Salmoiraghi & Vigano is Italy's largest integrated optical retail chain, and the acquisition is set to be completed by June 30, unless De Rigo exercizes a right of first refusal on the deal. Dino Tabacchi recently reduced to 7.8 percent his own stake in Safilo, the world's second-largest eyewear manufacturer, which has refused until now to move into retailing, unlike Luxottica and De Rigo. He is set to remain until the end of this year as vice chairman of Safilo, run and controlled by his brother Vittorio.

Dino Tabacchi stresses that the relationship between Safilo and Salmoiraghi will not change after the takeover. Dino has already been involved in optical retailing as financial backer and shareholder of the UK-based Vision Express chain, which was subsequently sold to GrandVision. He got out of Vision Express for cash and a 4 percent stake in GrandVision, which he has since sold completely, according to the French firm. He is still on the board of Sight Resource, a US chain of 120 stores which is expected to stabilize its revenues at about $60 million this year, following a major management reshuffle.

Until a few years ago, Salmoiraghi belonged to the same group that controlled Dollond & Aitchison in the UK and General Optica in Spain. To help raise its presence in those two markets, De Rigo first bought D&A and then GO. In acquiring GO two years ago, De Rigo also bought Salmoiraghi and kept it under its ownership very briefly before selling it to two Italian investment companies, Arca and B&S, and to Salmoiraghi's management, keeping a right of first refusal in case of future ownership changes.

Arca & B&S have now agreed to resell their combined 90 percent stake to Dino Tabacchi for more than e68.5 million, netting a capital gain on the initial purchase price of e50 million. De Rigo has not yet decided whether it wants to spend e68.5 million for a chain trading in a country where it already has a solid presence, with the danger of antagonizing some Italian opticians. It still has a couple of months to decide.

In the past two years, Salmoiraghi has invested e25 million to more than double the number of outlets from 80 to 180, of which more than 20 are franchises. Another 20 or so were aquired with the recent purchase of a discount chain, Lodi Optik. Salmoiraghi diversified recently into laser surgery. The company is expected to report a turnover for 2001 of around e70 million, which cannot be compared with the e31 million of the previous 7-month financial year. Tabacchi has no plans to change the management or the current development strategy, which calls for the addition of 30 new doors annually over the next 3 years.