Essilor targets low-income wearers of eyeglasses

The Thai unit of Essilor Group, the French corrective lens maker, is aggressively expanding its local presence by pursuing low-income and middle-income customers.

Essilor’s French parent company plans to expand into Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar by spending 80 million baht on distribution channels, says Mr Thissadee. PATIPAT JANTHONG

Thissadee Tulyaanukij, the general manager of Essilor Distribution Thailand, said the market for lenses and spectacle frames in Thailand was worth 5 billion baht last year, with sales of corrective lenses making up half.

Essilor and other brand-name lenses are usually aimed at middle- and high-income customers, with prices ranging from 5,000 to 25,000 baht a pair.

The Thai market, however, is dominated by the low-to-middle segment.

With its new corrective lenses _ the Crizal Forte UV, priced at 2,200 baht a pair _ Essilor plans to increase its share in this segment to 20% by the end of 2013 and to 50% in the next five years.

"Most buyers use low-quality lenses priced at 400-800 baht and imported from China. Most of them could not meet the standards set by the Food and Drug Administration," said Mr Thissadee.

He said sales of lenses and spectacle frames will increase only slightly, by 7-10%, as most people hardly change eyeglasses, especially in the middle-to-high segment.

With sales of 6 million pairs a year for the entire industry, the penetration rate of eyeglasses in Thailand is just 15%.

Essilor Distribution plans to launch two more products this year including progressive lenses for high-end buyers and multicoated single lenses.

The company will also expand its network by partnering 1,500 shops this year from 1,200 now, and 2,000 shops next year, mostly upcountry.

The company has two plants in Thailand _ in Bangkok's Lat Krabang district and Chon Buri's Amata Nakorn Industrial Estate _ making the country the biggest production base for the French group, with capacity of 80 million lenses a year.

Some 95% of output is exported.

Essilor has 16 factories worldwide including seven in Asia.

Sales totalled 4.95 billion euros (192 billion baht) last year, up by 20% from 2011.

Mr Thissadee, who is also in charge of the Indochinese market, said the French parent plans to expand into Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar by spending 80 million baht on distribution channels.

Indochina now uses Thailand and Laos as distributors.

An Essilor plant in Savannakhet, Laos, will begin production this year for sales in Indochina and exports.

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Writer: Piyachart Maikaew