8 The change of the power balance in the ophthalmic lens industry.

Around 1980 American Optical was the number one manufacturer in the global ophthalmic optics industry. Second and third were Rodenstock and Essilor. Rodenstock’s sales had tripled in the seventies [18] and had now reached about $ US 250 million. The revenues of Zeiss and Hoya were distinctly smaller and the net sales for SOLA were only about $US 40 million.

In the following years this ranking changed fundamentally. Between 1980 and 1990’s Essilor approximately quadrupled its turnover and and became the world leader in the ophthalmic optics industry. Different from most of its competitors Essilor had a global business approach and established mass manufacturing sites in Europe, Americas and Asia and a worldwide network of own subsidiaries or distributors with Rx labs. The results of this production and distribution power were low manufacturing costs, high reactivity, good service and quality control of its products.

AOC was present in many segments of ophthalmic optics as spectacle lenses, frames, contact lenses, safety goggles, focimeters and was traditionally innovative in lens design [19]. AO‘s business was largely focused on the US market and so was certainly more affected by the FDA impact regulations for spectacle lenses than some of its major competitors. In the 1980’s and 1990’s glass lens manufacturing (bifocals!) in Southbridge was closed, the contact and fiber optics business sold and the whole plastic manufacturing moved to Tijuana. In 1996 AOC was purchased by Sola.

The German companies developed their business mainly on the very profitable German market. So in 1980 the German market represented about 60 % in Rodenstock’s turnover [18].

SOLA had a similar global strategy as Essilor and, as described above, their turnover and market share grew almost exponentially. At the end of the 1990’s SOLA reached the number 2 position in the worldwide ranking of the spectacles manufacturers.

It is remarkable that it was during the period of the 1980’s when competition attacked Essilor’s leadership for the progressive lens, particularly in the USA, Essilor climbed up to the number one position of the ophthalmic optics business. When Essilor became number 1 it realized 2/3 of its turnover in overseas business [3].