“If opticians WIN, We WIN..”

Maarten Geraets, CEO of Essilor – South Asia Region talking about the approach used by Essilor to the Indian market and the impact it has created

Maarten Geraets, CEO of Essilor – South Asia Region talks to Siraj Bolar of VisionPlus about Essilor in the Indian market and his plan on doing more work here. He shares his insight into the Indian optical market and the various opportunities for growth.

VisionPlus (VP): From heading a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company you have entered into a specialised and paramedical business area. What are the key differences and challenges that you’re dealing with in this aspect?
Maarten Geraets (MG): Yes, the industries are different in terms of product complexity, dispensing style, level of consumer awareness and connect, etc. A product like instant noodles which was not mainstream as per the Indian eating habits but with the right inputs, we were able to make it one of the biggest packaged food categories in the country. I believe the same parallel needs to be applied to this category, where today consumers may be giving less importance to their spectacle vs. shoes. With rigor from manufacturers and dispensers, we can change this attitude and grow this category which will benefit all stakeholders.

VP: Markets seem slow, while sentiments waver. In your opinion, how do you think will the Indian optical retail market shape in the short and long term?
MG: I believe India as an economy has huge potential. There are reforms happening at the macroeconomic level which have caused some short-term ripples but I believe they will settle down and ensure that India will grow to greater heights.

Coming to the optical industry – we believe close to 700 Million Indians need vision correction but only 200 Million are corrected. Among the existing wearer, the penetration of categories like HMC is only 30-35%. Only 8-10% of Presbyopes are corrected by PALs. These are opportunities we need to focus to drive growth in the short term.

At Essilor, we live by our mission of ‘Improving Lives by Improving Sight’ and believe all of us need to put our best foot forward, help consumers live to their full potential and create growth for all stakeholders in the long term. However, like other categories, disruptions will continue to stay in our industry and will cause a shift in how the industry operates in the long term. Those that are open to change, will succeed

VP: What do you think about creating awareness among the end consumers about vision care?
MG: We need to drive awareness, people need to be more aware about the need for vision care and solutions that are available today. We want the entire industry to join hands in raising the importance of vision so that we increase the perceived value of the category. Essilor India is taking up an initiative with NDTV and Sight Savers to drive eye care awareness on World Sight Day. We want to combine forces, give it scale and make it impactful with support from all so that it can become the biggest driver in growing the category.

VP: What will the future approach of Essilor-Luxottica be towards opticians?
MG: Our commitment to the ECPs will remain unchanged. Given that the two groups have shared values of improving vision across the world with innovation as a growth driver, operation excellence, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an international mindset – We expect the EssilorLuxottica way of operating will be a combination of our best practices.

The combination of these two majors and complementary players in the eyewear industry is to answer the growing needs in visual health and the appetite for premium branded products. By marrying lenses and frames, we believe we will be in a position to propose more innovative solutions and more suitable glasses to more people. An optimized supply chain of both lens and frame will allow us to save on lead times and increase customer satisfaction.

VP: From being the most favoured lens partner for opticians, you are now seen as invading the optical retail domain. Opticians seem cynical and unsure about the move by Essilor. What necessitated this? How would you justify this to the optician?
MG: Essilor is fully committed to unlock the growth potential for the benefit of consumers and customers. Our partnership with Luxottica is one step in this direction. With this partnership, we will be in retail but our emphasis will be on growing the market by enhancing the consumers journey and experience along with increasing desirability of our category and brands. Only with this open approach, we can fulfill our dream of eradicating poor vision from the world by 2050.

Though Essilor will be taking many new initiatives to grow the industry, its commitment to its customers will remain unchanged.

VP: Considering that this is among the key markets for Essilor, would this be the best move? I’m asking for your personal perspective here.
MG: We are not doing anything new. This model is existent in many other categories like take Samsung as an example – they have standalone stores as well as available in all independent retail outlets. You can find them on Amazon and Flipkart. All models of reaching out to the consumer are working perfectly in sync.

In our category too, there is a transformation needed to improve consumer engagement and experience with the category. ECPs who will choose us as their preferred partners will be provided with the right levers on all possible levels including tools to transform consumer journey in the store and grow their business.

I understand opticians feel concerned, and it is up to Essilor-Luxottica to prove that they have our support. This is why we have engaged recently with ECPs through the ‘Winning Edge Event’ and had open conversations, and this we shall continue.

VP: What would be your advice to opticians struggling with lower footfalls and value erosion in their business? Can they look forward to having Essilor support them?
MG: Independent opticians are our core – If they lose, we feel the brunt. If opticians WIN, We WIN. We understand the current challenges and have taken multiple steps to support our independent ECPs.

We launched our biggest campaign on our most renowned brand Crizal in August that reached out to 32 million consumers and we will continue to invest in brand building in the coming years. For the first time, we launched a promotional offer on Crizal which drove consumers to the store and gave them a chance to upgrade from unbranded lenses to Crizal and experience the difference. This offer is available for all designs, coatings, indexes etc providing a great chance to buy the best for your eyes.

We are also reapplying best practices from our global perspective to India in the form of newly launched Partner Program “Essilor Experts”. With this program, we aim to support our ECPs on footfalls, upgrades, conversion and customised special offers.

VP: With the recent promotional activity of Crizal Happiness Offer – buy one get one free, What are the gains? Does this help the optician community in the long run?
MG: We have seen a good response and believe this is a great way to drive traffic to the stores. ECPs who have actively participated in this program are the biggest gainers.

This activity is new to India but has been tried and tested by Essilor in other global markets and is proven to support brands not just in short term but long term as well. Once a consumer has experienced the difference in vision with a better quality product the chances of repurchase are much higher.

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