The Vision Group was first launched in 1989 as a collaboration between a number of optical retailers motivated by a common strategy in approaching the market. Since then, the group has grown steadily and has evolved along the way.
“The combination of such wide-ranging entrepreneurial experience has led to the development of innovative concepts and the creation of a unique business model focused on delivering services that meet the business and professional needs of opticians and optometrists,” says CEO Marco Procacciante. “We now have more than 2,100 shops operating in our network throughout Italy. This gives us a 20% share of the Italian market and close to national coverage.”
One of the key reasons behind the Vision Group’s success is its offering of varying levels of affiliation based on the differing business needs and approaches to the market of the individual shop. Through its brands Vision Group and VisionOttica, the Group offers its affiliates a tailored package of support and services suited to their particular needs and customer target group.
The premium brand by far is VisionOttica which was launched in 2008 around the same time that the group created its national network. “We started franchising the concept in 2000 and quickly won new retailers to the group,” says Mr. Procacciante. “I have been with the company since around that time and have seen the whole development first hand as well as guiding it. The success we are experiencing and the steps forward we have been taking have cemented our position as leaders in the Italian market. This has come through the commitment of our highly motivated team and of course the hard work of each franchisee.”
Turnover for the group is 70 million EUR although the total turnover of all franchisees combined is much higher. A team of 130 people is employed in the company which also includes key account managers who travel throughout the country providing support and advice to franchise operators.
“We have developed a complete retail management system and support the shops with marketing services as well as centralized CRM, direct marketing and national advertising for the VisionOttica brand,” says Mr. Procacciante. “The affiliation with a strong nationwide brand is a powerful advantage for independent opticians.”
In 2014, an investment fund acquired a share in the group. The injection of capital that this brought allowed the Vision Group to expand even more rapidly. “Last year, we decided to join the Elite project on the Italian stock market in order to open ourselves up still further to the market,” says Mr. Procacciante. “Our modern franchising concept and customer-centric approach have given us a solid foundation upon which to build a successful brand.”
Vision Group franchise stores follow a multi-brand philosophy that combines proprietary brands with products from major global manufacturers. “Our target customer group is relatively well off and interested in high quality products,” says Mr. Procacciante. “They are prepared to spend a little more on something that they know will be worn every day and that will have a significant effect on their appearance.”
That is why luxury brands are so important to the Vision Group concept. Nevertheless, the Italian company is not just concerned with fashion accessories. Its vision products are also technologically advanced.
“People looking for corrective eyewear will find an extensive range of attractive frames in our outlets as well as the latest high performance lenses to ensure that their spectacles look good and give their wearer the best possible vision,” says Mr. Procacciante. “We offer the latest thin lens technology as well as high performance coatings for greater wearer comfort.”
The latest development in this area is a coating designed for computer users. Spectacles with this coating protect the eyes from the blue light emitted by digital devices screens. The coating shortens the wavelength of the ultraviolet rays which can be irritating to users spending long periods of time looking at their digital devices.
“We are focused on eye health as much as appearance and this also has an influence on the location of our franchises,” says Mr. Procacciante. “We prefer high populated districts to fashion streets. Our consumer base is predominantly made up of families. We focus on offering them a professional service and expert advice. We also provide our franchisees with the opportunity to undertake regular training to keep them up to date with new product developments.”
A recent innovation is the introduction of virtual mirrors that allow customers to try on frames virtually. It means that the customer can compare the look of different colourways without the shop having to keep all of them in stock.
“We are currently piloting the use of the system in several outlets and, if it proves successful, we will roll it out to other franchisees,” says Mr. Procacciante. “We are also bringing the experience onto the web by using the smartphone camera.”
This system was first introduced in the USA but the Vision Group is the first company in Italy to use the system and hopes it will help strengthen customer loyalty. While technology helps improve the customer experience in store, other technological advances are helping improve customer satisfaction with their purchases.
“We are specialists for progressive and multi-focal lenses that combine distance and reading functionality in a single pair of glasses,” says Mr. Procacciante. The optical sector in Italy is undergoing a significant level of consolidation. This is one of the key reasons for the Vision Group’s own strong growth.
“We see ourselves as family opticians and want to be as close to our customers as possible,” says Mr. Procacciante. “This means we will continue to expand our network of opticians throughout Italy.”
The group expects to add two to three outlets per month under its VisionOttica brand and anticipates that within the next five or six years it will be the leading name in the Italian market. “We have a strong vision for the future and it is based on professional, personalized service,” says Mr. Procacciante in conclusion.