Identifying the best solution
OT speaks to managing director of Essilor, Tim Precious, about his return to the UK market, the company’s plans for the future and the challenges facing the independent opticians market
How has your return to the UK been since being appointed managing director of Essilor?I’ve worked for Essilor in different roles for many years and coming back to the UK is great. It’s interesting to come back to UK market at this time when there is so much going on politically. A lot of our customers are suggesting to us that footfall is down and they are having to differentiate themselves more on the service side of things. Eight months in, I’m up to speed.
What did you learn from your time at the Nordics division of Essilor?There is a strong chain and buying group presence in the Nordics, which we don’t see as much in the UK. It’s never been a significant part of the market structure. The competition for us is slightly different too. Rodenstock is a big competitor for Essilor in the Nordics but not so much in the UK when compared to other suppliers.
I saw one or two business models there, which would be interesting to try and replicate with UK customers. In particular, the emergence of subscription models for spectacle lenses is an interesting phenomenon. In the UK, there are consumer finance arrangements but there’s not really that subscription model, which generally younger consumers are looking at. Things are changing so we need to watch those trends.
A lot of our customers are suggesting to us that footfall is down and they are having to differentiate themselves more on the service side of things
What are Essilor’s plans for the year ahead?One of the main things for us is having a successful launch of the Advanced Vision Accuracy (AVA) lens, which we will see in October. It’s unique to Essilor and exclusive to independents. That’s a really big focus right now.
We’ve also released a new version of Varilux Physio. It’s a design that launched in 2006 and has been upgraded twice since. We’ve innovated with Varilux S and Varilux X over the years, but it is the first time in our classic range that we’ve done something substantial in recent years.
Generation eight of the Transitions lens has launched in the US and will be released in the UK and Ireland in the early part of next year.
From a wholesale supplier perspective, we’re investing around £5m a year in our advertising and support for independents. We’re doing a lot in the digital media space and are trying to bring more customised solutions for people to try and get more traffic in store. We have national media campaigns, and tool box and trade marketing promotions, which are a suite of options for people. You can’t say one size fits all, so we identify the best solution by working with our partners in their particular marketplace. They may be on a High Street in a large town or in rural practice that’s only open two or three days a week. You have to fit your solution to the demographic that the practice is operating in.
How is Essilor supporting the independent sector?
What are the main challenges independents are facing at the moment?If you look at the UK retail market in general, there is definitely some sluggishness. Having less people come through the door means that you have got to spend more time with those people that do in terms of added value. The independent side of the market is particularly good at that. In some ways, that is protecting them against uncertain political times.
Generationally, we have a lot of independent practitioners who in the next five to eight years might be looking for an exit in some way because they are moving towards the end of their careers. That’s an issue that we’re going to face as a market soon.
If you look at the UK retail market in general, there is definitely some sluggishness
Another challenge is acquiring customers in the 20–40 age group. From the studies we are looking at, we think presbyopia is starting earlier. So, it’s about navigating that with the right product solutions. That’s where Essilor needs to help its customers and partners to bring more footfall into practices.
Essilor needs to use some of its expertise to bring the traffic that’s going online into the practices that are working with us. Customers may not find it the easiest journey to get from online to offline and may need some help navigating that, which is what we’re trying to do. People are going online to search for things when that wasn’t the case 15 years ago. It’s about what you do with those people to help them find a way to practitioners.
What are Essilor’s research and development teams working on at the moment?We are looking at widening the scope of one of our driving coatings – Crizal Drive. At the moment, it is only available in a product called Road Pilot, which is a design specifically for driving. We’ve taken feedback from customers who would like it to be available on more products. Provisionally, we’re looking at the three Varilux designs (Physio, E and X), and also a single vision solution that will give this option to many more practitioners.
It’s the landmark varifocal lens that has broken through everything else. It was the first, it is the standard and the flagbearer. For us, it is very important. We continue to innovate within the Varilux segment. The importance to us, as part of our heritage, is huge. We have to keep delivering innovation to keep it relevant for today’s wearers. The pace of innovation has accelerated, but we’re still staying true to those first design principles of bringing vision to all.
What does reaching 60 years of Varilux mean to Essilor?
Pictured: Tim Precious (centre right) celebrating 60 years of Varilux with his colleagues at Essilor