DULUTH, Ga.—National Vision Holdings (NASDAQ: EYE) reported Thursday that its net sales rose 13.7 percent to $534.2 million (from $469.7 million a year ago) and net income increased 346 percent to $43.4 million in its first quarter, which ended April 3. The retailer said its adjusted operating income rose 77.8 percent to $67.7 million in the period, and chief executive officer Reade Fahs noted that the results marked “a truly remarkable start to the year, as patients and customers chose us at record levels.”
The increase in patient traffic was reflected in the retailer’s comparable-store sales growth of 18.2 percent in the quarter, which on an adjusted comp-store basis increased to 35.8 percent, the company said in its earnings announcement. (National Vision noted that its method of reporting adjusted comp-store sales may not be comparable to similar data made available by other retailers.) In the year-ago first quarter, just as the COVID-19 impact was beginning, National Vision said its comparable-store sales declined 2.9 percent company wide. 
In the first quarter, National Vision said that its brands Eyeglass World and America's Best drove the favorable comparable-store sales growth. The adjusted comparable-store sales growth reflected an increase in both transactions and average ticket prices, with the results showing positive totals in both the eyeglass and contact lens categories. The eyeglass comp gains were “driven by increases in customer transactions and average ticket,” the company said.
National Vision has opened 57 net new stores in the last 12 months (64 new stores while closing seven locations. The store growth has focused on America's Best (55 new locations in the last 12 months) and Eyeglass World (four in the last 12 months), but going forward the Eyeglass World brand also is now positioned for expansion, executives said.
Fahs added, “Our first-quarter results were likely helped by the interplay of the continued hastening of industry trends that favor our low-price offerings and pent-up demand, aided by government stimulus. Our National Vision team executed superbly with a safety-first approach while handling the increased level of consumer demand. 
"We opened 25 stores during the quarter, as we continue to grow market share. We are fortunate to have two attractive growth engines with America’s Best and Eyeglass World. The especially robust performance at Eyeglass World for the past 10 months gives us the confidence to modestly accelerate opening plans for this brand in 2022.”

On a conference call with securities analysts, Fahs responded to a question about the “tinkering on the [operating] model” of Eyeglass World with comments about how the brand’s performance has improved over the past year. “We have been feeling great about Eyeglass World since reopening. Ten months ago, Eyeglass World came out of the shoot very strong. … We’ve been getting the right people in the right places, and I think that all that really came together for us concurrent with the timing of reopening.”
He also noted that the bigger footprint of the Eyeglass World stores may provide customers with a sense of safety within the stores, and that the marketing effort has focused more on same-day service.  
After reporting the strong Q1 performance, National Vision raised its forecast for the full year of 2021. The forecast for adjusted comparable-store sales increased to a range of 16 percent to 19 percent growth (from a range of 13 percent to 16 percent), and net revenue is now forecast to fall in a range of $1.975 billion to $2.025 billion (compared with the previous range of $1.93 billion to $1.98 billion). The retailer’s adjusted operating income is expected in the range of $155 million to $162 million (up from $130 million to $137 million).
National Vision expects to open roughly 75 new stores this year, but it has not yet provided guidance on store growth for 2022 or beyond. 
National Vision ended the first quarter with 1,230 stores. The company noted that its SG&A expense rose 15.4 percent to $223.6 million in the first quarter. This increase as a percentage of net revenue was primarily driven by the increase in unearned revenue as well as higher performance-based incentive compensation, partially offset by leverage of store payroll and advertising expenses, according to the announcement.

Fahs concluded, “As we enter the second quarter, sales momentum has continued throughout April. My sincere thanks and appreciation go out to the entire National Vision team and optometrist network for their continued commitment and extraordinary efforts to serve patients and customers in this complicated and ever evolving retail landscape. Overall, while the environment remains uncertain, we believe we remain well positioned to navigate the rest of the pandemic and beyond.”