Luxottica is the ultimate player dominating the eyecare and eyewear industry, empowering people around the globe to see more, be more, and live life to the fullest.
As a vertically integrated company, Luxottica is involved in designing, manufacturing, distributing, and also retailing its eyewear brands.
It is home to popular brands such as Ray-Ban, Costa, Persol, Oliver Peoples, and Oakley, making it a one-stop solution for all consumers interested in anything-eyewear. The company also manufactures sunglasses and prescription frames for the most popular designer brands, including Armani, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Prada, Burberry, and Versace, among others.
Here are a few facts and figures from the year 2020 that demonstrate the size and stature of Luxottica:
- Revenue of €14.4 billion
- Net Profit of €149 million
- Operates in over 150 countries
- Has approximately 11,000 stores worldwide
- Over 11,000 patents and designs
- Home to over 100 major brands
- A workforce of over 140,000 employees
- Invested €229 million in Research and Innovation (R&D)
Since its establishment in 1961 in Agordo, north of Belluno, Veneto, Luxottica has undergone various transformations and evolved to become a multi-billion-dollar empire today.
Let’s dive into the company’s growth journey and uncover the secrets of its success…
Starting Small Before Making It Big
Luxottica is the brainchild of one visionary man - Leonardo Del Vecchio. To understand Luxottica’s journey, it is essential to understand the man who made it all possible in the first place.
Leonardo Del Vecchio was born in 1935 to a low-income family in Milan. From a very young age, Del Vecchio was faced with trials and tribulations in his personal life. When Del Vecchio was just 7, his widowed mother was forced to send him to an orphanage. As a single mother, she was struggling to support all five of her children.
By the time he was 14, Del Vecchio himself had to set out in search of work to support his family. He started by apprenticing with a tool and die maker in Milan. Del Vecchio learned crucial metalworking skills during the apprenticeship. Despite being young, Del Vecchio was an ambitious and hard-working man who was willing to put in the effort to achieve his dreams. While he continued to work during the day, he took design and engraving classes at the prestigious Brera Academy in the evening.
Leonardo Del Vecchio spent these years learning essential skills and gaining experience that proved critical for setting up his own business. He was eager to establish himself independently, and in 1961, he was finally able to turn that vision into a reality.
Over the years, Leonard Del Vecchio had developed a fascination with glasses and frames. He already had experience in metalworking from his apprenticeship and was now eager to utilize these skills to make spectacle parts.
Thus, he decided to establish a workshop in Agordo - a town within the Province of Belluno, Italy. The choice of location was well thought out, as Belluno was home to many of the biggest names in the eyeglass industry.
Agordo was historically well known for its skilled labor and was even offering free land and economic support to young entrepreneurs for establishing new businesses within the town. Thus, Agordo was the perfect place for 26-year-old Leonardo Del Vecchio to start his own eyewear company. In 1961, Luxottica s.a.s. was established as a limited partnership with Del Vecchio as a founding father.
Initially, the company only employed around ten people whose skills and expertise were well respected and appreciated by Luxottica’s client companies.
Enhancing The Company’s Capacity
Leonardo Del Vecchio has often been hailed as a visionary; someone who can look ahead and set sights on a greater goal. It was his foresight that guided the early expansion of the business. The company had only been producing molded plastic eyeglass components during its early years. However, Del Vecchio soon recognized the importance of vertical integration for enhancing the company’s growth.
The 1960s were a crucial time for Luxottica as it set about increasing its capacity to manufacture the entire range of eyeglass components. Del Vecchio successfully integrated metalworking, plastic milling, and other such processes into the company.
His hard work and foresight paid off as Luxottica launched its first complete set of eyeglass frames in the late 1960s. The new business was so successful that by 1971, Leonardo Del Vecchio decided to shut down the original contract manufacturing business.
Key Takeaway 1: Create A Game Plan And Work Towards It
The early expansion and success of the small, newly established company was all possible because its founder - Leonardo Del Vecchio - had a goal in mind. From the very beginning, Del Vecchio learned all the necessary skills and worked hard to gain experience in order to enter the eyewear industry. He spent years preparing before establishing his own venture. Doing so left him well equipped to make timely decisions and gradually work towards growing the business one step at a time. He had a vision, and all his choices and actions were geared towards turning it into a reality.
The Man With A Vision
At the start of the 1970s, Luxottica had successfully transitioned from selling just the components of eyeglasses to manufacturing and selling the entire frame. In the following years, the company focused on introducing and marketing its new product while continuing to enhance its production processes. The company's growth was guided by Leonardo Del Vecchio's strategy of vertical integration and continually improving the production process.
Luxottica Takes The Spotlight
After developing its own eyeglasses frame, Luxottica was eager to showcase its newest creation. Luxottica got the opportunity it was hoping for in the form of MIDO - the leading
international optical-industry trade fair in Milan.
The MIDO exhibition was the ideal platform for Luxottica's glasses to make their debut. It attracted the best names in the eyeglass industry, and as a new and emerging company, Luxottica aroused the participants' interest.
The magnificent manufacture and original design of Luxottica's glasses attracted a significant amount of attention. The enthusiasm generated by the new product was contagious.
Leonardo Del Vecchio and his colleagues were rewarded for their hard work as the demand for the new glasses rose drastically. The exhibition was a success, and the team returned to Agordo with numerous orders to fulfill. The success at the exhibition marked a significant milestone for Luxottica and boosted the budding business immensely.
Leonardo Del Vecchio's Foresight Proves Instrumental
Despite having achieved much already, Del Vecchio was not ready to settle. He was already thinking ahead about how to improve the company's production processes and thereby enhance the quality and cost of the product.
Del Vecchio had observed that instead of materials, it was retooling prompted by changes in fashion and trends that increased the cost of production. Thus, the 1970s were primarily dedicated to integrating technology into Luxottica's production process.
Once again, Del Vecchio's foresight came in handy as, in 1969, he had taken courses in advanced machine design. Thus, he began devising automated molding and milling equipment. Demonstrating incredible resourcefulness, he even adopted techniques from other industries, such as borrowing specialized electroplating procedures from local jewelers.
Moreover, Del Vecchio delegated considerable funds for research and development in plastics compounding, metallurgy, and basic chemistry to enhance product quality in the long run.
Computer Technology Gives Luxottica An Edge
Another of Del Vecchio's remarkable contributions to the business was the computerization of the production process. Del Vecchio had ensured that computer technology had been integrated into all aspects of the business by the end of the decade. The computerization was implemented throughout, from design to manufacturing to inventory control. The transformation was carried out successfully and gave the company a much-needed boost.
The introduction of computer technology translated into reduced costs for the company, which gave it a considerable edge over its competitors. It even enhanced the efficiency of small production runs. As a result of the integration, Luxottica was able to maintain its responsiveness to rapidly evolving fashion trends and consumption patterns in the eyewear industry.
Venturing Into Sales Activities
Despite not having a direct distribution on the market, Luxottica's business continued to grow at a remarkable pace. However, Leonardo Del Vecchio understood the significance of directly managing sales activities.
Doing so would provide more insightful knowledge concerning market conditions and trends. By maintaining a direct link with the market, Luxottica could not only improve its products but also strengthen customer relations.
Thus, Del Vecchio prioritized vertical integration of Luxottica's activities in order to address this aspect of the business as well. In 1974, these efforts eventually led to the company acquiring Scarrone S.p.A. - a well-established wholesale distributor.
Key Takeaway 2: There Is Always Room For Improvement
Luxottica was able to grow exponentially in only a decade because Del Vecchio was always on the lookout for potential improvements to the business processes. Instead of being content with the company's existing situation, Del Vecchio pursued strategic vertical integration to increase Luxottica's capacity as a business. He would identify the specific aspects of the company's activities that needed to be enhanced and implement changes to achieve the desired effect.
Del Vecchio's foresight and ability to identify avenues of improvement helped Luxottica evolve. It enhanced its efficiency and lent it a competitive edge in the market because of the improvements resulting from vertical integration.
The Business Branches Out
The next step for the company was to venture overseas into key international markets. Throughout the 1980s, Luxottica’s emphasis was on consolidating its international distribution network. At the same time, it was also introducing innovative new products into the market to keep up with changing customer preferences.
Tapping Into The U.S Market
Sales from the United States already made for more than 50% of Luxottica’s total revenue. However, there was still more to be gained by further expanding in the U.S. Thus, the company made its official debut in the U.S. by acquiring Avant-Garde Optics Inc. -one of the main distributors of eyewear at the time.
Consequently, Luxottica’s market share increased from 2% to 7% - a significant gain as it was enough to put Luxottica at the head of the highly fragmented eyewear industry. Under Claudio Del Vecchio, Leonardo Del Vecchio’s son, the company’s revenues from the American division increased from $28 million in 1982 to $143 million by 1990.
Establishing Its Presence
Luxottica had also kicked off its global expansion efforts by first venturing into Germany in 1981. Germany was a fitting choice in this regard as it hosted a huge market for the eyewear industry. In time, Luxottica bought 9 of its 12 international distributors over the decade. It also took significant equity positions in the rest with the intention of eventually acquiring them as well. In 1984 the company also launched subsidiaries in other parts of the world, such as England, France, and Canada.
Covering Its Home-base
Despite Luxottica’s rapid international growth and becoming a renowned name globally, the company was still lagging in the local market. Moreover, the company had only 5% of the market share in Europe. Consequently, Luxottica decided it was time to tackle the lack of brand awareness and penetration in the European market. To do so, the company began by applying its own acutely stringent standards to its new affiliates. It also won over opticians’ and retailers’ loyalty by offering computerized ordering, inventory services, and just-in-time delivery.
Innovating For Better Products
One of Luxottica’s main priorities was to increase its market share, add more variety to its products, and enhance product quality. This led to the company investing heavily in research and development, design, and technologies.
One outcome of this approach was Luxottica’s acquisition of a patent for a flexible hinge. This innovation did wonders to improve the functionality and durability of the frames as it allowed the temples to adapt to the dimensions of the face.
Keeping Up With The Trends
In 1988 the company brought about one of the industry’s biggest innovations; the integration of glasses into fashion, making them more than just a solution for weak eyesight.
Once again, it was Leonardo Del Vecchio and his remarkable eye for detail that helped him realize that glasses were rapidly evolving into a fashion statement that served to complete a particular “look.”
He was eager to capitalize on this new trend; Luxottica, therefore, signed a license agreement with Giorgio Armani to produce his eyewear line. This first deal started off a series of collaborations between Luxottica and leading international fashion houses.
Luxottica’s share of sales generated by the new “designer glasses” rose to 38%, significantly increasing its revenues. By the early 1990s, the company’s net income had exceeded L 60 billion, and designer eyewear had boosted its gross margins to an incredible 70%.
Key Takeaway 3: Be Vigilant For Opportunities
Luxottica’s growth in the 1980s was due primarily to identifying and capitalizing on opportunities. It kept a close eye on market conditions and customer preferences and thus was able to identify potential avenues of growth and anticipate new trends.
By following this approach, Luxottica successfully penetrated vital markets. The strategy also prompted heavy investments in R&D as Luxottica wanted to offer innovative designs to cater to the dynamic customer preferences. The launch of the designer glasses was the perfect example of how the company exploited the change in market trends to its advantage.
The Climb Continues
Luxottica entered the 1990s with a set of drastic changes. Over the decade, Luxottica transformed significantly, and the changes helped accelerate its growth further.
An Unprecedented Move
The decade started on a good note for the company as Luxottica was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in January 1990. Luxottica was the first Italian company ever to bypass Milan Stock Exchange and go public on the New York Stock Exchange.
The listing helped promote Luxottica’s image as an international corporation instead of just being Italian. This strategic move resulted in more exposure in the international market and provided access to further opportunities for growth.
Reaping The Benefits
The money raised from the issued shares also helped finance essential acquisitions. Luxottica was able to acquire brands such as Vogue eyewear in 1990, Persol and the United States Shoe Corporation (LensCrafters) in 1995, Ray-Ban in 1999, and Sunglass Hut, Inc. in 2001.
By 1994, the value of the shares had gone over four times its initial value. Leonardo Del Vecchio retained the $80 million proceeds of the IPO as he had contributed immensely towards the company’s growth. By the year 2000, Luxottica also got listed on Borsa Italiana Stock Exchange in Milan.
Developing An Incredible Portfolio
Another area of emphasis for Luxottica during the 1990s was developing a diverse and classy portfolio. This prompted a series of acquisitions that brought some of the most iconic brands under Luxottica’s name. The company started off by acquiring Vogue Eyewear in 1990 - a brand that was recognized for its contemporary styles and for following the latest trends.
In 1995, Luxottica bought into the historical Italian brand - Persol. The brand’s exclusive design, excellent craftsmanship, and elegant style made it unique. In 1999, the company also moved overseas into the U.S. and acquired Ray-Ban - America’s most prestigious eyewear company. Since the company debuted with its Aviator model, designed to protect the eyes of American pilots, it had become a symbol of cultural relevance.
Luxottica was cognizant of Ray-Ban’s untapped potential and thus invested in new collections under the brand, transforming it into an icon of stylistic expression. The company also continued to sign licensing agreements with various designers such as Bulgari, Ferragamo, and Ungaro. Consequently, Luxottica’s revenues went from EUR 419 million in 1994, nearing EUR 1.25 billion in 1996, and climbing to EUR 1.9 billion in 1999.
Eye On The Prize
Vertical Integration had been the cornerstone of Luxottica’s growth strategy, and the company sought only to accelerate its efforts during the 1990s further.
The $1.4 billion takeover of the United States Shoe Corporation in 1995 was the single most significant development brought about by this strategy. The move surprised many as the company was primarily known as a shoe manufacturer with retail apparel subsidiaries.
Luxottica, however, had its eye on the prize. The United States Shoe Corporation also happened to own LensCrafters, the largest optical chain in North America.
Into The World Of Retail
Luxottica capitalized on the United States Shoe Corporation’s chain of nearly 700 LensCrafters optical stores and the operation's $767 million in annual sales.
This resulted in LensCraft being the first-ever business to combine all three stages of getting prescribed glasses: vision professionals, eyeglass frames, and prescription lens. Luxottica was also the first-ever eyewear manufacturer to venture into optical retail directly. The LensCrafters stores allowed Luxottica to directly connect with its customers and build trust by swiftly responding to their needs.
The addition of LensCrafters more than doubled Luxottica's annual revenues from L 812.7 billion in 1994 to L 1.8 trillion in 1995.
Key Takeaway 4: Do Not Hesitate To Try Something New
Luxottica experienced numerous novel developments over the decade and ventured into new lines of business as part of its vertical integration strategy. Because of this, the company evolved into more than just an eyewear manufacturer. It was unafraid to try out things that no one else in the industry had even attempted, such as expanding into optics retail and being the first Italian company to get listed on the NYSE before the Milan Stock Exchange. By going against convention, Luxottica set up a unique identity that set it apart from others in the industry.
The Eyewear Leader Of The 21st Century
Luxottica entered the new millennium equipped with a range of growth strategies and a plan to further solidify its place as a global leader in the eyewear industry.
Throughout the 2000s, Luxottica reinforced some of its existing strategies, such as prioritizing retail expansion and signing license agreements. At the same time, it also initiated new projects prompted by the new millennium’s needs.
Building Up A Network
Luxottica continued to acquire some of the major optical chains across the world in order to build up its retail network. A few of the key acquisitions were in the following regions:
- Australia in 2003 (OPSM)
- North America in 2004 (Pearle Vision, Target Optical, and Sears Optical)
- China in 2005
Luxottica had become the primary high-end optical retailer in China with its LensCrafters brand. The expansion into China was made easier as Luxottica was already familiar with the Chinese market.
Luxottica’s joint production plant with a Japanese partner had already been operating in the Guangdong province since 1997.
Catching Onto The Trend
During this time, the popularity of sunglasses was rising, and Luxottica noticed the growth pattern in the sunglasses segment. Thus, Luxottica began preparations to anticipate the trend, keeping with its tradition.
Consequently, along with financing the brand portfolio, Luxottica decided to extend its retail offer and acquired Sunglass Hut. Sunglass Hut specialized in the sale of sunglasses in important markets such as North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
The decision proved to be immensely successful, and Luxottica reoriented Sunglass Hut as a global reference point for the most coveted sunglasses brands.
Taking It A Step Further
Luxottica knew that there was immense potential for enhancing the scope of Sunglass Hut. Therefore, in 2005, it extended Sunglass Hut into international markets with the highest growth potential.
Following were the target regions for the brand’s expansion:
- Middle East
- South Africa
- South-East Asia
The outlets were strategically placed near areas of transit and places that tended to attract large crowds, such as tourist destinations and large cosmopolitan cities. Exclusive spaces inside airports and shopping centers were also key locations.
Building The Brands
Besides expanding its retail operations, Luxottica was also signing license agreements with some of the most prestigious designer brands.
Following were the most prolific names added to the company’s brand portfolio during the 2000s:
- Prada in 2003
- Versace Group in 2003
- DKNY in 2004
- Dolce&Gabbana in 2006
- Burberry in 2006
- Ralph Lauren in 2007
- Tiffany in 2008
- Tory Burch in 2009
Along with the license agreements with the brands mentioned above, Luxottica was also investing in its own brands at the same time.
In 2007, Luxottica took control of Oakley Inc. - a sports equipment company based in California. Oakley was a major force in the sporting gear industry and was recognized for its ingenuity and classy designs. The incorporation of Oakley under Luxottica brought new opportunities for growth for the company as it was a distinguished name trusted by athletes all over the world.
More Than Just Business
Despite being a world leader in the eyewear industry, Luxottica was more than just a business. It was a company with a vision. 2008 marked the establishment of an independent, non-profit organization called OneSight - the successor to the Give the Gift of Sight program. OneSight’s initiative was to provide quality eye care and eyewear to those from a rough socio-economic and cultural background.
As part of its mission, OneSight continues to assist communities in need and offer eye specialists and glasses services by setting up temporary clinics.
Luxottica is more than just the founding global sponsor for OneSight; it also fulfills a more operational role by providing specialized skills and encouraging its employees to volunteer in the organization’s missions and activities.
Key Takeaway 5: Go The Extra Mile
Luxottica was able to achieve such remarkable success within the decade as it always made an extra effort to meet its goals. When Luxottica planned to strengthen its international presence, it took extra care to target specific locations that had the highest growth potential. This ensured that the company’s expansion efforts yielded maximum gains. By paying attention to detail and covering its bases as well as it could, Luxottica was able to make the most of its growth strategies.
Becoming The Luxottica Of Today
Until now, Luxottica’s strategies had taken it to great heights, but now the company was looking towards the future with a brand-new approach. As its history has proven, the company was never afraid of change, and thus it was ready to venture into new technologies and undergo drastic changes for the sake of growth.
Expanding The Web
Luxottica carried on the previous decade’s trend and continued to acquire several leading eyewear brands in the 2010s. In 2011, it acquired Erroca for €20 million and became the first foreign company to enter the Israeli accessories market. Erroca was Israel’s leading specialist in sunglasses, with 63 branches across the country.
The acquisition helped Luxottica establish a meaningful presence in Israel, which it had identified as a dynamic and fast-growing market. In 2017, Luxottica acquired Óticas Carol - one of the largest optical franchises in Brazil with approximately 950 locations. The addition of Óticas Carol marked Luxottica’s entry into optical retail within Brazil.
Luxottica’s Luxury Brands
In 2013, Luxottica bought Alain Mikli International for around €90 million. Alain Mikli International was a French luxury and contemporary eyewear company, and its acquisition consolidated Luxottica’s luxury brand portfolio. In February 2018, the company also acquired 67% shares in Fukui Megane Co. Ltd - a leading Japanese eyewear firm renowned for producing luxury eyewear frames crafted from gold and platinum.
Venturing Into The World Of E-Commerce
In 2014, Luxottica acquired the advanced digital environment of glasses.com. The acquisition enabled Luxottica to fashion an independent, digital platform.
The platform would offer the North American market a unique domain and transform their shopping experience. This was a significant development as North America was one of Luxottica’s crucial markets that it was committed to developing to its full potential. The acquisition also marked Luxottica’s commitment to investing in new technologies and online innovation.
Experimenting With Wearable Technologies
If there was one thing that Luxottica was unafraid of, it was experimenting with new approaches. Naturally, the company ventured into the tech world as well.
Even when wearable technology was still in the early phases of development, the company was eager to latch onto a novel opportunity. Therefore, in 2014, Luxottica partnered with Google to produce smart glasses. Luxottica was to design and distribute frames for Google Glass - Google’s internet-connected eyewear.
In 2016, Luxottica also partnered with Intel to produce Radar Pace - Oakley-branded smart eyewear. The innovative new product was aimed at cyclists and runners to help enhance their work-out experience and performance through a real-time coaching system.
Beginning A New Chapter
During the decade, Luxottica underwent a series of drastic changes to better orient itself for maximizing future growth. In September 2014, Luxottica introduced a new policy concerning the position of CEO. The new policy called for two CEOs to remain active at the same time, albeit with each focusing on a different aspect of the business.
While one CEO would oversee market development, the other would manage corporate functions. Following the policy change, Enrico Cavatorta assumed his position as the CEO in charge of corporate functions. He was also temporarily assigned as the CEO of market development until the position was bestowed upon someone else.
The Monumental Merger
In 2017, Luxottica agreed to a merger that would change the entire scope of the company and transform it into an eyewear giant. Essilor International SA was a French lens maker that had acquired a 62.4% stake in Luxottica through Delfin Sàrl - Luxottica’s majority stakeholder. Thus, Essilor became Luxottica’s parent company, and the corporation was renamed EssilorLuxottica.
The integrated holding company would function as a designer, manufacturer, and distributor of ophthalmic lenses, prescription frames, and sunglasses. Leonardo Del Vecchio, who had previously been Luxottica’s Executive Chairman, now became the executive chairman for the new company. The merger resulted in a combined market capitalization of approximately €57 billion.
Key Takeaway 6: Growth And Change Go Hand-In-Hand
Luxottica did not shy away from introducing drastic changes to the way it functioned and was thus able to achieve significant growth. The dual CEO policy and the merger with Essilor were fundamental changes to the company’s working model.
By implementing these changes, the company placed itself in a better position for growth. By dividing the responsibilities between two CEOs, the company ensured that due attention was given to each of the two major areas of business. Moreover, although the merger with Essilor was a complete game-changer, it also left the company in an overall better position by boosting its market capitalization.
Summary & Strategic Takeaways
Over six decades, Luxottica rose to the top of the eyewear industry, becoming the world’s largest eyewear company. The company evolved from just a manufacturer of spectacle parts to a global corporation running diverse operations. Luxottica has established an unrivaled global presence with its various brands that are highly sought after around the world.
Moreover, the company not only provides innovative new designs of the highest quality but also emphasizes eye care and has been involved in various initiatives such as OneSight. Luxottica’s growth journey seems even more remarkable when we consider how far the company has come over the years.
Growth By Numbers
- Devise A Strategy & Stick To It
Luxottica’s entire growth journey centers around a few key strategies that have served the company well and have been its guiding principle through the decades. The most significant of these strategies was vertical integration that allowed the company to evolve from just a manufacturer of spectacle parts into a global corporation involved in designing, manufacturing, and distributing eyewear.
- Innovation Is Key
The company adopted an innovative approach to its product designs which is why its eyewear retained its relevancy throughout the years in an industry where consumer preferences change rather quickly. Luxottica covered all its bases by offering glass that adapted to the dimensions of your face, as well as high-end designs that emphasized elegance and luxury.
- Explore New Avenues Of Growth
Luxottica also stayed on top of the industry because it pursued growth across all avenues. It signed deals with designer brands, incorporated new technologies into its products, and initiated acquisitions to increase its capacity. As a result, the company’s growth was not dependent on just one factor but was the combined result of a range of carefully formulated strategies.
- Anticipate Trends Timely
Luxottica’s status as an industry leader is mainly because of its ability to anticipate trends in the market. By identifying patterns of interest such as an increase in the demand for sunglasses and the evolution of glasses into a fashion accessory, Luxottica was prepared to address these developments. It struck deals with the most renowned fashion designers and launched its designer-branded glasses. It also invested heavily in the sunglass segment and acquired sunglass specialists to consolidate its position in the industry further.
- Strategic Acquisitions Accelerate Growth
Another critical element of Luxottica’s growth journey was the strategically planned acquisitions of vital brands and corporations. The acquisitions complemented the company’s vertical integration strategy as Luxottica acquired numerous optical retail chains, thereby forming a global network. Through acquisitions, Luxottica was able to establish an international presence and consolidate its various lines of business operations, such as the designer brands and the sunglasses segment.