Krys, Vision Plus and Vision Originale, the 3 optical retail banners used by the retail members of La Guilde des Lunetiers and its holding company, Guildinvest, will be repositioned for a better response to the changing demands of French consumers and to help recruit new members. As previously reported, the group's members have more freedom now to open new stores under different banners in competition with other members on the same territory.

As part of its new medium-term development strategy, Guildinvest's new management, which is led by Antoine de Roffignac, is also boosting the consortium's training programs and establishing new ?human dynamics? intended to optimize the retailers' performance and to involve them more deeply into the activities of the group, making them more similar to those of an integrated chain.

Triggered in part by the growing concentration of the market, these reforms follow a comprehensive study of consumer attitudes which indicates, among other things, that the French people are not particularly attracted by all-out discounters like Tati in the eyewear sector. With the ageing population and its increasing disposable income, they are more interested in the technical features of the products and they welcome aesthetic counseling, but they also assume that 2-for-1 offers and other commercial propositions are available for them to choose from. Today's consumers want to be reassured, and optical retailers can do so through a measure of customization as well as with the store's environment and the strength of the banner and of the brands that they offer.

Guildinvest's star banner, Krys, is perceived as a guarantee of quality and technical expertise in vision correction, but also as a bit old-fashioned. While capitalizing on its technical and professional image, Krys will strive to become more commercial in terms of marketing and merchandising, offering more frames and more price points. There are now more than 740 Krys stores operating in France, and 30 more in Belgium, but Guildinvest feels that there is potential for more.

Guildinvest wants to double within the next few years the number of Vision Plus stores from the present level of about 175. They have an even higher image of medical and technical expertise that the group wants now to increase and communicate nationwide, attracting new independent opticians, especially among the current 1,000-plus members of Centrale des Opticiens, the buying group in which Guildinvest acquired a controlling interest one year ago. Following that takeover, La Guilde has become the biggest factor in the French optical retail market, with an estimated share of about 25 percent. The members of La Guilde and CDO have been pooling their purchases, obtaining big savings and discounts.

The Vision Originale banner, which is now carried by 54 stores in France, will remain an experimental laboratory for new merchandising and marketing ideas, but it will also be used to test out new processes. Vision Originale has been the star performer within the group lately, with a double-digit sales jump on a same-store basis in the first 7 months of 2003.

Krys and Vision Plus have also outperformed the market, rising by over 10 percent and by more than 6 percent, respectively. August has been positive, too, except for sunglasses. Guildinvest's new network of 163 hearing aid laboratories, Entendre, has scored even better, posting a 15 percent sales gain on a comparable basis through August. In absolute terms, its sales have increased by 20 percent.

As part of its new business plan, Guildinvest is adding new training modules for store management and other topics. It also has set up a new internal scoring system, starting next Oct. 1, that will allow the best performing members to obtain bonuses on their membership fees, while providing some useful feedback for the central organization. Performance criteria include the quality of the opticians' relations with customers, the implementation of the group's communication policies, training levels, the use of Guildinvest's data processing facilities and the proportion of purchases conducted through La Guilde. The scorecards will be prepared by a fleet of 15 advisors, up from 3 when de Roffignac came on board.