The 2003 financial results of GrandVision, which ended up the year with a total of 390 stores, have not yet been disclosed, but the management of the French-based retail group indicates that its profitability improved in 2003 both in absolute terms and as a percentage of sales. A sharp uptick in the 4th quarter is leading the management to a certain optimism with regard to its overall target of reaching an operating profit (Ebit) margin of 10 percent.

Sales remained stable at €650 million for the full year, but they would have increased by 3.5 percent in constant currencies, and in the 4th quarter they rose by 4 percent in euros to €147 million, and by 5 percent on a same-store basis.

After 3 quarters of negative growth, the GrandVision's Vision Express chain in the UK and Ireland, which recently came under new management, posted a 3 percent sales increase on a comparable store basis in the 4th quarter, although the 9 percent devaluation of the pound against the euro translated into a 5 percent drop in revenues to €47 million. Apparently, Vision Express is reaping the fruits of investments in personnel training and of a diminishing impact on consumers for Dollond & Aitchison's strong off-price campaigns, but D&A's parent company, De Rigo, has yet to report on the chain's performance in the period.

On the other hand, the introduction of a permanent 2-for-1 promotion has driven traffic into the group's GrandOptical stores in France and boosted the morale of its salespeople. The chain enjoyed a 5 percent sales increase on a same-store basis in the latest quarter, and the addition of new stores helped to raise their turnover by 8 percent to €41 million.The group's lower-priced chain, Générale d'Optique, continued to perform very well and raised its sales by 11 percent to €34 million. Its new store franchising program is a success and 12 new openings have been lined up for 2004. On the other hand, Solaris, GrandVision's pan-European chain of 26 sunglass stores, suffered like other retailers from lower tourism and the downturn in the sunglass market, and saw its sales reduced by 6 percent to €3 million.

Other chains operated by the group in other European countries raised their combined sales by 9 percent, with a 4 percent gain in local currencies, and they reached breakeven results in terms of the overall Ebit, after many years of losses. In absolute terms, sales were up in the quarter by 2 percent in Italy, 9 percent in Portugal, 6 percent in Belgium, 7 percent in Switzerland and 2 percent in the Czech Republic.