2008 was a rough year for Luxottica. I had just been promoted to Retail Supervisor at a LensCrafters and, to acclimate me into my new managerial role, I was tasked with reviewing videos and PowerPoints about the organization I was growing in. Early on in the first presentation was the only slide that I remember from any of it: a single picture, an artist’s rendering of the Titanic sinking.
The company, which owns multiple optical retailers and lines of eyeglass frames, had almost reached monopoly status but was still struggling with profits. Here is a corporation who nearly owned the market– LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears and Target Optical, Oakley, Ray-Ban– but sales were continually spiraling downward. Worldwide, Luxottica’s only real competition was itself but the economy of the decade had been rather tumultuous and consumers were still unsure if they were ready to spend two, four or even six hundred dollars on glasses yet.
To increase earning potential, the company had to get creative. LensCrafters developed and marketed a technology that could more accurately measure a patient’s face to a glasses frame, custom fitting glasses directly to where a person’s eyes sat in relation to the frame. With lesser success, they unveiled the use of camera and iPads to take pictures of customers in glasses so that they could send to friends or family members to get outside opinions on their glasses selection before making their purchase. Unfortunately for Luxottica, the high cost of implementing new technologies coupled with inflation made their products costlier than ever and discount chains, seeing an opportunity, expanded their efforts with new online optical shops where people could buy cheap glasses from the comfort of their own homes.
The international corporation had spent so much money and effort acquiring new brands that they let others dissolve. Luxottica let go of their Pearle Vision brand to focus more on their LensCrafters stores, further increasing their competition. By the time I had moved on from the company in 2015, the company had turned over more presidents and CEOs than I can remember and the internal political climate more closely resembled a witch trial than a multibillion-dollar business. To their credit, Luxottica has continued to expand their scope of services, eventually partnering with one of the largest lens producing entities– Essilor– after years of negotiating, lest the US government try the organization as a true monopoly.
With most of the retail optical market in their pocket, decreased profits do not appear to be hurting Luxottica too much. Patients will continue to spend hundreds of dollars for the convenience of one-hour turn around service and product placement will continue to drive people to purchasing that classic Wayfarer style. As long as policing organizations and Major League Baseball have deals with Oakley, the company will have a steady stream of income. There are countless cogs in the machine that keeps Luxottica afloat and it’ll take more than sites like Zenni.com to bring it down.