Many of our subscribers probably feel that we have been writing too much about Luxottica and Safilo, and too little about Marchon Eyewear, the third-largest manufacturer of premium eyewear in the world. They are right, and this also applies to many other smaller firms. Of course, this is because, as public companies, Luxottica and Safilo have had to publish their results every quarter, plus the fact that they had to reveal a lot more to their shareholders lately.

This will not change much with Luxottica being now part of a larger publicly listed group, EssilorLuxottica, but we would like to share here with you some of the things that Marchon agreed to tell us recently, in response to our questions, through an interview with Thomas A. Burkhardt, who has been serving as senior vice president of global brands, marketing & design since the beginning of 2016. He previously worked at Procter & Gamble and then at Coty, where he was in charge of global marketing for Calvin Klein fragrances and cosmetics.

We could not get many figures on Marchon's turnover besides the fact that it sells about 20 million pairs of prescription frames and sunglasses per year. This is because it is a division of a special privately held vision care company, VSP Global, which is not required to publicly release earnings. As it operates as a taxable non-profit corporation, it reinvests all of its profits and therefore is not focused upon short-term gains as its biggest peers are.

Burkhardt would tell us only that Marchon Eyewear's revenue rose much faster than the market in 2018, experiencing its strongest growth since 2014, when, according to industry sources, its turnover was said to have been close to one billion dollars. About one-half of the total turnover is still generated in the domestic U.S. market, but the biggest growth was recorded in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Burkhardt attributed this performance to the fact that Marchon has been selling the right products at the right prices in the region, while working more closely with key accounts.

The company suffered slightly from the loss of the Michael Kors license to Luxottica in 2014, but this has been partly compensated for by the acquisition of new licenses such as Longchamp, which had a very successful launch in the autumn of 2017, partly because it was made with a good price positioning in relation to the perceived value of the brand, Burkhardt said. Strong performances have also been achieved lately with licensed brands like Calvin Klein, which has been completely repositioned, as well as Chloé, Salvatore Ferragamo, Lacoste and Nike. Marchon has also regained the DKNY brand, which it reintroduced last month. It will have a global launch for the Victoria Beckham eyewear collection in the autumn, followed next year by a new license for the Spyder brand within its Altair Eyewear division (see the related news brief in this issue).

On the other hand, Marchon has started to reap the fruits of a number of new strategic initiatives that have contributed to its growth lately, strengthening its position in the market and its chances of continuing its positive development in the medium and longer term.

Under Burkhardt, it has engaged in more trade marketing and merchandising than in the past, especially with key accounts. It has coordinated its previously dispersed social media activities on a global basis, with consistent content provided to all the regions simultaneously.

Marchon has been fine-tuning many aspects of its licensing, product development, marketing and sales operations in the past few years. Notably, its product ranges in the fashion, lifestyle and sports performance sectors are now more clearly segmented to appeal to various types of customers at various price points. For example, the Calvin Klein line is divided into multiple segmented tiers of frames and sunglasses.

In general, Marchon intends to capitalize more than in the past on the multiple resources of VSP, a group whose total revenues, which reached a level of $5.6 billion last year, are generated to a large extent from managed vision. More than 88 million people, predominantly in the U.S, are insured by VSP to cover their vision costs, and the company has been extending its programs in recent years to other countries such as France, the U.K., Australia, Hong Kong and China.

Marchon has started to use the big data coming from the claims made by VSP's insurance customers in the U.S. to help determine which types of prescription frames sell best to help optimize its product development operations and the prices that can be charged, as it has done recently with its Lacoste collection, for example. A subsidiary of Marchon, Altair, is using the data to help some 10,000 independent optical retailers in the U.S. to choose the right products and to advise them on merchandising.

As a vertically integrated group with a large portfolio of retail chains in the U.S., Luxottica has similar capabilities, and its combination with Essilor will extend them to the development and marketing of lenses. Marchon is much more focused on the wholesale segment. On the other hand, VSP has its own, highly sophisticated lens production laboratory, which is already the second-largest in the U.S.

Furthermore, VSP is developing its own retail operations, called Eyeconic, and intends to invest more in this sector in the future, both in and around the growing online space as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. VSP recently announced that it was opening the first three physical Eyeconic stores in the U.S. this year, all in Chicago. These new stores are in addition to a number of Eyeconic stores that the company has been operating in China since 2015.

VSP also owns and operates Eyeconic.com, which stands out as one of the top ten multi-brand internet retailers for eyewear in the U.S., and it is fully integrated with its eye care insurance activities, although it is also open to non-members. For its part, Marchon operates a dedicated mono-brand web store for one of its licensed brands, Dragon Alliance, which was relaunched last September at dragonalliance.com.