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Acuitis, the French banner of optical and hearing aids’ shops, kept opening new franchised stores at a steady pace last year in spite of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Adding 14 new retail locations, the Acuitis door count reached a total of 103 stores in eight countries at the end of 2020. France represents the large majority of Acuitis stores with around 80 doors, but the group is also present in Belgium (1 shop), Switzerland (9), Luxembourg (8), Italy (1), the U.K. (2), Canada (2) and Spain (1) where it entered last December through a joint venture with a local business man. The group is planning to open 20 new stores this year, including 5 in France while international focus will be on Spain and the U.K.

According to Marcel Cezar, franchising director, the sanitary crisis however slowed down the company’s growth plans as administrative procedures became longer and banks more reluctant to finance new openings. Consequently, the duration of a franchising project from start to finish, which took about nine months in normal conditions, went up to twelve months.

Nonetheless, the increase in retail locations allowed the company to raise its total annual revenues by 7.4 percent year-on-year to €65 million in 2020 for the Acuitis banner. In France, sales of hearing aids came to represent roughly 25 percent of the chain’s revenues. Overall, share of sales generated online accounted for less than 1 percent of revenues last year. In 2018, the group had acquired the Direct Optic business with the idea of leveraging its e-commerce expertise in Acuitis, however, this has not been implemented yet.

In contrast with the Acuitis chain, the group actually reduced its retail footprint for the Direct Optic banner in 2020, ending the year with 50 shops, all in France, or five less than a year before. The tally includes the stores that were formerly trading under the Hans Anders banner in France, also acquired by the group in 2018. Initially a pure internet player, Direct Optic progressively transitioned to an omni-canal business model and a drive-to-store approach, with pure online revenues currently accounting for about 10 percent of the brand’s business.

Direct Optic’s revenues went down from €15.9 million in 2019 to €14.1 million last year, a 11 percent year-on-year drop in line with the decline of the French market. However, on a comparable-store basis, revenues decreased by only 2.4 percent in spite of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Aggregating the results of Acuitis and Direct Optic, the group’s revenues in the optical and hearing aids retail business reached a total of €85 million in 2020, stable from 2019.

The group entered last year the contact lenses’ segment with the acquisition of Lentilles Moins Chères (LMC), a French pure online player, just a few weeks before the pandemic outbreak and the first lockdown in the country. According to Cezar, it has been a rollercoaster year for LMC with sales skyrocketing in the spring before going down progressively, probably because of an overall reduced wearing frequency, and then stabilizing at almost normal levels.

The company estimates that the share of contact lenses purchased online increased to about 15 percent in France last year, with LMC representing about half of this total. LMC’s revenues increased by 11.5 percent year-on-year to about €30 million in 2020, representing an eight percent share of the total French market for contact lenses, which went down by 13 percent according to GFK figures.

Photo: Acuitis