The Challenge Varilux Comfort

The launch of Varilux Infinity in 1988 was supposed to renew the image of the Varilux brand and stop the market share erosion. In spite of a successful market introduction Infinity could only slow down the loss of market share but not reverse the tendency. Also in Europe Essilor VMD  was not the expected success on the market. A close investigation showed that the Multi Design concept was really  a superior solution for the wearer, but that a bigger number of parameters had to be taken into account for its optimum realization. So when I took over the Direction of the Presbyopia Marketing department, my mission was clear. The priority project was to launch a second generation of the Multi Design concept. I will call the new lens already here in the text with its later trade name Varilux Comfort. Sometimes launching a new product the discussion of the trade name is one of the most controversial and time consuming issues, wicked tongues use to say because everybody has the competence here to claim an opinion. A particular point in this dispute was the fact that “comfort” was the correct spelling in English or on some big markets like Germany but in French the correct spelling is “confort”. But finally Essilor’s  international dimension  was decisive for the brand.

It was a stroke of good luck, that at this period there was a number of young people in the R&D as well as on the Markets ready to accept the challenge. Under the leadership of Jean Louis Mercier a young team of scientists developed a new method to conceive new progressive geometries better and faster, adapted to the viewing needs by an iterative process directly involving the wearer, the Design Loop. In order to apply this method efficiently they had put new tools in place to explore the visual process of the presbyope more profoundly on one hand and to calculate  aspherical surfaces with a high degree of geometrical flexibility on the other hand. So Christian Miege and his team succeeded in measuring the complex relationship between visual comfort of the presbyope and his head and eye movements. Jean Pierre Chauveau and his research colleagues put a calculus in place to create surfaces with very smooth transition sections between areas of different geometry characteristics.

In the middle of 1991 we established functional specifications, maintaining the fundamental idea of the Multi Design concept, but integrating all the innovations recently achieved by the R&D teams. The result was a new type of progressive lens combining the advantages of the “hard” and the “soft” lens design. Until now there were two distinct kinds of progressive lenses: on one hand  the so called “hard” progressive lens with large viewing areas for far and near vision but with only a small section for the intermediate distances, not so easy to adapt for dynamic viewing conditions. The other lens type was the “soft” progressive design with very favorable conditions for peripheral and dynamic viewing conditions, but with somewhat smaller areas for far and near vision.  Now with Varilux Comfort we launched the first lens combining large areas for clear vison in the far, near and intermediate distances with easy adaptation.

The market pressure was growing continuously. We experienced a dramatic loss of market share, particularly in the US. But Essilor was up to the challenge. Under the professional leadership of project manager Denis Blandin  the departments R&D, Production, Logistics, Marketing and the subsidiaries did an almost perfect job. After a very promising market test in France, Netherlands and Germany we launched Varilux Comfort already in 1993 in Europe and in 1994 in the USA. It would have probably been more efficient first to launch in the USA, where Sola hurt us most, but some key people in North America were so convinced by the certainly powerful Infinity message, that they hesitated to replace Infinity. But at the Varilux subsidiary a new generation of marketing and sales people had now strong influence over the activities and after a thorough analysis of the evolution of market shares, they recommended to launch Varilux Comfort as fast as possible in the USA. These people organizing the 1994 launch were Michael Ness, VicePresident  Marketing and Bob Colucci,  VP Sales. It was a big advantage that they were  supported by Dominique Meslin of Technical Marketing. He had worked as product manager in the Central Marketing Department and was one of the most experienced experts regarding progressive lenses.

With the successful launch of Varilux Comfort Sola lost its competitive edge concerning the product and Essilor regained almost 10 % of market share in just over 5 years. From 1993 on the cumulated sales of Varilux showed a sharp increase and between 1993 and 1999 grew by 80 % from 120 million to 214 million. An estimation indicated , that compared to the rhythm of the VMD/Infinity sales the introduction of the Varilux Comfort lens was equivalent to incremental sales of about  15% until 2000.

Today Varilux Comfort is the best sold progressive brand ever. It was one of the financial cornerstones for the future strategic moves, which made Essilor the uncontested world leader in spectacle lens optics. In 2010 the worldwide progressive lens market had a volume of nearly 150 million lenses. Today Essilor is the market leader for progressives selling 1 out of two progressive lenses sold worldwide. As history showed, this success is not only due to the advantage of being the inventor with ability to renew the brand image, but also to the commercial policy of integrated manufacturing and proprietary subsidiaries.