Fulfilling a Dream

Shortly after the Central Marketing reorganization Hubert Sagnières left Paris in order to take charge of the Canadian subsidiary and in exchange Jacques Cuchet, former head of the subsidiary, became Marketing Director at Paris. Canada was a very competitive modern market, in which a big part of the lenses sold were value added with anti- scratch and anti-reflection coatings. The technological leaders in development and production of coated lenses were the Japanese manufacturers  as  Hoya, Seiko, Nikon and others. In Europe antireflective coatings had the image of a very esthetic but  fragile finishing treatment of spectacle lenses, which could be rendered mechanically more resistant by a hard coating, i.e. a further expensive add on. By contrast  the Japanese companies succeeded in developing and marketing  “all in one products”,  antireflective and scratch resistant at the same time.  This product preserved its antireflective features for a longer time and, as it was only  one single add on, it was easier to sell with  a higher profit per product, as for a common AR coating. So when Jacques Cuchet became responsible for the Essilor Marketing Plan his top priority was to develop a new premium coating for the Essilor lenses. As the coating researchers had already done ample investigation, the technical definition of the new product was quickly done. Marketing definition took a little longer. As the new coating was a premium add on, some of the new product managers saw it exclusively applied  to top Essilor substrates, like thin and light high index materials. It took some discussion to discard this concept, as it would have been detrimental to total sales and benefit. So Crizal, which was the brand of the new product, was launched on all substrates and became  a tremendous success. Jacques Cuchet  became the father of the second strong Essilor brand after Varilux.

 Jacques and I were rather different  in our personal characteristics, he was the extrovert French and I was more the scientific German, but regarding concept, planning and organization of our work we were very similar and so Jacques asked me to take care not only of the progressive lenses, but of all products. From this time on I worked directly with about 15 product managers. Some of them were hired only recently and came from marketing organizations or from Marketing Schools, trained for product positioning and communication. Others came from R&D and were more technically oriented, but all inspired by the enthusiasm to create innovative products and their Marketing environment. Our mode of operation was the classical Marketing process to define and develop a new product. Starting with a survey to uncover and better understand a need of the wearer or optician, defining the message to communicate the benefit of the product for the wearer and the ECP, determine the  price positioning, taking into account competing products. With each product launch we perfected understanding and control of the various elements of the Marketing Mix.

 To organize work and to develop adequate tools was a little less motivating. On this field I took a strong leadership. The required product features were put down in the “fiche de produit”, a compact technical specifications for the operational departments, particularly R&D. As R&D capacity was the bottleneck, the economic analysis was key for product priority on the development plan. So we learned to complete the Product Plan by tedious pay-back calculations. Sessions with the promotion agencies to test the messages to our customers were more inspiring. We set up Marketing Reporting meetings as an internal tool of organization and communication. Together we analyzed and discussed the progress of our different projects. At that time we managed between 30 and 50 projects, so a Marketing Reporting lasted a whole day. In 1994/1995 as a result of all these measures  we had a well organized and efficient  Marketing team,  widely known and acknowledged by the head office as well as the subsidiaries .

In 1991 Gerard Cottet had become chairman of Essilor and  Xavier Fontanet took his role as CEO,  responsible for operational activities. Jacques Cuchet was reporting to him. Xavier Fontanet had started his professional career as consultant of the Boston Consulting group. Therefore he had a strong strategical background. As a newcomer he did not know the spectacle lens market, neither product nor customer. He transferred responsibility for product oriented activities like R&D and Marketing to Serge Pinon, Logistics Director, with whom he shared  the dynamic way of tackling problems. So R&D and Marketing were now in the same hand and in the hierarchy of the company Marketing stepped down one level. Jacques Cuchet did not agree with this restructuration and left for retirement. He was replaced by a young talented person from Boston Consulting Group, who stayed for about one year before he went to the USA to develop Essilor’s Polycarbonate activities. Now Serge Pinon proposed the responsibility for Central Marketing to me, taking particularly into account the success of the Varilux Comfort launch. For me this was fulfillment of a dream, taking responsibility for the organization, that I had built together with Hubert Sagnieres and Jacques Cuchet.

 A particular work of this period was to put the products for a channel strategy in place.  In the USA next to the Varilux distribution for  progressive lenses, there was the Silor network for selling organic single vision and multifocal lenses. The Varilux distribution was restricted to a limited number of selected labs, so that a big part of the Silor customer base was without an Essilor progressive product. A similar situation in Europe, where already in the 1970s another French spectacle lens manufacturer BBGR, had merged with Essilor, but kept the independence of its brand. When I arrived in Paris in 1986 first progressive lens designs were already sold by these second channels, but with the arrival of Varilux Comfort  were not good enough anymore  and recent developments of Essilor R&D had to be taken into account. With the Selective/Natural design we introduced a top  design for the second networks. As our position as market leader made it also necessary to be present in the segment  of  non branded products, the distribution channel strategy strongly increased the dimension of our  product portfolio.

Some 5 to 10 years later while I was responsible for Quality this situation had changed  fundamentally . Philippe Alfroid, the Essilor CEO  had corrected  the organizational error to include the Marketing organization under the same leadership as R&D and now Marketing was reporting to the CEO. Alfroid postulated a new paradigm, which was very simple and efficient: R&D had the mission to develop all the product demands that Marketing deemed necessary in order to defend and increase market leadership. Resources and project management process had to be adapted. R&D was not a capacity bottleneck anymore, the realization of the Marketing product plan was a must.  The philosophy was now, Essilor is the uncontested market leader and every major product type on the market has to be part of its portfolio. So the product plan was a matrix with axes for all major designs, materials and coatings weighted with the importance of the distribution channels  and the only negotiation was about the launching dates. There were no detailed economic analysis anymore to support the Marketing demand.  Pressure had been entirely shifted from Marketing to R&D.