Pearle Vision is focused on growing its franchise locations
with an upgraded operating model that adds to the brand appeal.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Dr. Stanley Pearle founded Pearle Vision in 1961 to “take care of the people, and take care of the patient.” More than 50 years later, the company still prides itself on being an eye care destination that patients can trust to protect and improve their vision.
“You have the retail brands that play much more in the value segment and they’re screaming promotion. That’s clearly not who we want to be,” General Manager Alex Wilkes says. “We are a brand that deeply cares about taking care of your vision. We stand for exceptional quality of care.”
Pearle’s vision when he started the company in a small office in Savannah, Ga., was to provide the convenient, expert guidance of an eye care professional in the customers’ “backyard” along with on-site prescription eyeglass fulfillment and a large selection of designer frames. Today, the company provides eye exams through independent doctors of optometry, who are located in the store or adjacent to one.
The company offers designer frames and a variety of eyeglass lenses, along with contact lenses. Pearle Vision is a division of Luxottica Group, a leader in premium fashion, luxury and sports eyewear. Luxottica has about 7,000 optical and sunglass retail stores in North America, Asia/Pacific, China, South Africa, Latin America and Europe. The group’s products are designed and manufactured in six Italy-based manufacturing plants, two wholly owned plants in China and a sports sunglass production facility in the United States.
Iconic and Innovative
“Most people know Pearle Vision and that it was founded by Dr. Stanley Pearle, an optometrist and icon in the category,” Vice President of Licensing and Development Greg Hare says. “Our classic tagline, ‘Nobody cares for eyes more than Pearle’ is well-known. We have strong brand awareness.”
An innovative company from the start, Pearle Vision began franchising in the 1980s. The company grew through both franchise- and corporate-owned locations over the next couple of decades and maintained a 50/50 footprint. “Over time, we moved much more towards franchising and our 500 locations throughout the United States and Canada are now 80 percent franchise and 20 percent corporate.”
Franchisees are attracted to Pearle Vision not only because of its brand awareness, but also because it is a great affiliation model for independent optometrists to join. “It’s a fragmented category and a lot of it is run by individual shop owners and mom-and-pop opticians,” Hare explains. “It’s a category that’s ripe for consolidation and many private equity firms are digging into the category.”
An additional benefit to franchisees is the sustainable demand in the eye care category. “We have a unique value proposition given the aging population and Pearle Vision is at the forefront in terms of patient care and appeal,” Hare adds.
Pearle Vision three years ago evaluated its franchise program and decided it needed to make changes to grow more easily. “For example, about four years ago we had 32 different POS systems running through the group,” Hare says. “We didn’t have consistency in reporting and it makes it difficult as the franchisor to lead system growth, so we attacked that head-on and chose one POS system to move forward with.”
Today, a majority of the company’s legacy locations have converted to the single POS system. This conversion also became a catalyst for a new operations model, eyecon, which includes a turnkey supply chain.
On the retail side, all spectacles, frames and contact lenses are sourced centrally to provide additional savings to franchisees and higher margins. “It’s really what franchisees and entrepreneurs expect: a consistent operating model, help with the supply chain and making the back-end more efficient,” Hare notes.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time to join Pearle Vision,” Wilkes adds. “We are the only optical franchisor with a comprehensive supply chain solution, allowing our licensed owners and their staff to focus on caring for their patients. Over the last few years, we’ve developed an extraordinary amount of capability.
“What’s so exciting about the supply chain is that it is linked into Luxottica’s infrastructure of being one of the leading frame manufacturers in the world,” he continues. “So, we’re combining a POS with a supply chain using all of our institutional know-how to deliver the best eyewear to our patients.”
With an improved operating model, Pearle Vision is now focused on expansion and continuing to support its franchisees from the very beginning. Its landing page, www.ownapearlevision.com, allows potential franchisees to download an executive summary of the brand and apply online.
The first order of business with a new franchisee is finding a location and Pearle Vision provides a tremendous amount of support there. “We have a real estate director dedicated to the licensing and development team at Pearle who works with local investors and generates several sites to review,” Hare explains. “We accompany them and review the sites with the franchisee. Ultimately it’s their decision, but it’s a key area where we help them out.”
Each site must be approved by the brand and although not many markets are fully saturated, the company will impose a one-mile radius restriction if needed to protect the investment the franchisee has made. To determine a site’s viability, the company considers drive times, population densities and competition in its category in the area.
“All those things play into the advice we are able to provide and ultimate approval,” Hare says. “We do offer territory exclusivity and there are some that are locked up and closed because all future development is spoken for and committed to.”
After site selection, franchisees begin the 26-week onboarding process that includes building their location and training at the company’s headquarters in Mason, Ohio. Pearle Vision’s business consultants oversee up to 35 locations to help licensed owners succeed. “They do business reviews, review their profit-and-loss statements quarterly and share ways they have learned to grow the business,” Hare says. “They are there from the beginning through the grand opening and as a resource.”
Pearle Vision has a goal to reach 1,000 locations in the next four years by adding new sites and acquisitions. The company also sees growth internally through multi-unit ownership. The company recently signed a 15-location deal in Tampa, Fla., an eight-location deal in Phoenix and has two more multi-unit deals in the works.
“It shows that this is a business you can operate at scale, but it’s also lucrative at one unit as opticians make more as a Pearle Vision owner,” Hare says. “It’s a trend we see continuing in our category.”
The company averages about 1.7 locations per owner, but expects that to change as half its annual growth is coming from within the system. “Our current owners are happy, profitable and reinvesting in more locations,” Hare attests. “In the future we expect to increase our multi-unit ownerships. Our largest owner has 50 locations and investors are looking at the category to scale. Pearle Vision can be scaled, but individual operators don’t need to have more than one to be successful.”
Sidebar: Giving Back
Pearle Vision is not only committed to caring for the patients who walk through its doors, but also people in its communities who need help. The company partners with OneSight, a nonprofit established to help those in need get access to vision care. From New York City to rural China, OneSight has helped more than nine million people since 1988.
In addition to supporting OneSight, Pearle Vision also has a marketing-funded community outreach program designed to bring to life Pearle Vision’s brand position: genuine eye care from your neighborhood doctor. C.O.R.N.E.A stands for “community outreach reinforcing neighborhood eye care activity.” “It empowers owners, local doctors and employees to take their passion for eye care outside of their centers and into the neighborhoods where they live and work,” the company says.