday interviewed Essilor of America’s president and CEO John Carrier last month during Essilor’s National Sales Meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo. During the course of the conversation, Carrier offered his outlook on the optical market, Essilor’s most recent product innovations, and the company’s evolving relationship with managed vision care providers and independent optometry. This interview has been edited.

Vision Monday: What is your outlook for the optical market for 2013?

John Carrier: Generally, I’m pretty optimistic about the prospect of the market, even for the long term, because the demographics are happening in terms of the growth and aging of the population. The impact of poor vision remains big. There are still many people who are uncorrected or poorly corrected or have conditions that are not completely being addressed. So we keep on finding innovations that make sense to consumers. We have a lot that we’ve already innovated that has not reached a high level of use.

Conveying the innovation message is complicated in this industry. When you’re selling sophisticated innovation, how do you convey a message that is not too complicated? It will have to be a little bit complex and presented in a concise, clear manner. That is a challenge for us and for our distributors. We’re not unique. Apple is facing the same thing. It’s the same whether you’re selling sophisticated cars or devices. We have to find our own way to do it better.

The other thing is the market will be there. It will be robust, the demand will grow. The technology will be there to answer the needs. But from our customers’ standpoint, how do they attract and retain customers? The cost to serve is high, because we’re in a relatively low volume market and we’re offering personalized services, so the cost is high. You need to make sure the customer experience is good overall. That’s why in these Forums [with independent optometrists] we’re trying to address these things, and saying ‘We will do this together as an industry and as Essilor.’ We tell all the customers that are willing to engage in that, make sure in this robust market you still need to be competitive, which means you need to be good at attracting customers, you need to provide good service but at competitive price points, and overall the consumer needs to get out of there with a good experience. Today, I’m not sure it’s always happening.

VM: Over the past several years, Essilor has continued to emphasize premium products while branching out into the mid-priced and value segments of the market. Which of these segments is growing fastest for Essilor in the U.S.?

Essilor’s John Carrier.

During the recession, we’ve probably seen a little bit of downshifting resulting in the middle tier or lower tier starting to grow a little bit faster. In 2011 and 2012, we’ve seen the very sophisticated premium segments growing in a robust manner. Crizal had an absolutely outstanding year, that’s with a large advertising campaign. We’ve had similar, if not faster growth, in anti-reflective products at very different price points, products that don’t have all the sophisticated benefits of Crizal. 2012 was really a year where the volume grew in every segment.

VM: Electronic eyewear is starting to emerge in different forms, such as eyewear or goggles with head-mounted displays. Do you see, in the next few years, a potential for Essilor to sell electronic eyewear or wearable computers?

JC: It’s in the air. I think people are still trying to figure out Google and Apple. We’ve been actually invested in things like that. We stay connected, we create partnerships from an R&D standpoint. Typically, when they exist they’re confidential. Lately, there seems to be a lot of activity in this area. It could be another nice development at some point. There are certainly people who believe that the computer screen, the phone, the tablet, the next interactive display to access information on the Internet, could be a lot more interactive. It’s a very attractive idea. We do have some research and patents and are even having discussions and partnerships with some companies. It’s exciting to keep looking. Exactly what it will become, we’ll see.

One direction we’re exploring is finding ways to address more medical issues with eyeglasses. We have Crizal UV right now, and we have other things coming down the pike in 2013 in this medical or health area.

VM: What were some of Essilor’s most important accomplishments of 2012?

I think [independent eyecare professionals] should be more confident. Sometimes they don’t realize all the strengths they have. They are wonderful medical professionals…but they are going to feel the pressure of the Affordable Care Act.
Crizal results have been good, and that’s the result of our marketing efforts. We launched Varilux S late in the year, and it’s been very well received. As for other accomplishments, we’ve had some good growth overall across all channels. We are scoring points with large accounts, with contracts. You’ve covered our development with LensCrafters with the anti-reflective technology. That’s a big part of the market that was really behind, because of their one-hour positioning.

We started with 250 machines at LensCrafters stores, and now we’ve added another 230, so it’s 480 in total. It’s an important lift in the AR market. We’ve finding good ways to partner with other large accounts. With Costco we’ve been their provider of progressives. We have a unique product there that’s going to be in deployment. We’re supplying Wal-Mart with Nikon. We’re a lab supplier for Wal-Mart out of our Mexican facility on a large scale. And then we have the EyeMed program. It will be a test this year because we want to make sure it works well. We want to get maximum input from ECPs to make sure it’s properly deployed. But hopefully by the third quarter of 2013 it will be properly deployed.

VM: How would you describe Essilor’s evolving relationship with managed care?

JC: What we’re finding is that it’s difficult for a managed care company to have the credibility to say ‘This is my own product.’ So we’re working with managed care companies to make sure we meet their delivery system and price points. Today, we support most of them, and what they like is our innovation in branded products.

VM: A year from now, what would you hope your major accomplishments would have been in 2013?

JC: For me, this Xperio UV thing is a big deal. We did a test and saw the category jump by 30 percent. It’s very important that we succeed in this, not only because it’s a big investment in 2013, but it’s such an undeveloped market that it gives us an avenue for a long time because it’s at such a low level. I’d also like to see the full success of Varilux S.

VM: If you’re talking to the independent ECP, and wanted to send a message to them about what they should be focusing on, in terms of how they take their practice forward next year, what would you say?


Essilor’s John Carrier.

First, I think they should be more confident. Sometimes they don’t realize all the strengths they have. They are wonderful medical professionals. But today, medical professionals are maybe not threatened, but they are going to feel the pressure of the Affordable Care Act. They’re on the edge of regulations that are going to affect them.

In addition to that, they are retailers with a product that people need and want. When you think about it, there are not so many professions that have a true market on the medical side and on the retail side. So first, it’s important for them to realize the opportunities there. Then they need to ask themselves, ‘What is their plan for customer acquisition and access? How do they make sure that for the level of service they’re offering, how do they know they’re operating at the right cost? Are they measuring and really delivering the right things?’ I think they should ask themselves these questions. We’d like to help them in a deeper way than we have done.

We’re doing our part. We’re going to relaunch Think About Your Eyes with a few partners. We’re spending quite a lot of money on our consumer campaign. But I’d like to do something with a bigger scope, and that will require partnerships.