The opticians affiliated with Atol, the third-largest buying group in France, raised their sales by 7 percent on a same-store basis in 2005, against a growth of about 2 percent for the overall French eyewear market. The feat was partially attributed to the group's aggressive marketing campaign. Atol's advertising expenditures reached €17 million last year, a 25 percent increase from 2004. Its advertising campaigns have targeted mainly people over 45 years of age, whereas a larger competitor, Optic 2000, has started to aim for younger consumers.

The members' overall sales grew by 28 percent, exceeding €300 million and allowing Atol to reach its objective of a 10 percent market share in France. In celebrating the opening of its 600th store a few days ago, the voluntary group announced a new 15 percent target for next year. This so-called ?plan 777? calls for the integration of a total of 777 members by the end of 2007. There were only about 300 Atol stores in operation three years ago, when the group still shared a common buying organization with Visual, subsequently taken over by GrandVision.

Gérard Coulon, the group's chairman, says Atol has no need to cooperate with any other retail organization in France now. He also wants to keep Atol's focus on strengthening its position on the French market before striking any partnerships across Europe. Expansion to other French-speaking markets remains under consideration, but no acquisitions or mergers are planned for the immediate future. The group already has seven retail stores in Switzerland, a number that is expected to double by the end of this year, mainly due to newly created stores in shopping centers.

Following the heavily publicized repatriation of production of Atol's private licensed Ushuaia collection of glasses from China to France's economically depressed Jura region last year, Atol executives claimed that it could help create at least 1,000 jobs there over the next 3 years.