Fielmann's stockmarket value has increased by 30 percent sofar this year. Half of the increase took place after an announcement last May 4 that the 8 million preferential shares owned by the Fielmann family will be converted into ordinary shares, removing the privileges attached to them. After the change, which is to be approved by the July 6 annual meeting, the Fielmann family will own like before 65 percent of he company's equity, but the other shareholders will be given for the first time voting rights as well.

At the annual meeting, Fielmann is also expected to unveil a new corporate website, which should start selling contact lenses in the 2nd half of this year.

The recent increase in Fielmann's stockmarket value may also be related to the company's better-than-expected performance in the first quarter. The pre-tax profit increased by 17.7 percent to 34.6 million DM (e17.7m-$16.4m), as compared to the same period a year ago. Consolidated net income grew by 14.2 percent to 268.7 million DM (e137.4m-$127.5m). Unit sales rose by 10.2 percent to 1.2 million pairs of glasses. On a same-store basis, sales rose by 9.6 percent in the quarter, and the momentum continued in April and May.

Meanwhile, the leading German optical chain has moved into the neighboring Dutch market by taking over Hofland Optiek, a small chain of 5 shops in the Enschede area. Like it has done in Switzerland, the acquisition gives Fielmann a platform for its rapid expansion in Holland as well as Belgium and Luxembourg - organically and possibly also through further takeovers.

Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands are expected to contribute jointly annual sales of about 400 million DM (e200m-$200m) in the medium term, or 20 percent of group turnover. In Holland alone, Fielmann is shooting for annual sales of 400,000 pairs of glasses worth 200 million DM (e100m-$100m) a year through 50 outlets, giving it a 25 percent market share. Likewise, in Austria, Fielmann is aiming for market shares of 17 percent in value and 28 percent in volume with annual sales of 350,000 glasses worth 770 million Ausrian schillings (e56m-$52m).

Last year, Fielmann's stores in Switzerland and Austria represented only 7.3 percent of the group's turnover of 1,017 million DM (e520m-$483m). Still, Fielmann sees a potential for additional growth also in Germany, particularly in the Southern part of the country. With only 4.5 percent of the 9,500 optical stores in Germany, Fielmann accounted for an estimated 39 percent of all the eyeglasses sold in the country last year, but for only 18 percent of the opticians' total turnover. Longer-term, Fielmann wants to grow to handle 45 percent of the country's total volume.

Opened at the beginning of May, the new Fielmann Supercenter on Vienna's Mariahilfer Strasse exceeded the company's high expectations in its first week of operation. On the first day alone, the 79 members of the store's staff managed to sell more corrective glasses than 100 traditional opticians, plus about 2,000 pairs of sunglasses. Sales of 15 million DM (e8m-$7m) are now expected at the location for the first full year, or 25 times the turnover of the average optical shop. Fielmann has already spent 40 million schillings (e3m-$3m) on the store and plans to spend an additional 30 million schillings (e2m-$2m) over the balance of this year.

Fielmann hopes to finalize before the end of this year negotiations aimed at entering one more market in Europe - most likely Italy or Spain. It's looking for the acquisition of small local chains in both countries. It's also looking for suitable sites for Fielmann Supercenters in Milan, Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Amsterdam.