You might be tempted to think that a company celebrating its 30th anniversary by restructuring leadership was bracing for hard times. But for Viva International Group, a global leader in ophthalmic frames and sunglass distribution and manufacturing, it was all about making a strong company even stronger. This corporate transition began last March.

“Our greatest successes during the past year have come from an empowered infrastructure, the focus on a new corporate culture, vision, and values, and a full commitment to our company’s proficiencies,” said Frank Rescigna, president.

Since its founding in 1978, the company has become the fourth-largest company in the industry, amassed 17 brands, and now distributes products in 60 countries. While the corporate headquarters are located in Somerville, NJ, the company also has international direct offices in Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, the UK, and Japan.

Partnerships preferred

Viva clearly isn’t a company that relies on the status quo. The company has a new licensing department specializing in acquiring new brands that fit the company’s portfolio. Viva’s goal is to focus on the mainstream, middle-market fashion brand arena, including some of the well known brands it represents like Tommy Hilfiger and Guess by Marciano. Its new licensing department is responsible for performing the analysis and research needed to decipher what are the best up-and-coming brands as well as other established brands that could fit the Viva mold. 

Once determining that a brand is the right fit, Viva reaches out with a developed sales and marketing business plan and also develops designs and prototypes to show a prospect what their brand could look like from an eyewear/ sunglass standpoint. Through a series of meetings between the prospective partner and Viva’s brand management, product design, and marketing teams, the company works to convince the brand to come on board. 

“We don’t pretend to be something we’re not and we aren’t distracted by opportunities that seem fantastic but aren’t where our sweet spot is. We don’t go low value, and we don’t go high-end couture,” Rescigna said. “We concentrate on looking for those brands that are clearly a bulls-eye for the target market and demographic we want.”

The company has recently been in talks with several new brands about joining its portfolio. In fact, the Rampage brand, which is owned by Iconix Brand Group, became Viva’s newest offering this fall. Once brands are in the fold, Viva tries to take care of them as if they were its own, working to create a product with the DNA of the brand firmly included instead of simply putting together a frame and affixing a logo. By collaborating extensively with its brands, Viva’s product design team works to understand what the fashion trends, styles, colors, and logo elements the brand wants to work into the coming season.

A new foundation

Part of the reason behind Viva’s recent success was its acquisition by Highmark Inc., which saw the purchase of Viva as an opportunity to enhance its position in the healthcare specialty business and create one of the largest vision care providers in the US. Viva is a sister company of New York-based Davis Vision, one of the country’s largest managed vision care     companies, and operates or manages 500 optical retail stores in 36 states and Washington, DC.

The Viva acquisition made sense on all sides. By providing a chance to expand services and continue growth, Viva gained access to more business channels and became a more powerful entity when approaching vendors. Because its factories approach vendors on both the retail and wholesale side, Viva’s purchasing power is one of the strongest in the industry. The relationship with its sister companies’ retail outlets also provides Viva with information on trends directly from the front lines. 

When Rescigna became Viva’s president in January 2008, the company took an in-depth look at itself to try and streamline operations. The biggest change was a leadership reorganization that shifted responsibility and department specialization, promoting several individuals so they could become stronger advocates and maintain the integrity of each brand. As a brand driven company, Viva needed to alter its focus to better serve the brands, Rescigna said.

Strengthening Viva’s position domestically and internationally was also a key focus of the restructuring. From a sales perspective, Rescigna saw international operations as every bit as important as domestic and felt the company had been underutilizing that market. In response, the company created a separate international structure to deal with markets that often have very different product and marketing needs than the US market. Viva now has a senior and associate VP of operations monitoring the international business, working closely with marketing associates based in Europe and Asia to make sure decisions are made based on market needs, instead of assuming that what works in the US will work everywhere. 

Viva is now trying to streamline processes, remove waste, and bring new tools to the table. The company is in the process of upgrading its operating system and has already built a new Web site and invested in a handheld device that uses the Windows operating system for sales reps in the field. Now reps can enter and transmit orders electronically and provide live data on items in stock. This also allows Viva to ship orders faster, because as reps write orders, they are sent to the company before the rep has even left the account. 

“With these added benefits, we are able to improve our response time dramatically, allowing us to fulfill our customers’ orders at least a day faster than our competitors,” said Rescigna. 

Now the company is poised for what Rescigna called “explosive growth” during the next decade. Despite recent economic activity, Viva is aiming to double sales by 2018. In order to achieve this lofty goal, the company plans to invest heavily in both domestic and international markets and find new ways to highlight the strength of its brand portfolio. “We are one of the industry’s great companies. We have a proud history, outstanding talent, and enviable positions in many of our product lines and services,” said Rescigna. “What we need to do is determine our core value proposition, how it translates in this economic environment, and aggressively tailor products, services, and experiences to meet the needs of our customers.”

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