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Industry profile

A hopeful future for those who continue to adapt

As OT  continues to explore the impact of the pandemic across the optical sector, Inspecs Groups’ Steve Tulba, managing director for the Inspecs divison, shares his view of the hurdles eyewear companies have overcome, and the opportunities that remain

O'Neill design
Inspecs
Eyewear brands were among some of the optical suppliers to see the sharpest impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with lockdowns and subsequent restrictions reducing sales.

In its 2020 report, Euromonitor International predicted the outbreak of COVID-19 would lead to a reduction in eyewear value and volume sales through the year, but suggested e-commerce would see a “dramatic increase” in value share.

“The UK eyewear industry is expected to start to record volume growth again in 2021,” the report suggested, adding that wearers will still need to buy their corrective spectacles.

Despite the rocky year that many suppliers have had, the frame manufacturer and distributor, Inspecs Group, has identified opportunities for growth, taking on the manufacturing operations of Norville, and announcing the conditional acquisition of German eyewear supplier Eschenbach Holding in November.

Steve Tulba, recently named managing director of the company’s Inspecs division, talked OT through the picture of the eyewear market in 2021.

Steve Tulba
Inspecs’ Steve Tulba, managing director of the Inspecs division


There is no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year for many services and retail industries, including the eyewear industry.

The uncertainty of the pandemic meant eyewear manufacturers have needed to be flexible and adapt to ever changing circumstances.

This past year presented many challenges for the eyewear industry as a whole. With face-to-face meetings becoming difficult to organise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has had to shift to a more remote model. For manufacturers and suppliers, we have had to switch to supporting our practices remotely and rethink how we could best support our customers and respond accordingly.

This is an unprecedented time for everyone, and we must continue to adapt to the current climate and remain flexible and responsive to our customers’ needs

 


To adapt to this, at Inspecs we launched a B2B e-commerce platform in order to help our independent practices, enabling salespeople to engage with their customers remotely.

It is still very important to get that personal touch across, despite being behind a screen, and this is why we launched our platform, so each customer feels they are receiving the right personal approach tailored to their needs and expectations.

Through this platform, we have tried to provide options, so that regardless of how they wish to approach the procedures of dealing with COVID-19 at a retail level, we are there to service them.

With the shift to a more online and remote way of working, this has allowed manufacturers and suppliers to be more creative

in their ways of serving customers by finding more digital-focused solutions to substitute face-to-face meetings.

In the future, we anticipate there will be a growing omni-channel approach, whereby customers may wish to view and order collections online, but with a salesperson talking them through. While others may want to do that entirely independently, others might prefer to see a salesperson and look at a product face-to-face.

With people spending more and more time at home, reading and in front of screens, the need for eye health, innovation and regular eye tests will only continue to grow

 


This is an unprecedented time for everyone, and we must continue to adapt to the current climate and remain flexible and responsive to our customers’ needs.

The global eyewear industry remains a very fragmented market and I am sure we will continue to see consolidation as companies look to grow their market share and expertise.

Our stated strategy at IPO was to grow and develop the business, both organically and through accretive acquisitions, as we build our market share in the globally expanding eyewear market. In 2020 we pressed ahead with this strategy and made the most of opportunities as they presented themselves.

During the pandemic we acquired two businesses, Norville and Eschenbach Optik, which will see the Inspecs Group grow significantly in what is a fractured market. We will be able to expand our operations into key markets, acquire bigger global licenses as a more attractive partner for larger global brands, and broaden our customer base.

Investment in the company’s future remains a priority into 2021 and we will continue to press ahead with our plans for the year. We are launching a new ‘house brand’ made from sustainable and recycled materials, which is in line with the company’s targets.

The eyewear industry is in a very good position to keep growing, innovating and moving forward in these uncertain times.

Whilst challenges in some channels, such as travel retail and traditional sunglass retail, have been extremely difficult during the pandemic, other areas, including online and e-commerce channels, have continued to grow rapidly in the current climate.

[At the time of writing] Optical practices, depending on the country and region, can still serve patients. With people spending more and more time at home, reading and in front of screens, the need for eye health, innovation and regular eye tests will only continue to grow.

I believe that there is hope and a bright future for all companies in the industry that can adapt quickly and keep offering great product solutions as well as high service levels to their customers.

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