Following years of experience with Andersen Consulting, Benetton Group, Nordica and other international companies in various financial and executive positions, Giovanni Zoppas joined Marcolin Group in January 2012 when he was appointed CEO and general manager. In October 2017, he was nominated CEO of Thélios, the joint venture between LVMH and Marcolin Group, announced in January of the same year. VCPN’s John Sailer spoke with Zoppas during the recent Vision Expo East about Thélios, Marcolin, the eyewear industry and business in general.
1. Why did you switch to become CEO of Thélios? Because when you are 60, it is really interesting becoming a startup.
2. You worked at Andersen Consulting and Benetton. How did those experiences influence your current position? I had the chance to understand the best of what you have to do and what you have not to do to be a good manager.
3. Can you describe the background of Thélios? The background of the company and the reason for the joint venture being set up is very simple. Everything relies on three pillars: Product, manufacturing and distribution, everything under the light of quality. This is also what links Marcolin with LVMH. So we want to be sure that the product design, the product we manufacture, and the product we distribute are at the top. This is our ambition in terms of quality.
4. Why did you feel there was a need for a new eyewear company? There was a need not for an eyewear company but for an eyewear company basing everything on the idea of quality. For example, everybody is talking about being selective in distribution.
Being selective means that you have clear standards. If you are my client and you have been selected you know that there are no tricks just for easy sales. There was a need for this kind of approach in the market.
5. What marketing goals are in store for this new company? We want the best locations, consistent visibility, and we want to grant our clients, both the optician and the final customer, good service. We are believers, not daydreamers, so we know we are not going to get all these results at once, but this is our target.
6. What unique challenges does a startup like Thélios have compared to taking over an existing company? The challenge is in the mission itself, being consistent. What differentiates Thélios is we are looking mid long-term. This is something you can do when you rely upon your own brands, but it is also sustained by a strong and consistent approach to the market.
7. Thélios is based in Italy? Yes, in Longarone but with a very important branch in Paris. Because one of the pillars is product, and product development goes hand in hand with the different brands. To do that, we decided to establish one of our locations in Paris where most brands are based.
8. What plans do you have for the U.S. market? The U.S. market is one of the key markets, not only for eyewear but for Thélios. The department stores are a typical example of what quality means for a market like the U.S., but then you have a lot of quality independent stores, and these are all the stores we are looking at.
9. That’s good news because independents still have 50% of the market, correct? Exactly, 50/50 is impressive, and that is good for us.
10. What are the overall strategic plans for Thélios? The idea is to invest with a mid long-term view, including product development because you start from there but cannot do anything without it.
Manufacturing: we need to control supply but equally manufacturing because otherwise you run the risk of having good ideas but can’t put them into reality. This is a mistake we want to avoid.
Then distribution. We have a worldwide network of brand ambassadors who look after their own brands specifically, servicing clients on one side, but also helping the client, the optician, do things properly, such as visibility. It’s important for us to have the proper visibility and space in a single door.
11. What’s your favorite aspect of the eyewear business? It is so complex and complicated that every day you discover something and do something you would have never thought to do the day before. A new challenge every day makes me feel alive.
When an industry is consolidating, you need two things. One is understanding what is going on, and the second is using the best of your ability to invent things, thinking out of the box. You cannot do things as they have always been done up to the moment.
12. What do you think are the biggest challenges in the eyewear business today? Consolidation, but it’s a challenge on one side and an opportunity on the other. There are too many players in the industry, and because of that, too many brands. If you want to succeed in this industry, you need to understand exactly who’s going to be the winner. To do that is an exercise that needs understanding, vision, strategy, organization, all these things together.
Think of the people in this business. There are some digital born people who give opportunities to those who are hiring them. This is common sense. Young people are the future. If you want them to give you an opportunity, you have to let them work. You have to give them the framework to work within, but they have to move the way they want within it.
13. What advice would you give eyecare professionals about choosing frames? I’ve always found people with a lot of skills, a lot of capabilities and the same challenges we have. The best advice is working together.
14. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. market and where it’s headed? There are many strengths, such as a large number of quality doors. In terms of weaknesses, one area I suggest we look after in a more dedicated and careful way is visual merchandising because the retail experience is something that is going to become of the essence for all the customers. Why? Because today nobody is entering a store without having a clue of what they will find because they Google, and they go having an idea of what they would like to find. That is the risk today, that your customer knows more about you than you know about yourself. Visual merchandising is something that can help.
15. What would you say is the greatest need in the U.S. eyewear market? Not just the U.S. eyewear market but worldwide the need is understanding how to manage the new tools that are in the market. And, for sure, internet is the most important one.
16. What’s next for the eyewear business? In the next two years consolidation will become more and more important.
17. What’s next for Giovanni Zoppas? What’s next? I don’t know. I’m going to do something for sure. I never stop. But now, I’m very much involved in the Thélios experience, and let’s say that my goal is making this joint venture become something real and successful and profitable. That is the target, so I’ve got some years to work on this in the future.
18. How long has it been? With Thélios? One year. During one year, we have set up a new factory. We have started with Celine while Loewe will be launched in June 2018. So we have done many things in one year. The joint venture is aimed to design, produce and distribute sunglasses and optical frames worldwide for some brands that are part of the LVMH portfolio.
19. Is it a dedicated, new factory? Yes, it is a brand new factory in Longarone. It’s really state-of-the-art. All the prototyping is a mix of craftsmanship and 3D-printing machines.
20. How long have you been in the optical business? Six years. The matter is the commitment you have. If the commitment is a very high level then six years to me look like 25 years.