Celebrating its 1,000th affiliated store in one of Paris' most famous restaurants, the Optic 2000 buying group announced recently the start-up on Jan. 1 of a sophisticated SAP supply chain management system and other interesting projects. The new efficient response program will handle order entry, invoicing, logistics and other functions, such as the measurement of special promotions and bonuses.

With 60 people being trained on it since last April, the SAP system being adopted by Optic 2000 will use the same product codes, but not the same systems integrator, as GrandVision, the integrated French optical chain, which already adopted it one and a half years ago. As previously reported, GrandVision and Optic 2000 have been pooling their orders from major suppliers for the past few months, in order to obtain better conditions. The two partners must co-sign all their contracts with them under this unprecedented deal, which is already generating annual savings and bonuses of about 5 million euros for Optic 2000.

The French cooperative is now planning to submit to its retail members a proposal to set up a new financial holding company designed to attract venture capital and to finance new projects. One may involve investments in any of the two buying groups in Spain and Portugal, called Optic 2000 and Optividas, with which the French one has a long-standing cooperation in the sourcing of private label products and other aspects.

The new holding company would also help fund the establishment of new stores, including possible a new discount format that may be launched in France in a few years' time. It may also invest in LASIK clinics. Executives of Optic 2000 see a big potential also for the establishment by the group's retail members of dedicated Audio 2000 corners or stores for hearing aids. They now add up to 204 outlets, and they have a 12 percent market share. The planned introduction by Audio 2000 of a highly innovative device on an exclusive basis should speed up this interesting diversification in a growing market.

These and other projects, including the group's recent expansion in neighboring Switzerland, generally stem from a realization that Optic 2000 is coming close to the limits of growth under its present form in France, particularly in certain specialties like progressives where the group claims a 27.2 percent market share. Members sell more than half of all the polycarbonate lenses produced by Essilor, paying about 20 percent less than independent opticians that are not affiliated with any buying group.

The stores affiliated with Optic 2000 had total sales of 509 million euros in the 12 months ended last June 30. The 1,000 affiliated stores include 34 Optic 2000 shops in Switzerland and 744 in France, plus 222 others that use another banner but purchase through the cooperative's buying office, Gadol. The group claims the highest rate of assisted recognition of any optical banner in France, even though it spends together with its retail members only about 12.3 million on advertising and promotion, or about 20 percent less than Alain Afflelou.

Thanks in part to the affiliation of 80 additional stores in the 12-month period ended last Oct. 1, Optic 2000 has been growing faster than the market. Even on a same-store basis, however, their sales grew by 12.2 percent in the first 6 months of this year, while the French optical market rose by only 1.6 percent in value to e2.9 billion, with increases of 0.4 percent for lenses, 1.4 percent for sunglasses, 2.2 percent for contact lenses and 3.9 percent for ophthalmic frames. Including newly affiliated stores, Optic 2000 had 22.5 percent higher revenues, with lenses up 18.2 percent, sunglasses up 37.9 percent, contact lenses up 13.6 percent and frames up 29.9 percent.