In various countries of the world, including Italy, owners of old automobiles that represent an environmental hazard have been awarded good discounts on a new model provided they scrap the old one. The logic is evident. But an Argentine optician who is now based in Italy has now come up with a proposal for scrapping unused glasses and unsold inventories that are taking up a lot of space in warehouses around the world. The volume of unsold eyewear is reputedly now higher than the eyewear industry's average annual sales.

Luis Vanella Ferrero Regis, general manager of an Italian buying group called Consorzio Optocoop that works on the cooperative principle under the Oxo brand name, recently put his proposal to the Italian eyewear industry. Vanella suggests splitting the cost of the operation between suppliers and opticians. A lot of unsold inventory consists of out-dated models that could be scrapped or donated to less developed countries through organizations such as the Rotary Club or Caritas. Such a measure could help re-start the flow of orders from Italy's opticians, given the dramatic fall posted for the first quarter of 2003 ? up to 30 percent down in the case of sun eyewear.

Optocoop is a consortium of 13 cooperatives set up in the 1970s in all the Italian regions, each of which has around 30 independent optician members. Vanella arrived in Italy in 2000 and he apparently saved the Optocoop group from extinction. From 340 members in 2000 the chain has grown to a total of 425 members employing some 1,700 people. Last year Optocoop generated total sales of €16.2 million and its members doubled the value of purchases made under the conventions negotiated by the consortium.

The consortium recently set up a limited liability company with a capital of €1 million, a sort of wholesale operation that buys directly from the major manufacturers and resells to its retail members on a non-profit basis. In due course it is to become a holding company, with the 13 cooperatives and the group's independent opticians as its members. Two stores will be opened to serve as training centers for staff, one in Milan and another in Rome.

Opticoop-Oxo has signed agreements with two financial institutions to help finance credit schemes for the final consumer as well as the retailers' investments in the renovation of their premises. A fidelity card system will soon be on offer for the consumer. The card will contain a microchip which will record the holder's relevant medical data and details of the eyewear purchased. It will also provide an accurate record of the performance of the group's sales outlets, providing data for each store's revenues and profitability.