Let’s Make The Eyewear Category More And More Appealing To Consumers

During his recent visit to India, Andrea Zaffin, Managing Director for Middle East, India and Africa for Safilo Group, engaged in a lively conversation with Siraj BolarAndrea Zaffin has been in the optical industry for more than 20 years now. With the transition phase in the industry where brands are moving from one company to another and consumers are moving from one application to another, there seems to be a lot going on for him as well as the industry. Here he is, in a candid conversation with Siraj Bolar

Siraj Bolar: Hello Andrea. Hope your journey to India has been pleasant. Tell us a bit about yourself and your professional journey.
Andrea Zaffin: If I have to describe myself I would say that one side of me is very entrepreneurial, the other side is more managerial. So I enjoy
this duality of passion and vision about the business combined with operational tasks and short term goals in a broader context of business sustainability in the long term.

I started in the optical industry in 1999 as a young guy joining Luxottica to relocate to Dubai in 2000 to handle the Gulf Countries market and opening the first Luxottica subsidiary the same year. Then my geographical responsibility got extended and I became General Manager for Middle East and Africa spending a total of 17 years in the company.

In my professional journey in the MEA region I have always been keen to explore and diversify business opportunities together with our business partners. My aim has always been to evolve and make our business partners stronger like for example introducing automated replenishment program, focusing on luxury projects and introducing structured training programs.

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In January 2019 I started another important chapter of my professional life joining SAFILO, a company I have always respected for its outstanding design and capability to manufacture superior eyewear combined with a global presence across all markets. After my first meeting with Angelo Trocchia, Safilo Group CEO, I felt SAFILO as my natural next step, so I am truly happy about this opportunity

SB : How do you see India as a market?

AZ : India can be as exciting as it can be difficult. I firmly believe that to succeed in doing the right thing in a market, it is extremely important to respect the way that the market and the people are. This does not mean changes should not be made, but rather on the contrary the process of mutually understanding
each other should be speeded up to help
evolve the relationship and business growth.

The Indian market is very competitive and structured. The top independents are strong as well as the chains and with the online segment growing, it’s definitely a complex scenario that requires right skills and a strong proposition. I have been positively impressed by the last optical exhibition in Mumbai by the quality of the stands and products displayed and the overall level of professionalism.

Safilo has been one of the first movers in India, taking the right decision to come directly and open a subsidiary. Over the years we built up our know-how and most importantly we focused on our development in the India market with substantial investment in our structure and our brands.

Last year we opened our new office in Mumbai and we reorganized our local leadership to take our journey in India to the
next level.

SB: In the recent past, Safilo has had to forego a few luxury brands. How is Safilo aiming to consolidate this?

AZ: In the license business it is normal that such changes happen. However Safilo’s portfolio is one of the most powerful and comprehensive covering multiple segments. It’s key for us to keep on developing all of our brands and balance our portfolio comprehensively: The launch of David Beckham Eyewear, Missoni and M Missoni, Levi’s, and Tommy Jeans new collections, which are already receiving very positive feedback.

The license renewals with the Boss Group, Kate Spade, Tommy Hilfiger and Fossil are the backbone for us to further develop our portfolio in the Premium and Contemporary segments which are also the ones with the highest growth rate.

SB: Your brands Carrera and Polaroid seem to be pushing aggressively in the market. How do you foresee their role in Safilo’s portfolio? Also, which of the Safilo’s brands show most promise, according to you?

AZ: Carrera and Polaroid are two amazing assets in Safilo portfolio, two of the few real authentic eyewear brands existing in the market with great legacy both with the trade and the consumers.

2019 has been very positive for both Carrera and Polaroid. These two brands are key in Safilo’s future strategy with strong product stories and collection development as drivers.

SB: Safilo’s focus on Carrera, at least in India, is pretty high. Is this an indication of how things would stand in the future ie more focus on home brands?

AZ: India is today one of the most important market globally for Carrera thanks to all the investments done in terms of brand building and distribution development.

Clearly our aim is to continue to make Carrera and Polaroid stronger and India is going to be pivotal market for these two brands with more development in terms of offering stronger range of products with a commercial approach to boost partnership with our clients.

SB: There was a news item last year about Safilo letting go of its retail plans in USA. Please do elaborate a bit on this as I am sure a lot of opticians would welcome this move and would like to know more about Safilo’s focus on optometrists.

AZ: It’s very simple. Safilo’s focus is wholesale and our ambition is to be the best possible partner for the opticians. Retail is not in our future strategy therefore the sale of our chain in the USA is a consequence. Safilo’s business model confirms itself as a good proposition.

It is important to underline our core and distinguishing feature of being a pure wholesaler agile enough to be close to our customers, tailoring our service on their needs.

SB: The ECPs are seeing a sort of disruption in their practice area because of business going more the online way than their optical stores. How do you personally assess the situation? As for corporations like Safilo, how has this situation impacted?

AZ: Firstly when we talk about online we mainly refer to the sunglasses category. Secondly this is a growing trend in all categories so the challenge is not just about our industry but more about the role of retail and the premium that retailers are demanding for their services.

In our industry we still have a major role done by the service component especially when we talk about optical and lenses, the question is not “if” but “how” to evolve retail proposition integrating digital. I believe consumers will still pay a premium if the retail will remain relevant with valuable service proposition. We need to evolve with an omni-channel approach. Digital can for sure help us in improving our service, allowing us to work at 360 degrees, in a synergic chain with our customers and consumers all over the world, both online and offline.

SB: Another big aspect is the economic slowdown across the globe and more of it in India. How do you see this?
AZ: I am a big believer in this part of the world. If we look at the past 10 to 15 years we have seen lot of acceleration in most of the countries in Africa, Middle East and India. Now India is still projecting the economy growing at 6% to 7%. I think it is a normalization of the market growth which is healthy, if you were looking at the mid-term prospects of the region.

SB: If I ask you to give three good suggestions to the eyewear retail store owners to better their business prospects in the current market scenario, what would they be?
AZ: Firstly, let’s make the eyewear category more and more appealing to consumers by focussing on product assortment, merchandising and service to conquer and retain your customers. My second suggestion would be to make sure you have a strong portfolio offer like the one Safilo can offer in order to ensure to cover all market segments, from lifestyle and sports, to contemporary
and premium.

And finally the most important one is to invest in your people and build strong and constructive relationships with your business partners.

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