The recent wave of mergers and acquisitions in Northern Europe has led to some major changes in alliances among certain optical retail chains. Nordic Optical Partners, which grouped together three chains in Denmark, Norway and Finland, has been disbanded as two of them have switched ownership. A new group called Nordic Optical Alliance has been formed, linking the Finnish member with two new partners in the two other countries and a new one in Sweden.

Nordic Optical Partners previously had three members: the Finnish Tähti Optikko Oy chain, the Norwegian Interoptik, and Profiloptik in Denmark. It doesn't exist anymore as the Interoptik, which has 60 stores in Norway, has been bought by Pearle Europe, while the Danish 123-store chain has been acquired by Synsam, a Swedish banner with a total of 150 outlets in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Synsam now has a total of 273 stores in the three Scandinavian countries.

This left Tähti with no regional partners for its 127-strong network to link up with, but this August a new alliance was formed linking Tähti ? which probably instigated the operation ? with C.Optikk in Norway, Opto in Denmark and Optiserv in Sweden. The Norwegian chain has 110 outlets, the Danish one 109, and the Swedish one 153. The new group comprises a total of 500 outlets, creating a potential for stronger synergies in purchasing and other areas across four countries as compared to the original three-national group of 300 stores.

The members are currently discussing the details of their cooperation. The most sensitive areas under debate are purchasing and the launch of private labels. If these functions are pooled, it will make the association a form of buying group between chains, rather than between individual opticians. This is a reason why the Finnish chain, Tähti, placed no orders during the recent Italian eyewear workshop in Venice (see separate article further below), but took a close interest in the non-branded models on offer from the Italian manufacturers.

Finland has a total of 730 optical stores, 504 of which belong to five different chains. Instru Optika has 147 stores and turnover amounting to €79 million, giving it a market share of roughly 30 percent in the country. Tähti is the second-largest player in terms of the number of shops but ranks third in revenues with sales of €37 million, equivalent to 14 percent of the market. Silmäasemat has 109 stores and sales of €49 million, amounting to 19 percent of the market. Cazze Optiko has 88 stores and generates €24 million, which gives it 9.3 percent of the market, while Synsam has 33 outlets that generated €15 million in 2005. The remaining €54 million, representing 21 percent of the market, are divided between the country's 226 independent opticians, which generate an annual average of €239,000 per store. This is almost half the annual average of €537,000 clocked up by the outlets of Instru Optika, the leading chain.

Finland's optical market is relatively thriving. In the past five years, since the 2001 recession, the turnover of the country's optical business has grown at a steady annual rate of 5 percent, going up from €216 million in 2001 to €258 million in 2005. As the Finnish climate doesn't leave room for strong revenues from sunglasses, opticians tend to charge relatively high prices for prescription frames and their lenses. A normal pair of single-vision glasses retailed on average for €247 in 2004. The average price rose to €490 for glasses with progressive lenses, up from €463 in 2002. Overall, the average retail price for prescription eyewear in Finland rose from €315 a pair in 2002 to €329 in 2004.

Almost half the country's young people aged from 15 to 29 wear spectacles. The proportion increases to 55 percent among the 30-to-44-year-olds, 90 percent for the 45-59-year age group and nearly 100 percent between the ages of 60 and 74. In almost all these age groups roughly half the people change their glasses between once and three times a year, while roughly one-third purchase new glasses four or five times a year, but the statistics don't specify whether this includes sunglasses.