Optocoop Italia-Oxo and 5 other European buying groups from 5 different European countries, representing a total of around 3,500 stores, decided to join forces last month, but have not yet defined the precise form their cooperation will take or the type of legal structure. For the moment there is no chairman for this new entity, but the chairmen of the 6 participating groups and their general managers form a sort of interim board of directors, one of whose first tasks being to decide in which country to establish the headquarters, and consequently the most appropriate form of business structure.

Luis Ferrero Regis Vanella, general manager of Optocoop Italia-Oxo, is one of the instigators of the venture, though the management of the other groups, the German one in particular, were also thinking along the lines of a supra-national coordination. The main advantage is obviously to have more weight in negotiating conditions with the major suppliers, consequently the current group would welcome additional members, for example from France.

One of the leading buying groups in France, Optic 2000, is already a participant in the European Optical Committee, along with Opticas 2000 in Spain and Optivisao in Portugal, but there has been no evolution in the EOC's work or structure for a while. Buying groups from the UK and the Netherlands have told us that they were looking for new alliances, but to our knowledge nothing really solid has emerged so far along the lines of what is already happening in other sectors, such as sporting goods, where independent retailers from all over Europe are federated into international retail organizations such as Intersport or Sport 2000 International.

While the new group will pool certain marketing and training resources as well as exchanging information, one of its main functions will be to negotiate purchasing conditions from suppliers on a European-wide group basis, including prices for minimum quantities, discounts and returns. Individual members will put in their orders individually and do their own invoicing. Certain products, however, will be ordered on a collective basis, and the guidelines for their subsequent distribution to members are currently being drawn up. The focus would be on good-quality European products..

Together with Optocoop Italia-Oxo, the other founding members are Federopticos in Spain, OptiTrade Holding BV in the Netherlands, AMA-Hellas in Greece, AMA-Optik in Germany and AMA Ltd. in the UK. Their 3,500 affiliated stores generate an annual turnover of between €900 million and €1 billion.