Following to a small extent the vertical integration policies of Luxottica or De Rigo, this fast-growing British supplier of ophthalmic frames has bought 20 of the 300 US stores previously run by the bankrupt Vista Optical chain in Arizona, Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska. Inspecs is renaming these outlets as Specs in the City and restyling them in original ways, with a touch of British humor, adding for each location some decorative elements that will reflect certain peculiar regional characteristics

The investment is expected to boost Inspecs' existing wholesale business in the USA, generating sales of $16 million in 2004 as compared to $12 million this year. Working through Bob Winn, formerly with Gone Vision, Inspecs has been acting for the past two years mainly as an OEM supplier of frames for some big US chains, including Vista, adding lately its own successful licensed fcuk collection, which stands for French Connection UK. Thanks in part to strong advertising, the fcuk collection has been performing very well since one year ago in many Specsavers stores in the UK, which have been selling so far almost exclusively their own private label styles, adding the Storm line a few months later.

Inspecs belongs to a holding company that already has some experience in retailing as operator of some clothing stores, including some Esprit franchises, in Russia and Ukraine. Inspecs is now considering setting up some optical stores in these territories as well and in others in the USA or elsewhere in which it is not represented. The UK is not in the cards.

Meanwhile, Inspecs has launched a new line of frames and sunglasses under Caterpillar's famous CAT brand, which will become available in the stores in January. The global licensing contract was signed a few months ago. Earlier this year, Inspecs took over from Cambridge Optical the license for Speedo frames, adding sunglasses. Inspecs has also developed a dedicated collection of sunglasses and optical frames for a British clothing retailer, Austin Reed, in connection with the start-up of its revamped flagship store on London's Regent Street this Fall.

Inspecs is boosting its product development, sourcing and sales activities in Hong Kong by sending over an experienced company executive, Steve Tulba. It has apparently won a strong recognition in the UK and other markets for a combination of good product, value and service. Its wholesale revenues are expected to grow to £32 million (e46m-$55m) in 2004 from £20 million in 2002 and about £26 million in 2003.