In a transaction that values his group at 137.2 million euros, Alain Afflelou has raised from 30 to 58 percent his personal stake in the French optical chain that bears his own name. The balance of the shareholding is now in the hands of two institutional investors, Apax Partners with 39 percent and Financière de Rothschild with about 3 percent.

Three years ago, Afflelou had sold 70 percent of his firm to other institutional investors, led by Marine-Wendel, reportedly in connection with an inheritance issue. These investors were anxious lately to cash out, possibly through a stockmarket introduction that would have diluted his own sharedholding further. The sellers are making a nice capital gain, considering that Afflelou's consolidated net profit has increased by 67 percent to 11,113,000 euros between 1997 and 1999.

A sales increase of 8 percent is budgeted this year for Afflelou's chain of 433 leased and franchised stores, following a 15 percent increase last year to about 305 million euros. Afflelou wants to consolidate its leadership in France, where it claims an 11 percent market share, by starting up next March a second chain of optical stores. Based on a new concept and sporting a different banner, this network should grow to about 60 outlets in the initial phase.

Afflelou also has some ambitions outside France, where it has only 6 outlets for the moment - 4 in Belgium, 1 in Portugal and 1 in Lebanon. Acquisitions are not excluded. For example, company officials are exploring a possible franchising scheme in the USA and Canada, where Afflelou is selling through distributors its own exclusive set of 4 light reading glasses, La Forty d'Afflelou, using some interesting novel in-store displays.