“Optometrists’ offices are typically medically focused and patient-driven, and haven’t crossed over yet to a true consumer-driven retail experience,” says Holly Rush, president of Luxottica’s North American wholesale division. “All of the traditional retail elements you find in a Sephora or a Saks should be in place in the doctor’s office in order to help them remain healthy and profitable in this space. Everything we’re doing today is centered on what the consumer expectation of retail is and how that translates into the eyewear experience.”

With more than  €7.6 billion in annual sales and the industry’s most sophisticated global manufacturing and distribution network, Luxottica knows quite a bit about eyewear. In addition to its iconic proprietary brands, including Oakley and Ray-Ban, the company also designs, manufactures, distributes and sells eyewear for a number of high-fashion and luxury brands including Chanel, Coach, Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors, Prada, Tory Burch and Versace. 

“In a world where brands matter more than ever, a powerful portfolio is central to our success,” Rush says. “We’re very proud to represent the most relevant and in-demand brands on earth and the diversity of our owned and licensed brands allows us to meet the needs and desires of a wide range of customers today, from accessible fashion to ultra luxury.”

The company’s wholesale customers includes independent optometrists, large national optical chains and department stores like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Dillard’s.

Overcoming Challenges

Luxottica’s wholesale division is at the forefront of the company’s efforts to transform the way consumers and retailers look at eyewear. There are two main challenges that the company faces in this regard: the overall awareness of vision health and the perception of eyewear as a commodity product, Rush notes.

“We know that more than 60 percent of the population globally need vision correction, but only one in four people actually receive it,” Rush says of the first challenge. “There’s a lack of understanding of how important vision wellness is as a window to overall health; it’s crucial that we make it just as relevant as other parts aspects of the healthcare industry.”

Luxottica is involved in two major initiatives to increase awareness for vision care. The company is the lead underwriter of a documentary entitled “SIGHT: The Story of Vision.” When the one-hour documentary, produced by Emmy-winning filmmaker Kris Koenig, debuts this Fall, U.S. consumers will for the first time be exposed to the history, science and technology behind vision, as well as an in-depth look at the global vision crisis we face today. The film is expected to spark a national conversation on the issue. 

The company is also key sponsor of “Think About Your Eyes,” an optical industry initiative that conveys the importance of annual eye exams through a national advertising campaign. “We believe that, through this initiative, we can have a significant impact on changing the consumer perspective on vision care,” Rush says. 

Luxottica is addressing the second challenge – perception – through its ongoing retail merchandising efforts. “There are very few other things that people wear as prominently as they do eyewear,” she adds. “We have an obligation to help consumers understand the true value of a quality pair of eyeglasses and what that can do for the way you feel, the way you look and of course, the quality of your vision.”

The company offers high quality, attractive frames in a range of styles and price points. “We can find something in our portfolio that’s right for everyone,” Rush says, noting that eyeglass frames are commonly covered under vision insurance benefits. “We recognize and value that many consumers just want to use the basic benefit of their plan, and we have something for them as well as for the person willing to spend more to buy into a brand that represents the lifestyle and image they want to project.”

Brand Storytellers

Luxottica took a huge step toward its goal of shifting consumer and retail perception of its products in March at Vision Expo East, the nation’s largest annual eyewear conference. Instead of presenting its products in a manner typical to trade shows, Luxottica’s exhibit emphasized a “storytelling experience” that included information about the company’s quality manufacturing process as well as the stories behind its brands, Rush notes. 

The booth included a mock-up design of an “optical retailer of the future” focused on “engaging experiences, storytelling and the right merchandising, as well as omni-channeling and the integration of technology into the retail space,” she adds. 

Luxottica’s booth also included a “learning lab” with daily training sessions on topics including “the art of retailing,” “why sunglasses matter,” and how to best serve the youth market, Rush says.

Optometrists and opticians visiting the booth were encouraged to attend sessions as well as implement elements of the store mock-up into their own operations. The company continues to provide eye doctors and optical retailers with training tools and information on best retail practices with the help of media and research company Jobson.

Luxottica is also leveraging its internal resources as a vertically integrated company, which include manufacturing and technology, to help retailers. “We can work with designers who can help redesign doctor’s spaces, and we have resources in the digital and omni-channel spaces to help doctors and retailers take the next step in serving their customers more holistically,” Rush adds. 

‘A Tremendous Opportunity’

Luxottica’s wholesale division also works to increase the visibility and importance of its products within department stores. “There is a tremendous opportunity to speak directly to consumers today through our department store partners,” Rush says, noting that department stores are notably different from vision retailers, as they are more fashion-focused. “We want to totally redefine the eyewear experience.”

Rush sees eyewear as being a department similar to the cosmetic or perfume counters in stores, with products out in the open instead of in a glass case. “Today’s consumer wants to experience items on their own,” she adds. “If you don’t allow them to interact, there’s a high likelihood of them just moving on.”

One of the company’s major department store initiatives can be seen at Dillard’s. The wholesale team visited the retailer’s Little Rock, Ark., headquarters three years ago to discuss “how to create a more engaging eyewear experience around eyewear, the importance of storytelling and the need for staff to have a deep knowledge of the products,” Rush says. 

The visit led to the “Dillard’s Luxury Eyewear Shop Project,” which now includes 30 luxury eyewear shops within the company’s stores. “As a result, Dillard’s has doubled their sunglass business in those stores, and the category continues to grow for them,” she adds.