COT! sits down with industry legend + global leader Jeff Cole to answer COT!’s 5 questions

In this exclusive interview with Corporate Optometry Today!, Jeff Cole shares his vision for today’s optical market, including how the face of corporate optical is changing.

From 1983 to 2003, Cole was the chairman and CEO of Cole National Corp. “I haven’t been sitting under a palm tree since I retired in Florida,” he quips. “I’m still active in GrandVision (which I co-founded as Pearle Europe in 1996) and I am on the board of directors at Safilo and Hilco Vision.”

COT! had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Cole about the industry and what he sees ahead.

Here, he shares some of those thoughts with us.


Q. What challenges do millennials bring, and how do optical retailers have to adapt?

A. Millennials represent a type of consumer the industry has not faced before—a combination of fashion-oriented, experience-oriented, and green...that is, pure.

I’m not sure that optical retailers, be they independents or chains, understand the category, let alone how to deal with them.


Q. How are optical chains and other retailers responding?

A. What we’ve seen over the last five to six years is startups that are more online than offline and more sun than prescription. They sell inexpensive, disposable fashion that has some perceived quality, but at a low price. They reach out more through social media than traditional optical.

I don’t think anybody in optical retailing, independent or chain, has really figured out how to reach millennials. Everybody talks omnichannel, but eyewear retailers haven’t perfected it yet.


Q. Why are more independents eyeing corporate optometry?

A. It’s more and more difficult to be an independent optometrist, and that’s making corporate optometry more attractive. Patients are driven by managed care and the advertising and branding of chains. We see a multitude of financial roll-ups of optometric groups thinking they can consolidate practices.

All this is affecting the independent. It’s pushing new grads into different directions, including corporate, and it’s creating alliances of suppliers and vendor groups being rolled up, too.


Q. Is consolidation the biggest business-side trend?

A. Yes, the whole industry is in a giant consolidation phase. Over 22 years ago, I was doing the consolidating by buying Pearle. Today, it’s mind-boggling what is going on.

The challenge? When you consolidate and create a sameness, you leave room for innovators and startups. The more all eyewear stores have the same products, similar promotions, etc., the more room there is for a 27-year-old to create a differentiating product, business model, or brand positioning and sneak it into the marketplace.


Q. With all this change, what are the biggest draws for corporate optometry now?

A. One is security, of course. Your business isn’t totally dependent on you. The second is the opportunity for optometrists who want to go beyond examining eyes to pursue the business side of both chains and managed care. COT!


We had more to talk about. Read the entire COT! interview with Jeff Cole online at!