The French group is following very closely the mysterious bid for the control of Cole National as Cole's major shareholder, HAL, became a few weeks ago the major shareholder of GrandVision, with a stake of 32.9 percent (see previous issue of EyeWear Intelligence). Meanwhile, it has appointed a new management for its UK subsidiary, Vision Express, in an attempt to give a boost to its sales in that country, which have stagnated or declined lately, in spite of relatively good margin. A major advertising campaign will be launched in the UK shortly to accompany that process.

Simon Innes, who has been running Vision Express in the UK and Canada with a good profitability record, is leaving the group after 4 years, and GrandVision has dispatched 3 of its seasoned executives from the Continent to the UK. Marcel Cézar, a 56-year-old former Buchmann executive who has been running the group's Vision Express business in Belgium, has been appointed as chairman of the Vision Express, responsible for all the group's activities in the UK and Ireland, including its joint ventures. Bernhard Neusser is moving over from GrandVision's Swiss company to act as chief operating officer. Alain Brugerolle, a Frenchmann who has run GrandVision's successful Générale d'Optique chain in France and reorganized the group's data processing and logistics as its chief technology officer. He has a new mission to improve processes in the UK and to coordinate them more closely to those that have been installed in France.

The UK and Ireland was the only region that didn't improve its sales during the first 9 months of this year, in contrast with the performance of at least one local competitor, Dollond & Aitchison, which has been particularly aggressive lately. In the 3rd quarter, sales at Vision Express stores in these two countries fell by 5.6 percent on a comparable basis, due to lower traffic in the outlets, and the depreciation of the pound sterling led to a 14 percent decline in euros to €48 million, excluding the sales of joint venture stores.

Aside from Solaris, whose sales declined by 6 percent on an absolute basis, the group's chains in all the other European countries showed same-store increases in the quarter. The best performance was obtained by Générale d'Optique in France with a 10 percent gain. Also GrandOptical in France was up 3.5 percent. Elsewhere in Western Europe, GrandVision enjoyed a comparable sales increase of 4 percent.

On the other hand, the group confirms that its overall operating margin will fall below the previously set target of 9.5 percent for the full year, but it will still be higher than the 8.3 percent margin achieved in 2002.