The strategic view

Miguel Costa. Professor. IE Business School.

6 February 2008

Opticians need to rethink their strategies if family businesses like San Gabino are to remain competitive.

San Gabino Ópticas is one of those family businesses that has grown for almost 50 years thanks to the trust of its customers and the enthusiasm of its founders. Today, it has 32 centres, 17 of which are located in Madrid, and looks set to continue its growth. The founders say they are proud to be a company with 100% Spanish capital.

It is one of those family businesses that struggles to find its place in a sector marked by the strength and aggressiveness of large chains. In Spain, there are 8,950 opticians, which represents 203 per million inhabitants, a high figure if we compare it to our European neighbours, such as Italy (160), Germany (122) and the United Kingdom (112). However, the annual average expenditure per inhabitant in Spain is €36.20, much lower than the United Kingdom, Italy or Germany, with €39, €40 and €43.30, respectively.

San Gabino has had to adapt to a market that has evolved from a focus on covering a strictly functional need (improving eyesight problems) to a much wider focus as a fashion accessory. Nowadays, it’s normal to have several pairs of glasses for different occasions or different moods. Our glasses express who we are, our personality. We can combine them with how we dress, how we see life. Accordingly, the sector has incorporated emotion into its value proposal. And that affects not only the product, but also the strategy itself, distribution, price, etc. and, of course, the brand must also be reconsidered. In a globalised world, where economies of scale are becoming increasingly relevant and competitiveness has a pressure hold on profits, the brand is the lifeblood of emotion. Without it, the customer does not feel, does not choose, does not make a commitment, does not place his trust and, of course, does not generate income.

San Gabino Ópticas is facing this dual challenge. On the one hand, how to guarantee good results without the size and presence of the large enterprises in a sector with a heavy trend towards concentration. Undoubtedly, the correct growth strategy will allow the generation of the synergies required on a market whose aggressiveness is set to increase in the coming years. In addition, without a solid brand, there is no emotion, there is no trust. That will be the most complicated part and one that requires greater precision. Unfortunately, nowadays it is more difficult to woo customers; not because we are not romantic, but because of the size of the offer (which, at times, is almost impossible to distinguish) and because of the odd disappointment we have had along the way...

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