How eyewear major Safilo has transformed its Middle East business model
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How eyewear major Safilo has transformed its Middle East business model

How eyewear major Safilo has transformed its Middle East business model

Andrea Zaffin, managing director of Safilo Middle East and commercial head IMEA, outlines his strategy to take the company’s eyewear business to the next level


Give us a business overview of Safilo’s operations.
Safilo Group began in Italy in 1878 with its first eyewear and optical frames production facility. Today, we are one of the major players in the design, production and distribution of sunglasses, optical frames, and sports glasses.

Our brand portfolio is made of iconic eyewear brands such as Carrera, Polaroid, Smith owned by Safilo, as well as licenced brands including BOSS, Carolina Herrera, David Beckham, Dsquared2, Isabel Marant, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade New York, Levi’s, Marc Jacobs, Missoni, Moschino, Tommy Hilfiger and Under Armour.

Safilo has been present in this region with its brands for decades, working with local partners and retailers. In 2014, we localised our commercial hub for the Middle East in Dubai and opened a fully-owned subsidiary with a state-of-the-art showroom in order to be close to our clients in the region and provide the full range of our latest collections.

Last year, has been a strong year for us in the region not only in terms of numbers (top line and bottom line exceeded 2019), but also in terms of relationships and projects. For instance, we introduced a special-edition Carrera for Dubai and Jimmy Choo Middle East capsule collection; we also launched a special collaboration with Carrera as the official eyewear partner of the 1000Miglia race which will happen in 2022 in UAE.

Has your approach to business changed over the last two decades that you’ve worked in Dubai?
It has been 22 years since I arrived in Dubai. This might seem like a cliché, but my approach has been always to work as a partner with our clients. However, establishing long-term alliances is not so obvious and being able to succeed in managing 15-20-year-long relationships requires much more than just ‘doing business’. It needs mutual respect and passion for building the business together. For me, the ultimate achievement is actually looking back and seeing the result of such a journey, both on a professional and personal level.

How has the eyewear distribution model evolved and where is it headed?
The eyewear industry is pretty peculiar. We do two categories: sunglasses and optical frames. They seem pretty much the same, but they are very different. Sunglasses are not only functional to protect from the sun but are also fashion accessories driven by fashion trends, whereas optical frames are clearly more functional with more medical/technical service involved (such as eye testing and lens prescription, for example). In the early years in this region, I remember the focus was very much on newness and big brands because 80 per cent of the market was driven by sunglasses reflecting trends seen in the fashion industry.

Newness and big names are still very important in the sunglass category. However, in the past few years, optical frames has been the category leading the growth. The attention to eye wellness and a generally wider acceptance of optical frames is certainly lending a strong momentum to this category.

Today, this region is definitely leading internationally in terms of its retail offering. We have among the most beautiful optical stores in the world thanks to investment by local retail groups. All major eyewear and lens manufacturers now have a direct presence in Dubai with local offices and teams. It’s clear that this has raised the bar for the entire industry, with the consumer benefitting from it.

Consumers, especially the younger generation, are now moving towards mid-price products. Today, it’s key to have a balanced offering and Safilo does so with brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Carrera, Levi’s and Under Armour, to name a few.

Tell us about the Carrera collection that was recently created for Dubai.
The special edition Carrera for Dubai is a very important project to me – it honours the city and people of Dubai. It’s a project we are very proud and honoured to have launched in partnership with Dubai Tourism. It is a special-edition collection, featuring one of our iconic styles, the Safari 65, with Carrera for Dubai co-branding on the lens and temple.

What role will e-commerce play in Safilo’s model?
When we talk about online sales, we refer mainly to sunglasses (even though the online market for optical glasses is growing). The question is not “if” but “how” to evolve the retail proposition while integrating digital tools. I believe consumers will still pay a premium if the physical retail offering remains relevant and delivers a valuable service proposition. We need to evolve with an omnichannel approach – digital tools can help us in improving our service, allowing us to work in synergy with our customers and consumers all over the world, both online and offline.

What are the key targets that you’ve set for this year?
In 2022, we aim to deliver another strong year focusing on our Carrera and Polaroid collection, our core licences as well as the launch of four new brands (Carolina Herrera, Under Armour, Dsquared2, Chiara Ferragni Collection). We will continue to build on our optical offerings providing an assortment in line with our clients’ needs. The key objective is to support our partners with a clear calendar of activations for our brands in the region, as well as focusing on service levels and after-sales. In 2022, we will increase focus and investment on our new B2B online platform.

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