Always eyeing opportunities
Vision Direct has consistently scaled to become Europe’s leading online seller of contact lenses. “It’s been a combination of organic growth coupled with acquisitions”, says CEO Michael Kraftman.
Along the way, he’s not been wedded to a plan. “When an opportunity arises we don’t discount it because it’s not part of our plan,” he explains. “We react”.
Just like the hungry yellow game hero, it’s all about quickly snapping up opportunities.
When an opportunity arises we don’t discount it because it’s not part of our plan. We react.
Michael Kraftman, Vision Direct
From high street origins
From its bricks-and-mortar business in the early days, Vision Direct has become an internet giant. Today the company has more than 700,000 registered customers across Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the UK. It has disrupted many a high street optician thanks to discounts of up to 50%.
Kraftman’s original model was to acquire independent retail opticians. But this proved ineffective and lost money.
A change of focus – and fortune
In 2008 Kraftman spotted the opportunity to buy a UK online contact lens business. Though, he says, the acquisition was a “quite tortuous” process, he persevered.
Raising funds was not easy in the early days of the financial crisis and Kraftman had to rely on friends and family to complete the deal. But the steep discounts were attractive to customers keen for bargains.
When the opportunity to acquire a second online site which was a direct competitor arose, the revenue stream of these repeat buys proved attractive to potential investors.
Enter Octopus Ventures. In 2009 the venture capital investor invested on the basis that the company divest the stores and pursue an online-only model.
Snapping up the competition
By 2013 Kraftman had hit his stride. He had attracted further investment, made more acquisitions, and spotted the opportunity to make a bid for Vision Direct – its biggest competitor.
Kraftman raised the money in a week. “We were a £10m business and they were a £15m business,” he says. “We became a £25m business overnight.” The lead investor was Fidelity International’s small-cap team who, Kraftman says, were incredibly supportive.
This deal raised the company’s profile and led to a meeting with New York investment boutique Sonenshine Partners, specialising in online optical deals.
A few months later Kraftman got a call from Essilor International, the world leader in ophthalmic optics. He was quick to enlist Sonenshine to represent him in the acquisition negotiations.
From entrepreneur to corporate player
Essilor successfully acquired the company in 2016 after year-long negotiations. Kraftman says the slower pace of decision-making that comes with being in a more corporate environment can be challenging. But he enjoys reasonable autonomy and virtually unlimited resources to grow the company.
And for now, this growth is focused on Europe. The French market is growing at 75% a year. It’s a market ripe for the Pac-Man treatment. Online penetration is among the lowest in Europe and France’s medical insurance scheme pays for contact lenses.