The group continues to enter new emerging markets. After making its first acquisitions in Brazil and Turkey, it is entering Bulgaria and Romania, the two high-growth countries that joined the European Union at the beginning of 2007. In both cases, Hal Holding is making investments in relatively small established chains that are believed to be the biggest players their markets, where all the other optical retailers have only 3-5 stores at the most.

In Bulgaria, Hal Holding’s main subsidiary in the optical retail sector, Pearle Europe, has taken over Matt Optik, which operates 12 stores across the country. Pearle Europe’s Polish organization, Vision Express, is taking care of the management of Matt Optik and of its further development in Bulgaria with immediate effect.

In Romania, where the optical retail market is said to have grown by 8 percent last year, Hal Investments has acquired a 33 percent stake in Sover Optica Shop, the Romanian optical retail chain owned by Italy’s Sover, with an option to increase its holding to 100 percent in five years’ time. The banner currently turns over around €2 million with 16 stores, which should double to 30 doors by 2009.

Before Hal’s acquisition, Sover Optica Shop was fully owned by Sover Romania, a retail and wholesale company. Sover Italia holds an 80 percent stake in this joint venture with a local partner, which specializes in the distribution of major Italian eyewear brands on the Romanian market at the wholesale level.

Sover has similar joint ventures for wholesale distribution in Moscow and Prague, but with 50 percent ownership. The Russian company has been granted exclusive distribution of Marchon’s top brands on the Russian market.

The Italian company recently opened a subsidiary in Paris for its own brands, and a similar German operation will follow shortly in Germany. Sover has reported a 25 percent increase in its sales to €28 million in 2007, and it has set a target of €35 million for 2008. Exports of sunglasses were up by 39 percent in 2007. Besides its eponymous brand, Sover has the licenses for Alviero Martini, Mariella Burani, Baldinini and Kiton. Out of a total staff of over 300 people, around 80 work in Soverzene in Italy, and the remainder in the group’s subsidiaries in Romania, Russia and the Czech Republic.