Snapshots of Optical's 10 Largest U.S. Retail Players

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Luxottica Retail


Leading the pack again this year, Luxottica Group’s Luxottica Retail division was the number one U.S. optical retailer, generating an estimated $2,336.o million from 2,433 locations in the U.S. and P.R.

Management changes for Luxottica Retail Optical North America (RONA) over the past year included executive changes resulting in Nicola Brandolese being named to head RONA in January 2014. Reporting to Brandolese are Eric Anderson, president and general manager of LensCrafters; Pete Bridgman, senior vice president and general manager of Pearle Vision; Mary Anne Stangby, senior vice president and general manager of Sears Optical; Alexis McLaughlin, senior vice president and general manager of Target Optical, and Guillaume Bonniol, vice president, RONA strategy.

During 2013, Pearle Vision, one of Luxottica Retail division’s leading retail brands in the U.S., completed a rebranding, store redesign and continued pursuing a strategy of converting corporate-owned locations to franchised “licensed operations.” While all this was set in motion by the hiring of Srinivas Kumar as Sr. VP and GM at the end of 2011, he was recently succeeded by Bridgman.

Also in 2013, the LensCrafters U.S. retail division of Luxottica launched some new technological initiatives including implementing a wide range of digital tools to enhance its optical retail operations throughout the country. This includes rolling out iPads at all of its stores, a lens simulator and the MyLook in-store virtual mirror available through iPads and the AccuFit digital measuring system first introduced in 2011 and available in all stores.

In early 2014, Luxottica Retail also promoted Carlo Privitera to head digital innovations including omni-channel initiatives. At the same time, Luxottica acquired the assets of Glasses.com and its try-on app, which it said it would also explore bringing to the company’s wholesale customers.

Starting in early 2014, LensCrafters launched a global advertising campaign.

 
Vision Source

Vision Source is a franchisor consisting of approximately 3,500 member optometrists.

These members operate 2,797 locations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to Vision Source, which said that it is building a foundation on which to develop further growth in an era of health care reform. In addition, Vision Source’s supporting infrastructure also includes more than 200 clinical and business professionals.

With a re-emphasis on its franchising efforts along with a focus on participating in coordinated care as health care reform takes hold, in addition to the programs that Vision Source has afforded member optometrists and their patients since its formation in 1991, the company launched an initiative during 2013 to closely align optometry with the clinically integrated systems that are forming to effectively manage population health in the rapidly evolving health care landscape. To date, Vision Source optometrists have become a part of organized collaborative care teams in Arizona, Florida, Missouri and Texas. The company’s leaders are actively engaged with health care delivery systems in most major markets.

Other 2013 highlights included founder Glenn D. Ellisor, OD, transitioning to executive chairman while Jim Greenwood, who had been named president and COO at the beginning of 2013, became president/CEO, along with a series of other executive promotions.

 
Wal-Mart Stores

Wal-Mart still remains among the most prominent players of the Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers. 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 their respective Vision Centers and Optical Centers to assist with fitting glasses in store or in club.

Walmart and Sam’s Club began a new online and telephone contact lens program in early 2013. Walmart also introduced an Equate private label brand of contact lenses at that time.

In October of 2013, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced it would start offering vision benefits to its employees through VSP Vision Care, giving eligible employees and their dependents the opportunity to sign up for a vision plan with coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014. Walmart Vision Centers and Sam’s Club Optical locations are the primary eyecare providers for the plan’s participants. If no Walmart Vision Center or Sam’s Club Optical is within five miles of an associate’s work location, they may select a VSP network provider.

 
Visionworks of America

Currently operating in 40 states and the District of Columbia, Visionworks and its affiliated stores totaled 619 by the end of 2013. The company successfully completed its rebrand during 2013 and now has a unified banner in Visionworks throughout all locations.

Visionworks continued its extensive expansion efforts in 2013, with special emphasis on the Greater Philadelphia region, where it opened nine new stores to bring its market presence to 26 in total, and on the Greater Indianapolis region, where it opened four stores with openings to continue in 2014. Visionworks also expanded in other key markets such as New York, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts. Continued new store growth will be part of the Visionworks strategy for the foreseeable future as an anticipated 40+ stores will be added during 2014.

Visionworks of America, Inc. (formerly Eye Care Centers of America, Inc.) is a subsidiary of HVHC Inc., which also includes Davis Vision. HVHC, Davis and Visionworks are headquartered in San Antonio, where Visionworks opened its second distribution and manufacturing facility in 2013. The 120,000-square-foot facility will be capable of producing more than two million pairs of eyeglasses per year once fully operational.

 
National Vision

The big news for National Vision occurred just after the end of calendar year 2013 when in March of 2014 KKR acquired the U.S. optical retailer from Berkshire Partners for an undisclosed amount that is reportedly in excess of $1 billion. After more than eight years as the private equity owner of National Vision, Berkshire Partners remains a minority investor.

In addition to continuing to expand its store counts, National Vision built a 60,000-square-foot optical lab in Salt Lake City. While the company will continue to outsource some of its work to China and Mexico, National Vision owns labs in Lawrenceville, Ga., (in the same building as its Retail Support Center), in St. Cloud, Minn., and now in Salt Lake City.

National Vision operates vision centers across the country in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses and Eyeglass World freestanding concepts and vision centers inside Walmart, Fred Meyer and on U.S. military bases. National Vision also sells its products directly to consumers through 25 consumer-facing websites, including ACLens.com and DiscountContactLenses.com.

 
Costco Wholesale

With 440 of its 454 Costco Wholesale locations in the U.S. operating Costco Optical vision centers, the company generated $757 million in revenue during calendar year 2013. During 2013, Costco signed agreements to join managed vision care companies Superior Vision and Davis Vision’s eyecare provider networks. Members were able to visit Costco Optical locations for their benefits beginning early 2014. Costco also partnered with New Eyes for the Needy and created an eyeglass donation program in all Costco warehouses. In addition, Costco Optical also introduced its new Kirkland Signature HD Digital Progressive Lens. Costco Optical’s optical locations nationwide provide frames, prescription lenses, contact lenses and a variety of lens options. For comprehensive eye exams, most have an independent doctor of optometry in or near the optical department.

 
Refac Optical Group

Through acquisitions and organic growth, Refac Optical Group’s sales increased almost 10 percent from $216.2 million to $236.9 million. In the fourth quarter of 2013, the seventh largest U.S. optical retailer moved into another sector of the market with the acquisition of Nationwide Vision’s 64 locations in Arizona.

Nationwide Optical Group, as the acquired group will be known, will operate as a freestanding division. Because the acquisition was made at the end of the third quarter, the Top 50 chart lists Nationwide and Refac separately, applying the first three quarters of revenue to Nationwide and the last quarter of revenue to Refac. Proforma sales reflecting 12 months of Nationwide results would be $275.1 million.

Al Bernstein, who previously ran Nationwide Vision, the largest vision care provider in Arizona, will assume the role of president and CEO, Nationwide Optical Group. Refac’s strategy for its U.S. Vision division is to continue to organically grow its host optical brands by adding new stores to existing hosts and pursuing new host relationships. Bernstein and his management team will lead the expansion of Refac’s freestanding strategy in Arizona through Nationwide openings and working together with Refac CEO David Pierson and the Refac team to pursue other acquisitions in the freestanding category.

U.S. Vision currently operates optical departments within JCPenney, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Meijer, Sears, Boscov’s, Hudson’s Bay (35 locations in Canada), Macy’s and Belk. Recently, U.S. Vision began a pilot program with Belk Stores with two locations and has begun an aggressive expansion in Meijer Stores. In April 2014 Meijer announced that it had selected U.S. Vision as its exclusive vision center operator in its stores moving forward. The U.S. Vision host business continues under the direction of George Gorman, president, who has been with U.S. Vision for 17 years.

 
Eyemart Express

The year 2013 marked Eyemart Express’ 23rd year achieving the vision of Doug Barnes, OD, to provide value, quality and service to its customers. The company, which started in Appleton, Wis., in 1990, now stretches from Maine to Alaska with 150 stores in 32 states under the Eyemart Express, VisionMart Express, Vision4Less and the Eyewear Express names. The year 2013 was spent further strengthening the field structure required to serve customers in a coast-to-coast operation. The company added veteran talent and promoted from within to ensure that the consumer receives consistently high quality service in each of the locations. Additional changes included the initiation of a paperless point-of-sale system and an overhaul of retail training to improve transaction speed and customer experience in the stores.

 
For Eyes/Insight Optical Mfg.

For Eyes opened four new locations in 2013, with that expansion happening in existing markets like Florida and Chicago-land. Additional expansion plans for existing markets, including Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Florida and Illinois, are in the works, and the company is also considering new markets in Northern New Jersey, New York and the Midwest for future growth.

For Eyes’ marketing is a mix of broadcast and online, with a strong focus on bricks and clicks for customer convenience and millennial engagement. Successful online campaigns, combined with a new web initiative, have yielded new customer acquisition and increased traffic to stores and websites operated by For Eyes. Customer retention remains high. A new merchandising and product mix roll-out have proven successful in reaching corporate goals and delivering on the company’s brand promise of delivering the highest level of customer service at the most affordable prices for consumers, executives said. 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.

 
Cohen’s Fashion Optical

Among the first U.S. optical retailers, Cohen’s Fashion Optical began 85 years ago as a pushcart among New York’s famous Orchard Street merchants. Cohen’s Fashion Optical has grown to 126 franchised stores in 2013, generating revenue of $150.4 million for the calendar year.

Cohen’s Fashion Optical continues its growth strategy this year. With a substantial update to their national marketing strategy, including digital, social media, and an emphasis on the customer experience, Cohen’s is rapidly improving its already successful model. A new website is also under development. Cohen’s continues to have its eye on franchise expansion. ■