Using for the most part Essilor's own big sales network, Bolon, the medium-priced Chinese brand of optical frames and eyewear partly owned by the French group, is now available in 1,500 points of sale all over Europe since its launch in the region less than two years ago. It has also been expanding in various Asian countries.
Essilor bought a 50 percent stake in Xiamen Yarui Optical Company, owner of the brand, in 2013. In Europe, the brand currently has its strongest presence in Italy, the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Italy, France and Spain occupy the top berths in the region with some 300 doors each.
Founded in China in 2003, Bolon has been showing regularly at the Silmo and Mido trade shows since September 2016, and it will participate for the first time in the International Vision Expo fair in New York this week, in what is being described as a soft launch to test the waters of the U.S. market. Independently of Essilor's future likely combination with Luxottica, it will be targeting independent opticians, as it is doing also in Europe, rather than chains like Sunglass Hut - at least for the time being.
Bolon prescription frames and sunglasses are already sold in about 30,000 doors in the brand's domestic Chinese market and over the internet, but the products have also a strong presence abroad. They have already been rolled out to 53 international markets. A Bolon flagship store was opened in Singapore last year, but there are currently no plans for any others.
The brand's global international sales are coordinated by Francesco Leccisi, vice president in charge of Asia and global retail in Essilor's sun and readers division. The Italian executive joined Essilor in October 2014 after a stint of three and half year at Safilo, where his last job was global travel retail director under its former chief executive, Roberto Vedovotto.
Focusing on the mid-tier segment of the market with retail prices in the €120-180 range, the brand prides itself on a high price-quality ratio with its rather original designs and special material combinations. Italian designers and technicians help create, develop and manufacture the collection, using state-of-the-art machinery and processes at Bolon's Chinese factory.
To support the brand, Bolon elected a rising American supermodel, Hailey Baldwin, as its ambassador for this year's campaigns. The first international brand ambassador was Sophie Marceau in 2015, followed by Anne Hathaway in advance of Bolon's debut at the 2016 Silmo.
In spite of its international expansion, Bolon and its sister brand in China, Moision, saw their total sales decline in the past year, according to Essilor, although they rebounded in the second half. To improve the situation, the group implemented a strategic action plan in China under which it sought to optimize distributors' inventories while redefining terms of sales and getting more consumer insights from retailers. Sales over the internet were expanded.