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French optical maker Essilor bets on business rebound as India eases COVID-19 lockdown

Along with its associate companies, Essilor employs 5,000 people in India and exports optical products to Europe, the US and Canada.

May 27, 2020 / 08:21 PM IST

Essilor, the France-based manufacturer of prescription ophthalmic lenses, said it's focusing on rebuilding its business in India, along with the larger ecosystem that includes its customers, mainly the small independent retail opticians and suppliers who are battered by the coronavirus lockdown.

"I think this (COVID-19) is a major shock to the optical industry," said Maarten Geraets, CEO, South Asia, Essilor.

"India is slowly opening up again; our first focus was on ensuring the safety of our employees, followed by a focus on sustaining and rebuilding the optical business. Also, we need to stand by our customers and suppliers to help them survive and get through this," Geraets said.

Essilor has been a dominant player in India's ophthalmic lens market. Along with its associate companies, Essilor in India employs up to 5,000 people and exports optical products to Europe, the US and Canada. Geraets said the export business also took a hit.

The company works with thousands of self-employed opticians who operate stores and provide employment to others. With spectacle lenses not deemed as essential, the operations of the company and thousands of opticians had to shut down across the country during the lockdown. The eye care also suffered, as out-patient consultations and surgeries have been postponed. Eye care surgeries fall under elective surgeries.

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Geraets, however, expressed optimism over the business rebounding in India.

He cites examples of China and South Korea, where the company's business is getting very close to what they were doing pre-crisis, from a few weeks after opening up.

"People have to fix their broken pair of spectacles, or have to get a new pair of lenses because their eyesight may have changed in the last few months. The bounce-back will be quite good for us. The customers and suppliers are with us in that journey," Geraets said.

He also points to France - the home market that was heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as the lockdown was being lifted opticians are opening the stores, and 90 percent are back in business, and labs have started supplying.

To get back to business, Essilor in India has launched a comprehensive programme called 'Suraksha Package'. It includes training and protocols on how to reorganise stores in tune with COVID-19 infection control, social distancing, and hygiene. It also provides digital tools and helps customers who face cash flow problems.

Geraets said they used lockdown as an opportunity to do customer connect through online training on products, solutions and business aspects. The company also has accelerated a couple of projects on digitalisation.

The company plans to make its products available at competitive prices and launch new brands and solutions focused on COVID-19-related eye care challenges. They have plans to bring products to reduce the eye strain caused by blue light emanating from screens. The company is also working on making relevant anti-fogging solutions available in the market. People who are wearing masks have been having the problem of fog on spectacles.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: May 27, 2020 08:21 pm

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