A French institutional investor, Natexis Investissement, has acquired a 32.4 percent stake in Visual, a 41-year-old buying group whose members are located primarily in the smaller towns of France. Carried out through an equity increase of 20 million FF (e3m), the acquisition will help obtain enough financing to set up or take over in the next 5 years a total of about 40 stores, mostly located in the larger cities, that will be owned and managed directly by Visual.

Visual, which has switched from the status of a cooperative to that of a regular firm in which most of its present members and some employees have financial stakes, had a net profit of 1.2 million French francs (e0.2m) last year on a turnover of about 300 million FF (e45m-$40m). The turnover of its 370 affiliated shops, of which 16 are in Switzerland, was around 520 million FF (e80m-$70m), but Visual wants to grow to a turnover of 850 million FF (e130m-$120m) by 2004, of which 200 million FF (e30m) would be generated through the 40 company-owned shops.

The new stores will be based on a new format that is intended to play down the customer's initial hesitations against eyewear, and to favor his or her interaction with the optician. The first 3 new stores will open in August, and they will be more than 100 square meters large, as compared to the 60 sqm. average size of the affiliated stores.