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The Afflelou method for international growth

With 1,500 stores, 34 countries with a mix of retail and wholesale activities, and a new store every two days, the AFFLELOU Group knows his way around international markets. Frédéric Poux, CEO, spoke to us about the group’s winning strategy.

“Out of our domestic comfort zone”

With over 1,500 stores in 17 other countries including France and a presence in 34 countries, international sales account for ca. 35% of AFFLELOU Group’s revenue. “Our objective is to push this figure beyond 50% in the next 3-4 years”, said Frédéric Poux. The company’s global desires are not new; they have been more than 10 years in the making. “You can’t improvise abroad. You need time to adapt the business model, the products, etc.” As for timing, Frédéric is convinced that you can’t wait until your domestic expansion is over before taking your first international steps. “It’s a question of common sense. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket. We need to diversify geographically and spread the risk as much as possible.”

“Franchises have always brought us success”

For over 40 years, the franchise has been the growth model of choice, first for the founder Alain Afflelou, then for Frédéric Poux. With 1,500 mostly franchised stores worldwide, the Group is now present on all continents. And the pace is continuing to pick up, with a new store opening every other day. “Why change a method that works?” asks Frédéric, while nevertheless recognising the importance of prioritizing countries that are more open to franchising, such as India, where he wants to open a store in the near future. AFFLELOU Group also supports its franchisees, such as by guaranteeing their bank loans through the Adelante programme in Spain. “Franchises are our best allies. We support them, because we believe in them. In return, they give their all and become real long-term partners.

Two franchise networks, two market positions

Since the buyout of Optical Discount in 2015, the Group now offers two types of franchises, each with its own market positioning: Optical Discount covers the discount segment, and ALAIN AFFLELOU caters for the premium segment. “At ALAIN AFFLELOU, we operate on what I call an affordable innovation basis, i.e. quality glasses at affordable prices. Unlike some of our competitors, we have always been careful not to dilute our brand by selling discount. The Optical Discount brand enables us to offer our franchisees another brand with a differentiated, discount positioning.”

Wholesale then franchise in markets under €1 billion; acquisition then franchise in all others.

When the AFFLELOU Group wants to enter a new country, it adapts its strategy to the size of the market. For markets of less than €1 billion, the Group starts out with local resellers of our Afflelou Paris brand glasses and gradually steers them towards the franchise model. This wholesale strategy has given the Group a presence in 17 countries in addition to the 17 countries that already have AFFLELOU Group stores, making for a global presence in 34 countries. “It is particularly effective in remote or poorly-structured regions logistically, such as southern Chile and certain African countries.” Conversely, in markets of several billion euros, the Group actively buys up small chains that it turns into franchises, as it has done in Portugal, for example, and plans to do in Germany. This hybrid strategy enables AFFLELOU Group to take on target markets quickly and head on.

Global ambitions require global communications

Communication rounds out the internationalisation strategy, and AFFLELOU Group wants it to be global and especially, digital. “Our products are adapted to people’s different shapes and sizes and to the tastes of various target populations, but the message is always the same. From Bamako to Beijing, everyone agrees that glasses are a pain. We promise to make the experience of wearing glasses as pleasant as possible!” This global ambition is also reflected in the company’s choice of a new muse, Sharon Stone, who brings her international chic and glamour to the celebrated Afflelou Paris brand.

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Apax Partners

Investment fund supporting middle-market companies in four focus sectors: TMT, Consumer, Healthcare and Services.

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