The French-based optical retailing group has opened its first Solaris sunglass shops outside its home country, targeting mainly airport locations and tourist resorts in the sunnier Southern European countries. Two stores were opened recently in Lisbon. Four others will open shortly at A1 locations in Italy ? 2 in Milan (Corso Vittorio Emanuele and La Scala), one in Venice (Rialto) and another one in Florence (Duomo).

GrandVision has decided to take Solaris out of the shopping malls and to open between 6 and 7 new stores every year in France, where the potential is estimated at 50 units in the longer term, plus a un undetermined number in other countries. Solaris sees a big market potential ahead particularly in Italy, where sunglasses have come to represent an estimated 33 percent of the average optical retailer's sales, because of their peculiar fashion connotation, as compared to 8 percent in France. GrandVision is investing heavily in Italy also through its own more generic high-end GrandOptical store format (see previous article).

The group's 6-year-old Solaris chain already has 24 stores in France, including 6 in Paris, and one in Monaco, and they are due to reach a turnover of more than 18 million euros this year. The flagship Solaris store on Paris' prestigeous Champs-Elysées, which has only 45 square meters, will reach sales of e3;2 million this year, without cannibalizing or being cannibalized by the sunglass section of GrandVision's recently revamped and expanded GrandOptical flagship store on the same street. The GrandOptical flagship store, which can offer also corrective sunglasses in less than one hour, has actually raised its own sales of sunglasses by a factor of 7 since it opened its own sunglass section at street level, and sunglasses have come to represent 12 percent of its total sales.

Much of the purchasing for Solaris and GrandOptical is conducted in common. GrandVision is now getting ready to launch its own Solaris private label of sunglasses, working with various independent Italian laboratories to develop special high-margin models that will be sold in Solaris shops at about 20 percent below the price of the branded products. The new line, which replaces a previous Jet Set line of special make-ups developed by the brands, should generate about 10 percent of the chain's sales. The new project is coordinated by Muriel Faugeras, who was previously coordinating Solaris' network of shops. She has been replaced by Hubert Lamy, who comes from the Décathlon chain and is unrelated to the Lamy eyewear manufacturing family in the Jura valley.