The growth in Specsavers' total revenues slowed down during the financial year ended last February. Global sales went up by 6.9 percent to about £1.8 billion (€2.1bn-$2.7bn), compared with increases of 10.3 percent in 2010/11 and 10.9 percent in 2011/12. On the other hand, the company says in its annual report that its partner stores saw 9.5 million more customers last year than in the previous one, an increase of 11.6 percent.

The company continued to make progress in terms of new store openings and sales in almost every country around the world where the banner has a presence, including the recessionary Spanish market. The only exceptions were Ireland, Finland and New Zealand. In Finland, the number of Specsavers stores declined to 57 from 92 at the end of the previous year as the banner decided to focus on the largest stores, where the number of customers has gone up. In New Zealand, the number of stores remained stable at 53 units, but sales continued to go up in that country, where Specsavers claims to have already reached a market share of more than 30 percent.

The tables in the next page show the development in terms of sales and store number in each of the ten countries where Specsavers has partnerships with local opticians. They indicate that part of the overall slowdown in the group's growth can be attributed to the fact that it is beginning to settle down in Australia and New Zealand, where the banner has achieved market leadership after only five months in business. In 2011/12, Specsavers had booked sales increases of 35.7 and 17.8 percent in Australia and New Zealand, respectively.

The figures don't include the chain's shops for hearing aids, which grew to 122 doors in the U.K., nine in Ireland and 35 in the Netherlands. This compares with 124 hearing aid centers worldwide in February 2012, but it doesn't include 540 optical stores in the U.K., 31 in Ireland and 97 in the Netherlands that sell hearing aids on the side. In the Netherlands, 19 new hearing aid centers were opened in December alone.

Across the world, the total number of optical and hearing aid stores operated by Specsavers grew last year to 1,662 from 1,648 as shutdowns were offset by 50 new store openings. They employed more than 30,000 people and sold about 13 million frames and 340 million contact lenses, up respectively from 12 million and 290 million units. They sold more than 78,000 hearing aids.

More than 130 stores were redesigned in the course of last year. One of the new stores in the U.K., located in the Lakeside shopping center in Thurrock, features a so-called ‘Eye Bar' where customers can visualize the full range of lenses available for sale on a workstation through a special computer program. The store personnel uses iPads to service them. Furthermore, Specsavers introduced an online ordering system for contact lenses in Australia and New Zealand, where it claims a market share of more than 20 percent in this product segment.

Evolution in Specsavers' Sales & Optical Stores

(Year Ended February 28)

 

Turnover in 2013 (million £)

Turnover in 2012 (million £)

Change (%)

Nb of optical stores 2013

Nb of optical stores 2012

Change (units)

UK

981.3

946.5

3.7

686

669

17

Ireland

58.4

61.5

-5.0

44

42

2

Netherlands

74.2

71.7

3.5

115

108

7

Sweden

85.5

80.8

5.8

114

112

2

Norway

70.5

66.8

5.5

74

73

1

Denmark

81.1

74.3

9.2

78

77

1

Spain

3.9

3

30.0

8

6

2

Finland

34.4

37

-7.0

57

92

-35

Australia

345.9

282.7

22.4

276

261

15

New Zealand

43.7

39.8

9.8

53

53

0

Total

1,779

1,664

6.9

1,505

1,493

12

Specsavers launched 463 new styles of frames last year. Besides its private label programs, it introduced Armani glasses across all markets and refreshed core designer ranges such as Gok Wan, Tommy Hilfiger, Karen Millen, Alex Perry and Spijkers & Spijkers. The prescription sunglass program was expanded. New brand introductions this year include the Boss Orange range in the U.K. and Asia-Pacific.

The volume of children's glasses sold rose by 9 percent last year on the back of successful sales of Specsavers' SuperTough range of Trivex lenses. The company has now introduced low-priced silicone hydrogel contact lenses, and they have become so popular that they have been representing more than 80 percent of its monthly sales of contact lenses.

To better connect with its partners, Specsavers started up a new intranet last year which is now operational in the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. The Nordic countries will be connected in the course of 2013. A ‘Connect Learning' facility for online training and individual benchmarking is set to be accessible worldwide by the end of this summer. This is on top of numerous other corporate introduction and educational seminars that are being progressively institutionalized in the various countries.

On the operational side, Specsavers has doubled the capacity of its lens coating facility in Kidderminister. In its first year of operation, the new warehouse in Hong Kong shipped around 2.5 million frames to the group's stores in Australia and New Zealand.

Specsavers earned awards of excellence in Denmark and the Netherlands. Last but not least, Specsavers raised a total of £1.2 million (€1.4m-$1.8m) across the world for charities and other good causes. Awareness of its brands was increased in the U.K. and Ireland by the donation of more than 30,000 high-visibility vests to primary schoolchildren to make sure that they are more clearly seen in the dark.

Based on the island of Guernsay in the English Channel, Specsavers has become in 30 years the world's largest private optical group. The company's chairman, Doug Perkins, opened the first store in Bristol in 1984 together with his wife Mary. Since then, they have been joined by more than 2,500 professionals around the world who own shares in Specsavers stores.