The following conversation has been repeated often in recent years:
Someone:“So what do you do?
Me:“I make glasses and Sunglasses.”
Someone:“Isn’t there this one Company that owns all the brands and controls everything?
For many years, Luxottica flew under the radar of the general public. But not anymore.
Let me first say that I think Luxottica is a great Company, and Leonardo Del Vecchio is one one of my personal heroes. His life story is one of overcoming enormous obstacles to achieve enormous success. The focus here is trying to understand the recent blizzard of negative press and why the Company seems so ill-equipped to handle it.
When I was writing my book, Luxottica kindly helped me with some images of 18th century pieces from their museum. Since the focus of the book was the developMent of modern industry, I was interested in presenting Luxottica’s first Armani collection , which was their first designer license.
I felt it was a benchmark for both the company and the industry. It beautifully encapsulated the licensor’s sensibilities and the moMent in time it was created. It was an unmatched combination pr precedents of aesthetic and commercial success. It set the tone for his rise to domination of the industry and the industry itself.
To my surprise, I was dissuaded from submitting it! Apparently, they didn’t want people to know that there was a middleman between the licensor and the PROduct. Although they’ve used “Never Hide” as a Ray Ban slogan for years, invisibility seemed like a basic public relations tenet. Obviously this was unsustainable for a company of that size.
It also seems strange until you remember that Luxottica was a component manufacturer that became a distribution company. They had never built a public-facing brand from scratch and successfully marketed it to end consumers. Public Relations/engaging with the public was never part of his toolbox. This was an endemic weakness, but it went unnoticed as Luxottica went from win to win.
Around the time of my book, someone very powerful in fashion suggested that they invite me to work with them at Ray Ban – something like the role of Thom Browne with Brooks Brothers (owned by Leonardo Del Vecchio’s son). He had impressive credentials as a designer, authoritative knowledge of the brand’s design history, and PROof of concept for numerous unique strategies to add value and build press.
Based on the recomMendation, most fashion companies, at least, would have taken the meeting seRiously. From Luxottica I got a complimentary lunch with a mid level PR executive. They must have thought the idea of someone “helping” them add “cool factor,” or any other value, tangible or otherwise, to a commercial giant like Ray Ban was ludicrous.
They PRObably thought that the labels they had licensed or purchased had all the brand equity they needed. Consumer-oriented value-added initiatives were unnecessary. Having a corporate persona was unnecessary.This apPROach was validated by its final result – profit margins in excess of 20% (EBITDA as a percentage of revenue) on a Large scale.
So when Warby Parker materialized, well funded and very aggressive, they were able to easily define Luxottica because Luxottica had never felt the need to define themselves. And Luxottica’s been hammered into the press like a piñata ever since.
Even the FAANG companies, most of which are at least as monopolistic and much creepier than Luxottica, seem to get better press. It’s probably because they worked on building corporate personas that included well-crafted hagiographies of key personnel… And vaRious consumer-oriented value-added initiatives.
The 60 Minutes interview of former Luxottica CEO Andrea Guerra, of course, was a historic debacle. He was asked what the difference was between an inexpensive frame sold under a private label and a Similar designer license frame, which cost more than twice as much. After a long, awkward silence, he pointed to the logo hardware on the temple of the designer frame, explained how pretty it was and how expensive it was to create.
Things like this can happen when a company doesn’t prioritize contributing to a product’s value equation beyond the purchased/leased brand.
But could any of this hurt Luxottica in the long Run?
Instead of superior competitors, and with their massive entrenchment, probably not too much.
But if the relentless bad press prompts antitrust regulators to get involved… who knows?
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As noted in the last post, this week I will be showing my first collection in years at Vision Expo East. For those who don’t know, I do a pretty good job.(press the bold letters for the link)
For attendees, I will be at booth G127. To make an appointment, leave a comment. Will not be published…
I’ll be happy to sign your book if you bring it too.
And scroll to the top right corner of the frame and SUBSCRIBE!