Some segments in optical are seeing growth amid a flat market, according to the quarterly VisionWatch market research reports for the third quarter of 2017.

Among eyecare professionals and optical retail operations, it is of interest to note, “The independent side of the optical industry is by far the largest component of the U.S. vision care industry, generating $18.44 billion in revenue over the past year. When compared to dollar revenues from a year ago, the independent side of the industry was up by 0.7%. While eyeglass sales—both lenses and frames—make up the bulk of revenue for independent optical outlets, examinations are a close third with over $4.24 billion in revenue.”

This is a remarkable development in an era when the influence of private equity investment is resulting in roll-ups of local one- and two-location operations along with multi-location regional optical retail chains. Based on a review of these statistics, it seems independent ECPs are not just maintaining their market share, but they are actually showing some growth. Simply put, the little guys are holding their own among challenging competition from big money.

All of this is occurring in a realm in which the big are getting bigger. According to the latest news from Luxottica and Essilor, two of the world’s optical giants, their merger is moving toward completion to create a newer, even larger conglomerate. It was approved in Canada (see page 14) after already having been cleared in ten other jurisdictions—Australia, Colombia, India, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan.

This occurred on the same day that we announced on social media that Luxexcel, a small company from Belgium that is introducing 3D lens printing technology to the world, is in the process of installing its second 3D lens printer in the U.S.

All of this demonstrates that while in some ways the optical business is controlled by the major corporations, it is also full of startups such as Luxexcel, Warby Parker, SmartVision, and others. And just like the Facebooks and Twitters among them, some go on to become giants themselves, quickly upending the balance of business while rewriting the future of how we provide eyecare and manufacture and distribute eyewear.

In a world where the world’s largest frame company can join with the world’s largest lens company while at the same time an online retailer can go from its nascent beginnings in a business graduate’s apartment to become an omni-channel distributor combining brick and click, with a billion dollar valuation, only a few short years since its launch, it seems we are operating in a world of the disruptive startups vs. the well-established behemoths. As we all learned in Economics 101, competition, it’s good for business.

From our position reporting on all this activity, we’re also going through our own transition under the management and direction of new ownership. So, as we all move into the new year, we look forward to covering the new vs. the old, the small vs. the large, the disruptive vs. the established, all of which have their place in the competitive landscape.


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