LAS VEGAS – Most opticians’ storefronts have a long way to go before they resemble high-end department stores, but that’s a gap that the eyewear manufacturers showing at Vision Expo West, which ended its four-day run earlier this month, are trying to help them bridge.It’s no wonder, as the nearly $100 billion eyewear industry is poised to grow 40 percent by 2020. In an already consolidated landscape, the forthcoming merger between volume sales leader Luxottica and top lens provider Essilor comes at a time when lenses are creating buzz in the eyewear market.“To be able to sell a frame with the best lenses will be a big advantage, for the end consumer and for our eye-care professional customers,” said Fabrizio Uguzzoni, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America. “Putting together the products and innovation they bring to the market will bring a positive impact to the market, as the synergy to the supply chain will make a difference.”He continued, “You see already now in our collections — in big house brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley — that the lens is starting to become more and more about differentiation, with the Chromance and Prizm lenses, respectively. There is more consumer awareness about the function and aesthetic of good lenses to protect the eyes and to see in the best conditions. In fashion, there is a way to play more with the lenses than we have in the past.”While those brands fall into the mid-tier, Uguzzoni was also bullish on the luxury segment of the business. “There is a big trend to luxury — glasses are now at the same level as a bag or shoe. We spend a lot of time educating our customers about this value equation, as our product becomes more integrated with the fashion brands.”Just as Luxottica is cleaning up distribution of brands like Ray-Ban to protect their brand equity capital, Marcolin is looking to increase penetration in its current doors with its existing labels.“We don’t want to collect brands; we already have a balanced portfolio,” said Massimo Renon, worldwide commercial general manager. “In 2018 we will focus on cleaning it up for low-performing brands and concentrate on exploiting what we already have, investing more in marketing and visibility in the point of sale. There are so many opportunities in emerging and mature markets.”He noted that there is plenty of work to be done in the industry in terms of educating customers on storytelling and the nuances of product. “Our product looks very simple, two lenses and a bridge, but behind that there are a lot of steps that need to be told. There is a value chain that justifies the price.”However, this doesn’t come naturally to many eye-care professionals, who make up the bulk of Vision Expo West’s attendees, while a smaller percentage are from traditional fashion retailers buying eyewear as an accessory.“In today’s business you have to sell things. Two-thirds of the income is from product, not services. So that is a shift that some retailers have been able to adapt to and some have not. That is a necessity and an opportunity to modernize retail philosophy and strategy,” said Mike Hundert, chief executive officer and chief creative officer of De Rigo Rem. Hundert said the onus was on eyewear manufacturers to educate customers on best practices and even merchandising basics as well as the latest styles.At the same time, eye-care professionals will be well-positioned to sell the newest wave of wearable technology, which companies like VSP Global, the eye-care insurance company and parent of Marchon Eyewear Inc., teased at the show. New technology contained in the glasses’ temples purports to measure breathing, sleep patterns, steps, calories burned and other health metrics, which then will automatically sync to an app on the user’s cellphone.Safilo Group, the second-largest eyewear company in the market, is looking to solidify its hold by bringing its lensmaking in-house. “As cosmetic lenses and other treatments become more important, we’ve been making more investment in our plants,” said ceo Henri Blomqvist. He noted, “We are becoming more agile and also thinking in terms of less styles and more depth, so we are more clear on what the core is of each collection.”Safilo’s strength lies in building house brands such as Polaroid and setting trends with high-fashion licenses such as Dior. Case in point: its 2018 launch of Rag & Bone eyewear. “It’s a very exciting brand at this particular moment because it’s very ‘right now,’ very contemporary luxury,” said Blomqvist. “As always in eyewear, you get a new brand and and it potentially takes a few collections to get it right, but we are very happy with the first collection already, building on a core style that we think will become its signature.”However, he acknowledged that consumers today are wearing multiple brands and have become more demanding. “They want the value-for-money thing. They want to understand what it is they are paying for,” he said.
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