May 18, 2020 — Luxottica North America leader Fabrizio Uguzzoni sits down exclusively with EB’s Editor-in-Chief Erinn Morgan to share an inside look at how the company has pivoted to help eyecare professionals navigate the Covid-19 crisis, including key programs and actionable offerings.
To watch the interview:
Thank you for joining us today. Can you please tell us a bit about the past few months at Luxottica here in the U.S. as well as in Italy at the global headquarters and factories during the coronavirus pandemic?
Fabrizio Uguzzoni: I’m here in New York City where the outbreak has been probably the biggest in the United States…in what has been and probably is for all of us the most trying period both professionally and even more personally.
Here in the U.S., immediately once the outbreak started, we put in place our work-from-home strategy. I have to say, I’ve been extremely impressed by how effective we’ve been able to manage with everyone working from home without missing a beat of our business, our model, and our support of the customers.
For our warehouses, factories, and labs, they’re operating because our business has been deemed as an essential business, so our lab in Atlanta is operating and also our factory in California is open—of course, in a very different way. We had to implement all of the safety protocols from social distancing, wearing masks, temperature checks, segregating the different departments.
We’ve had a great opportunity to leverage the experiences of our headquarters in Italy, which, unfortunately, got hit by the virus much earlier than we did here in the U.S.
In Italy, the situation is very similar. The people that were office-based are working from home 100%, taking advantage of all our digital tools. Our factories were closed just to implement their new safety protocols. But today, manufacturing, warehouses, and labs are working—with reduced capacity in some areas, but they are up and running with all of the safety protocols.
I have to say the mood of our employees is optimistic considering the situation—and the resilience of the team, how the team reacted, and creatively invented a new way of working and a new way of connecting was amazing to see. I was really overwhelmed by how many messages I’ve received from our people on ideas on how we can overcome this and come out stronger than before.
How has Luxottica pivoted to help ECPs navigate through this difficult period? What are some of the programs and offerings now in place?
Uguzzoni: When everything started, it was so new…we’ve had so many crises to manage in the past, but this was something like never before.
When we started to think about what to do, we knew we had three groups of stakeholders to take care of: our customers, our people, and our communities.
Just having in mind those three groups, it was very natural what we had to do.
Immediately, the reaction was to stay close to our customers—listening to them, calling and staying in contact with them. Placing orders was really the last thing I was asking of my team. It was to understand how the customers were doing and how they were managing the situation.
We started immediately to put in place programs…like flexible terms and conditions…to provide relief in that area of the business.
Understanding that PPE was starting to be in short supply and it was not easy to find something as simple as a mask, we started to ship masks to our customers.
In addition to providing both employees and customers with masks, we shipped over one million pieces of personal protective equipment to hospitals all around the world in an effort to do our part.
There were also so many personal touches—the reps sent me stories—the one I wanted to share explains taking care of your customers. There was a customer who, because of the social distancing, was not capable of celebrating the birthday of their daughter with a “Frozen” party. Our rep dressed up as Elsa and went over to the home of the customer, surprising the daughter while maintaining social distancing.
Listening to our customers, we created the Luxottica ECP Support Center which is available to everyone—Luxottica and non-Luxottica customers: luxotticacovid19toolkit.com where ECPs can leverage our tools to, first, protect their business in this period and then also to prepare for the restart.
It’s very simple but very comprehensive—five areas:
- Stay connected with your patients—how to engage with social media and other examples on how to remain connected with your patients.
- The second area is to stay up to date with Covid-19 and government support. We created an area where we condensed all of the information, a one-stop-shop, with all the information you need to remain up to date…everything is there, state by state, for your business.
- The third area is how to boost the practice through education. We created a virtual education program through Luxottica University.
- Preparing for the reopening with a very clear strategy of what you need to do including assortment, safety protocols, and cash-flow management.
- And, last but not least, all the information on how to stay connected with our teams…putting the independent eyecare professional first because they are the backbone of our business.
Please tell us a bit about the educational offering that has been designed for ECPs during Covid-19.
Uguzzoni: Leveraging Luxottica University, we decided in this moment in time to create virtual classrooms with different types of topics. We have all the existing Luxottica University modules for ECPs, and we’ve added some new ones, which are very specific to this period of time.
In just three weeks, we had more than 7,500 participants in the Eyecare Visionary Training Series. 85% of the training is redeemable for CE credit.
A lot of our customers, the independent eyecare professionals, were overwhelmed by the offering of virtual webinar training—they can receive their CE credits and leverage this period to get ahead—so when they reopen, they can get straight to business.
Some of the most popular courses were on myopia, social media 101, and tips for building an online reputation which, today, is so important to remaining connected with your patients and your consumers.
How is Luxottica approaching the ECPs differently regarding representative presentations and sales for eyewear products?
Uguzzoni: That is a great question because, after all, eyewear is a very tangible product. There is a storytelling behind the brands and the products. It’s very personal as a product—you touch it, you try it on.
Luxottica was already investing a lot in the digital transformation of our business. What we created, first of all, is a very clear safety protocol for our sales consultants in the field when visiting customers—from very basic like scheduling an appointment to having all the safety kits.
We created safety kits for our reps and also for our customers so they have access to wipes, hydrogen peroxide, masks, gloves, protective eyewear—everything that is needed to make the physical experience safe.
In addition to that, we started to leverage the digital tools we have available. Every Luxottica sales consultant can present our collections remotely to the customer—not just with a call, but with a video conference, sharing the screen, presenting the collection with the tools available on their laptop or iPad.
We’re adding features like virtual try-on, or the ability to see the product with a 360-degree video. We equipped every one of our sales reps with digital tools like Microsoft Teams.
We have very clear safety protocols for our reps and we provided the same protocol to our customers.
With your broad overview of the industry, what is your view of how (and when) the eyecare and eyewear market will recover from the coronavirus pandemic?
Uguzzoni: The question in everyone’s mind right now is, "How long will it take to get back to normal?"
The real question is, "What does my business look like in the new normal?" I have to say, on the first question, when the business will start to be back, I believe we have an answer—between May and June, with several states starting to lift their restrictions. A lot of our customers have started to reopen. There are some very positive and optimistic signs that we’re seeing.
The question now is more how the business will resume—how much of the business will be capable to bring back from before the crisis, and how business is going to look in terms of conducting an eye exam, the social distancing, the safety protocols.
That, to me, is really the way we need to work together. We will have to manage all of the trends that the crisis accelerated that were already there—digital, online, people starting to get information online and purchasing in the physical stores and vice versa, but also new trends. There are trends that the crisis accelerated, and there are also new trends from a behavior and consumer’s point of view that the crisis created, like the health component, which is considered much more now. The eyecare professionals need to know they are not in this alone.
In restarting, they may have, with the same costs, less business than before the crisis, so they need support in remaining profitable. I believe those resources are available in our industry—which is an industry made up of amazing groups of people, stakeholders, and companies—ECPs should really look to their partners in getting those resources.
Luxottica is making available knowledge, financial resources, cash flow help, and people resources with our salesforce and our teams. We’re going to make everything available to the ECPs, and I really encourage them to take advantage of that.
What is your outlook for the future of eye care and eyewear amid the Covid-19 crisis?
Uguzzoni: I’m extremely optimistic about our industry—as I was before the crisis. I believe the opportunity and the potential of our industry is still there, driven by demographics, creating greater awareness and access in underserved regions, consumers’ growing love for high-quality brands.
The potential is still there, 100%, even more than before.
What will change is the way we’re going to communicate and create awareness in the market about the importance of high-quality eyecare and high-quality products, the way we’re going to engage with the consumer and the patients and the way they’re going to experience it all.
There is a moment when we might see a fully digital practice, where you don’t have any physical product. You enter, and you have virtual try-on without having to touch and try so many products.
People are going to start to think—not even out of the box because the box isn’t there anymore—but instead completely scratching all the rules from before, taking all the experience we have and applying it in a new world where we are playing with new rules.