The increasingly international group from the island of Guernsey has just launched the first two Specsavers retail outlets in Melbourne, Australia, and is planning to roll out another 150 around the country on a franchised basis, like in the Nordic European countries, before the end of the calendar year. No joint ventures are planned like in the UK or the Netherlands. Doug Perkins, who founded Specsavers along with his wife Mary in 1984, is overseeing the operation himself.

The $30 million investment in the country will be the retail chain’s biggest operation this year outside the UK. It will finance the fitting of all the franchised stores, and will set up a new manufacturing site in the port of Melbourne. Last November the group entered the Australian market by buying up Visioncrest Optometrists and Vision Centre, two domestic optical retailers, with plans to convert the resulting 40 stores into Specsavers outlets.

Luxottica Group will be Specsaver’s main competition in Australia. With its OPSM, Laubman & Pank and Budget Eyewear stores, it has a 50 percent share of the market for ophthalmic frames in the country since it acquired the OPSM group in 2003. Luxottica has also a significant presence there in the sunglasses segment through Sunglass Hut. This has led to a situation where prices are kept artificially high, claims Perkins, who considers that the Australian optical market needs shaking up.

Back at home, the British retailer reportedly stirred up some consternation among its franchised joint venture retail partners some weeks ago when it indicated its intention to test the launch of online sales for ophthalmic frames in the UK. Today, company officials state that this project is not yet official but indicate that it is likely to go ahead.

The group is reportedly testing a new website on UK customers, but officials, when asked, said the site was under maintenance. When it is ready, the site is supposed to offer the convenience of shopping online from a selection of 2,000 models with a starting price of £25, combined with a visit to an affiliated optical store to try them on and for fitting.

Specsavers has already sold contact lenses over the internet for the past eight years. Its stores sold nearly nine million frames in 2007.

Seperately, Jasper Conrad, a British designer of women’s apparel and fragrances, has signed an exclusive license with Specsavers for a collection of 36 ophthalmic frames. The frames have been launched as part of the retail chain’s two-for-one offer, which gives customers the possibility to opt for a more adventurous product on top of the conventional one.