A Dutch-based low-cost optical retailer, Eyes and More, is taking over the store network of an Italian peer, Mister Optik, for about for about €10 million. The Dutch company, which has also a store in Belgium and 32 franchised stores in Germany, has retained Matteo Sorrentino as its general manager, with a five-year renewable contract. He was previously chief executive of Mister Optik, as well as co-owner of the Italian company along with his father, Francesco, and an associate, John Amendola.

The takeover puts an end to the Mister Optik banner and to earlier plans for its expansion into the French, Greek, Spanish and U.K. markets (see article in EWI 10-16 of last Oct. 21).

At the end of 2009, Mister Optik had 51 stores and half a dozen franchising agreements under way. But with the purchase, Mister Optik's network has been downsized to 27 stores in the central regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. The strategy is to close down some of the smaller stores, especially in Tuscany, and focus on the larger locations, covering 200-400 square meters, which will retain the Mister Optik brand, but will host an Eyes and More corner.

These larger stores will continue to sell multiple brands. The remaining smaller Mister Optik stores will also be co-branded Eyes and More but after a comprehensive test, they should be renamed Eyes and More in a couple of years' time. In Lucca, where Mister Optik has its head office, the smaller one of its two stores will be completely converted to the Eyes and More format. In contrast with Mister Optik, Eyes and More offers only private label frames and lenses.

The group decided to keep the Mister Optik brand alive after having spent about €600,000 in advertising on the brand last year, including promotion on national television, but the longer-term future of the banner has not yet been decided.

In the meantime, the group will develop its own Eyes and More network in Italy, starting with a first new store in Rome scheduled for April. The network will then be rolled out in Venice, Milan, Monza and Turin with the objective of opening eight stores by the end of 2010. The group aims to reach 40 stores in five years thanks to eight annual openings.

The Italian stores will replicate the Eyes and More format already used the 60-odd stores operating under this name in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The typical store is about 70-100 m2, which is smaller than the 100-150 m2 of an average Mister Optik franchise, but with similar number of spectacles thanks to presenters that display 240 pairs compared with 56 for Mister Optik. Eyes and More offer more than 1,500 models of prescription frames under its own 4 me brand.

The investment to fit a 100 m2 store is around €100,000. The conditions for the franchising contract that will be offered in Italy have not yet been finalized, but they are expected to include an entry fee of €25,000, an annual royalty of 14 percent and 4 percent of sales for the use of the group's software, which manages inventories and reorders from Eyes and More's Eindhoven warehouse. All the logistics will be centralized there.

The distinguishing factor of Eyes and More is the fact that its prescription glasses are offered with A-R coatings at only two set prices, irrespective of the style chosen by the customer, making a unique and attractive low-cost statement: €95 for a pair for spectacles fitted with single-vision lenses and €165 for a pair with progressive lenses. It also sells Polaroid sunglasses for €35 a pair. With the acquisition of Mister Optik, it will begin to offer the same package for branded frames with a supplement of €75, initially only in Italy.

The Italian management is considering integrating Eyes and More's offer with sunglasses from other brands, as sunglasses tend to represent more than 15 percent of local opticians' sales, compared with 5 percent in Germany and the Netherlands.

Eyes and More was created in 2005 by two partners, Eric Ezendam and Ad Mathijseen, who previously worked for Hans Anders. While the German stores are all run by franchisees, those in the Netherlands, which will grow to 27 next Saturday, are all owned by the company. Eyes and More has not yet decided whether it should go on it own or through franchisees in Belgium, where its only store in Antwerp has only recently begun to generate good results.

The company is open for opportunities in other countries. Meanwhile, it plans to offer its glasses to customers in Germany and Italy in their own languages in a couple of months' time, after revamping its Dutch web store, optiekshop.nl.