Guildinvest, the large French voluntary group that acquired the Lynx Optique banner last October, has slashed from 9 down to 6.1 percent the fees that franchisees must pay to carry it. That's about half of what Alain Afflelou charges to its own franchisees and 20 percent below the franchising fees demanded by Optique 2000, the big rival of Guildinvest, for its newly acquired Lissac banner. Special deals are being signed with three unnamed suppliers to maximize the retailers' margins. A young new marketing manager has launched several promotions including a special program for children in a dedicated area of the stores.

For Guildinvest, whose 800-odd retail members trade under three other banners including Krys, this special promotion is intended to persuade French optical retailers to adopt the Lynx format. The goal is to get 300 stores in good locations to trade under that banner in 5 years' time in France, opening 30 new stores this year, 35 in 2005 and 40 in each of the subsequent years.

Besides the 1,600 retailers affiliated with Guildinvest, half of whom simply buy merchandise through the group, the candidates include other independent opticians who may or may not belong to the competition. Guildinvest, which gets about 300 inquiries a month from prospective members, is adjusting Lynx's positioning to offer a real alternative to its three other banners including Vision Originale, which will be probably emphasize competitive pricing.

The Lynx retail network generated total sales of €77.8 million last year, with a 9.10 percent increase on a same-store basis, including €35.8 million for the franchised stores in France. In the 1st quarter of this year, the 129 stores belonging to the network, including the 17 foreign outlets franchised by Michel Pujerol, former owner of the chain, had a turnover of €20 million, 6.5 percent up on a comparable basis. The franchised stores' sales grew by 12.5 percent.