Guildinvest, one of the two major buying groups in France, has signed a deal in principle to acquire Lynx Optique, a large chain of 119 corporate and franchised stores with a 2002 turnover of €73 million. Including CDO, a pure banner-free buying group acquired one year ago to which some 1,030 optical stores are affiliated, Guildinvest's buying power thus increases from 23 to 25 percent of the French market. The other major French buying group, Optic 2000, already does it purchasing together with an integrated chain, GrandVision, but it had recently indicated that it was working an a takeover, too.

Coming on the heels of Alain Afflelou's recent acquisition of Optique Carrefour, the takeover of Lynx reinforces the concentration of the French optical retail market. Michel Pigerol, who founded Lynx in 1968 and is going to become 61 years old in a few days' time, talked to Affelou and other potential buyers for his business, which became profitable again a few years ago after some difficult years, but the other candidates wanted only the banner or certain stores. Guildinvest is taking over the banner and all its assets and its liabilities, which are relatively higher at about €200 million. The price remains a secret, but Pigerol will be paid in cash and shares, becoming the largest single minority shareholder of Guildinvest, with a seat on its board of directors.

Guildinvest plans to develop the Lynx banner further in France and abroad. It will keep its 48 corporate stores, of which 28 are located in France, often in excellent sites, 8 in Poland and the others in Morocco and the French Caribbean islands. The other stores are all Lynx franchises and their sales grew by 12 percent last year to €36 million, with a further increase of 17 percent so far this year. Guildinvest would like to raise the number of Lynx franchises to 400 units in France alone, partly by leading the retailers who now operate 54 stores under its own Vision Originale banner to migrate to the Lynx banner. As reported in the last issue, Guildinvest is repositioning its two other banners, Krys and Vision Plus, which are currently used in 767 and 172 stores, respectively, but the size of these stores is generally smaller than that of the typical Lynx outlet, which measures about 150 square meters. These two banners and Vision Originale generated sales of €525 million last year.

The back-office operations of Lynx and Guildinvest will be merged in due time, leading to better margins. With Pigerol's help, Guildinvest also plans to play a stronger role outside in France, particularly in Poland where it may bid for the 9 Optique Carrefour stores that are now up for sale.