Direkt Optik is a profitable Swedish chain of optical retail stores, established by the British Crown Eyeglass group back in 1992, but it has a market share of less than 4 percent with its 13 corporate stores and 22 franchises. It was also facing a problem of succession as some of its managers were retiring and its British parent company is going out of business.

Joseph Lee, who founded Crown Eyeglass in Blackburn in 1984, announced last week that he was putting up for sale its 18 remaining stores in the U.K. as well as its laboratory, which still employs 70 people. Half a dozen stores have been closed down over the last couple of years. The company is still profitable, Lee says, but he is 81 years old now, and his son Martin, who acts as finance director, has other interests.

The Hans Anders Retail Group has shown no interest in Crown Eyeglass, but it has seized the opportunity to take over the Swedish chain. From the Netherlands, where it has a total of about 250 stores, Hans Anders has already expanded successfully into Belgium and France, where it had 95 and 46 stores, respectively. They are all trading under the Hans Anders banner, but the Swedish stores will remain under the Direkt Optik name.

An executive of the Dutch company indicates that it is on the lookout for other relatively small chains all over Europe that it can take over and build up rapidly. It is not interested in well-established market leaders. As with Direkt Optik, Hans Anders may well decide to keep their names in place if they are already well-known at the national level.

Under Hans Anders' ownership, Direkt Optik is planning to open around six new stores in Sweden each year and to attract new franchisees there in order to build up a national network of between 80 and 100 doors in due time. Hans Anders has not yet decided what to do in Spain, where a franchisee operates a Direkt Optik store in Alicante that belongs to the Swedish network, although some Spanish retailers have shown interest in joining.

The priority now is to develop the Swedish business. Hans Anders has assigned one of its former regional managers in the Netherlands, Richard Baris, as a dedicated sales director for Sweden. One of his tasks will be to help develop synergies between Direkt Optik and its new Dutch parent company. He will also be working with the current business development manager in Sweden for the acquisition of new stores

Direkt Optik will pretty much keep its current shopfit, its product range and its special offers, including a three-for-one scheme, but Hans Anders will try to improve the professional level of the organization. It will transfer all back-office operations to the Netherlands, including the glazing and edging of the lenses, which have been carried out so far at Crown Eyeglass' own laboratory in Blackburn.

 Hans Anders will also discuss collaboration with Direkt Optik in the area of purchasing, starting with their respective ranges of private-label items.

The offer of good-quality private-label products at interesting prices remains one of the strengths of Hans Anders in the countries where it is trading. However, company officials say that it's having a “huge success” with a first selection of branded prescription frames and sunglasses introduced at its stores in the Netherlands, Belgium and France last year. They helped the group to book a slight sales increase in spite of near-stability in the total number of stores and the difficult market situation in Hans Anders' domestic market.

The group started with a few well-known brands such as Chevignon, DKNY, Kenzo, Nina Ricci, Pierre Cardin and Tommy Hilfiger, bought directly from three suppliers: Luxottica, Safilo and TWC-L'Amy. It is now testing the market's acceptance of some other brands at some of its stores before expanding the program further.