November 14, 2019

The global eyewear market is set to radically change, in the coming years, and most of the hubbub is expected to originate in Europe. Amidst high-tech competition coming from the West and the rising Asian threat, Europe plans to impose itself as a reference and produce glasses for the eyes of the world. Right in the middle of this hungry European pack, French firm Optic 2000 is ready to launch.

The domesticated market

It took less than 40 years for Optic 2000 to become a leader in the French optics market, and start spilling over borders. It was no walk in the park, either, as the optics specialist heavily contributed to the image of eyewear. In the 1960s, glasses could still represent some form of social stigma (especially within younger segments of the population) and it took years of marketing for Optic 2000 to turn glasses into “an elegant accessory”. The development strategy was further complicated by the cost of tech-hungry optics as well as by the arrival of alternate solutions, such as contact lenses and surgical operations. However, Optic 2000 succeeded in safely navigating these rough waters by injecting constant investments into its research on new material, regular style rejuvenation, powerful marketing campaigns and close interaction with public offices – which eventually included eyewear within the category of medical expenses which could be reimbursed for the public. CEO Yves Guénin states: “Our success came from a hybrid strategy: pushing upwards for constant innovation, and pushing downwards to make sure that anybody on the market who needed medical eyewear could afford it. It was a long-term strategy, which eventually paid off”. But the market isn’t done changing yet.

Technologically abreast with North America…

Technology is moving fast in the field of optics. Eyewear has already benefited research programs which led to the creation of scratch-resistant glass, solid-but-light materials for frames, UV-filtering, etc. Optic 2000 has been one of the main contributors to these technological developments and sees many more market segments to cover, in due time. On the global market, only North America can compete with Europe in terms of technology and quality management. Market analyst Melvin Beal forecasts that, over the next half-decade, “The worldwide Eyewear market is anticipated to encounter a critical development over the figure time frame. The Eyewear industry is anticipated to be impacted by increasing allocations on innovations and research.” In fact, the eyewear industry which had been relatively quiet for decades, has been considerably disrupted by the digital revolution: glasses now integrate batteries, connectivity, optical lenses, sensors, etc. Only the American and Europe firms which already had a firm command of the eyewear industry were able to address this market shift properly. Today, market positions between Optic 2000 and its northern American counterparts are similar, in terms of products and capacities. But a threat is rising in the East.

…but facing Asia

Long gone are the days when Chinese industries were confined within the lowest segments on manufacturing. The optics manufacturing capacities have exploded in recent years, bringing quality slowly but surely upwards. Beneath the trend, lie the steady rising demographics of the Asia-Pacific and Indian subcontinent, and the overall economic growth of both those areas. Market analyst Priyanka Bisht writes: “In 2014, China occupied the largest market share, among all countries in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by India. Most of the eyewear segments in India would observe a vibrant growth, during the estimation period. Rising disposable income, growing number of fashion conscious consumers and prevalence of international eyewear brands in countries like China, Japan and India, would promote the growth of the eyewear market in the Asia-Pacific region.” The current commercial aggressive stance of India and China, coupled with maintained globalization, makes the following prognosis likely for Optic 2000: within a few years, the global market will considerably grow and be dominated by North America, Europe and China. North America will be the main technological threat, whereas China will attack from the lower end of the market. Optic 2000 is getting ready for both fights.

Pole position for international expansion

Due to its embedding on the French national market, Optic 2000 has already made medical eyewear available to the general population, and is therefore in an excellent position to operate within future similar markets. Its research and development will also enable the French firm to confront American competition head-on, on the global market. Design manager Benedicta Citro explains: “Market sources estimate that the global market, which includes frames, contact lenses and sunglasses, is worth $ 90 billion, and will reach $ 140 billion by 2020. In 2012, Exane BNP Paribas estimated that frames and sunglasses represented 40 % of the eyewear market. Within that segment it estimates that premium frames and sunglasses, the sort produced by fashion labels, represent 35 %. Applying those estimates to today’s market the value of the premium fashion segment is estimated at just below $ 13 billion.” The smart glasses which Optic 2000 presented in the CES 2019 exhibition acted as the signal for the firm’s international launch: it will simultaneously reduce costs to make eyewear available for masses, but is also able to compete technologically with American firms.

14 billion eyes are currently looking at the world, and many of them are still unassisted by glasses, despite a medical need. The French firm’s strategy is to cover all segments: high-tech connected glasses for developed markets, and affordable eyewear for the millions of people on the global market. On both sides of the strategy, there is a market vacuum, which Optic 2000 intends to fill. But in order to face off tech-savvy America and mass-producing Asia, the French firm will need a strategy as solid and relevant as the last one.

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Christopher Parker