Many of the 1,700 apprentices at Fielmann's training centers are grinding lenses these days in order to cope with an avalanche of customers' requests at the chain's 455 stores in Germany. For the first time in company's history, business has stayed 100 percent above year-ago levels throughout the month of November as German citizens rush to get their sight fixed ahead of next year's health reform, which will cut down drastically the government's remaining subsidies for eye care.

In reporting better than expected results for the 9 months ended Sept. 30, Germany's leading optical retailer predicts an increase of more than 45 percent in pre-tax profit for the full year as revenues will probably go up by about 15 percent to more than €900 million, including those of its franchisees and the wholesale business. Fielmann confirms that the German health reform will cause a sales decline in 2004, projected by analysts at between 10 and 15 percent, but it believes that it will continue to gain market share because the reform is certain to accelerate the reorganization of the optical retail sector, favoring strong players that can offer good quality and interesting prices.

Fielmann is concentrating for the moment on Germany, where it claims to have raised its market share to more than 50 percent lately. Further expansion abroad is likely to occur the future, but for the moment the company has not yet changed its previously announced medium-term targets in neighboring countries such as Austria, where it is now generating a profit, or Switzerland and Holland.

For the first 9 months of this year, Fielmann's unit sales of spectacles were up by 16.2 percent to 4.4 million units. Consolidated revenues increased by 12.8 percent to €550.9 million, and including VAT, external sales to other customers and franchisees' sales, they rose by 12.8 percent to €681.9 million. Pre-tax income jumped by 36.1 percent to €71,766,000 and net income grew by 18.9 percent to €44,671,000.

By country, sales were up by 13.3 percent in Germany to €449.5 million over the 9-month period. They grew by 6.4 percent in Switzerland, by 8.5 percent in the Netherlands, by 19.4 percent in Austria and by 23.1 percent in Eastern Europe. After Germany, Switzerland and Austria are still the biggest markets for Fielmann with revenues of €48.1 million and €20.9 million, respectively.

The figures announced for the first 9 months of 2003 indicate a major acceleration in the 3rd quarter. For the first 6 months of 2003 Fielmann had reported increases of only 12.9 percent in total unit sales, 12.9 percent in consolidated revenues and 22.9 percent in pre-tax profit. The number of stores has risen marginally to 511. Total investments over the first 9 months of this year reached €17.1 million, including €1.4 million for the expansion of its own production facilities, down from €26.0 million in the comparable 2002 period.