7 Essilor confirms the world leadership for PPL’s

In the competition for the progressive lenses leadership the power and organization of the distribution network was crucial.

Introducing the first progressive lens Essilor learned early that to have the new lens accepted by the market a strong local support was an indispensable prerequisite. So when launching Varilux in the 1960’s and Varilux 2 in the 1970’s, Essilor created a dense worldwide network of distributors or subsidiaries: in UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Portugal, Netherlands in Europe, Dr. Carlos Bessa in Brazil, a joint venture with Hoya in Japan and in 1975 the US subsidiary Multi Optics Corporation (later Varilux Corp. for the Varilux distribution). In the 1980’s many of the distributors became Essilor subsidiaries and new subsidiaries in the Asia Pacific zone were founded.

For its competitors the situation was different. The geographical coverage of their sales organizations was often limited or in the hands of distributors only.

In Europe in the beginning of the 1990's Zeiss and Rodenstock were ranked number 2 and 3 behind Essilor, but Sola was catching up also here. Zeiss was particularly successful due to the excellent quality of the Gradal HS design. In the first half of 1993 Essilor rolled out the new Varilux Comfort in about 15 European subsidiaries. The superior performance of the lens tested against the best designs on the market, and the powerful market introduction across all Europe made this launch an outstanding success. It was also a big personal achievement for Jean-Luc Bayssac, Director of the European subsidiaries.

Jean-Luc Bayssac (up,left) (European subsidiaries meeting ’94)

In the USA SOLA had its head office in Petaluma, California, the two Essilor distribution circuits Varilux and Silor had moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. Initially Varilux Corp was in San Francisco and Silor Inc. close to New York.

Michael Ness, VP Marketing for the Varilux Comfort launch (middle), (1997)

At that time it was a specific characteristic of the US market, that the manufacturers did not sell directly to the ECP but passed by the labs. Varilux Corp was distributing the Varilux brand to somewhat more than 100 selected, certified Varilux labs, and Silor was making business with the rest of the US labs and the chains.

After Varilux Comfort had been introduced successfully in Europa it was launched in the USA in 1994.

Also at Varilux Corp. a new generation of marketing and sales people were now leading the activities. The key people organizing this launch were Michael Ness, VP Marketing and Bob Colucci, VP Sales supported by Dominique Meslin from the Technical Marketing side. The product presentations by Dominique Meslin were also a big help for the market introductions of Comfort in Asia and South America. With the successful launch of Varilux Comfort SOLA lost its competitive edge concerning the product and Varilux Corp. regained lost market share.

Bob Colucci, VP sales for the Vx Comfort launch (with Bärbel Köppen)

In 1996 Essilor made a major strategic move when it decided to enter the US lab business in purchasing the lab network Southern Optical in Greensboro, North Carolina and the Omega Group in Dallas. This decision was taken under the responsibility of the Essilor chairman Gerard Cottet and not without risk because Essilor was now in competition with its customers. This was the beginning of Essilor Laboratories of America which under the management of Hubert Sagnières developed to the biggest lab organization in the USA and gave Essilor the advantage to control distribution and quality of its own products. In contrast Sola’s senior management decided not to invest in proprietary labs.

Gerard Cottet (left), Essilor chairman from 1991 until 1996, (1997)

This was certainly another major factor explaining why the growth of SOLA in the following years slowed down.

Finally there were important senior management changes in the USA: In the beginning of the nineties several key people as Dick Kapash and Tom Balch left SOLA US.

The Varilux Comfort proved to be the “problem free progressive “. Its launch had a deep impact on the market balance. From 1993 on the sales of Varilux showed a sharp increase and between 1993 and 1999 grew by 80 % from 120 million to 214 million [17]. Today Varilux Comfort is the most sold progressive ever. It was one of the cornerstones for the strong and steady growth of Essilor’s revenues in the second half of the 1990’s and the beginning of the new century under the responsibility of the new chairman Xavier Fontanet.

In 2010 the worldwide progressive lens market has a volume of nearly 150 million lenses [11]. Today Essilor is the market leader for progressives with 1 out of two progressive lenses sold worldwide. As history showed, this success is due not only to the advantage of being the inventor with the capacity to renew the brand image, but also to the commercial policy of integrated manufacturing and proprietary subsidiaries.