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Exclusive: Inside Marcolin’s vision for success in APAC

The eyewear industry has seen remarkable growth and innovation in recent years, and Marcolin has emerged as a leading player in the global market.

Founded in 1961 in Italy’s Veneto district, Marcolin has become synonymous with luxury and quality in the eyewear industry. A leading designer and manufacturer of sunglasses and optical frames for brands such as Adidas, Christian Louboutin, Guess, Harley-Davidson, Kenneth Cole, Max Mara, MCM, Pucci, Tod’s, Tom Ford, and Zegna, among other brands, Marcolin also owns house brands including IC! Berlin, J. Landon, and Web Eyewear.

With a global distribution network encompassing 15 branches worldwide, spanning Europe, Russia, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, as well as a significant joint venture in the UAE, the company successfully reaches customers in over 125 countries.

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Marcolin’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region has been particularly noteworthy. With a remarkable 81.9 percent increase in FY2023 compared to FY2022, APAC has emerged as the best-performing region for the company.

Looking ahead, Marcolin has planned several broader initiatives to fuel its growth in Asia. With subsidiaries in Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the company is well-positioned to capitalise on the vast potential of these markets.

Retail in Asia speaks with Lorenzo Barberio, general manager and head of sales, APAC, at Marcolin on the eyewear company’s activities across various markets in Asia.

Marcolin’s trade event in Beijing. Source: Marcolin
Retail in Asia: Can you share with us some key observations on the eyewear industry landscape in Asia?  

Barberio: 2024 started on a positive note for us and we are still seeing pockets of growth. At the same time, there are a few markets in APAC that appear to be either slowing down or see consumers delaying purchases, but we remain cautiously optimistic.

On the opportunities side, our Japan business started quite strongly in the same way it ended last year for us, thanks to tourists flocking in the market due to the low yen and the legendary hospitality of Japanese people.

On the challenging side, Chinese consumers are travelling more and more outside China, so some of the consumption growth from this market will be caught abroad, or in airports mainly in Asia for now. It’s always our job to focus on opportunities while we look and observe cautiously challenges.

Retail in Asia: Can you describe Marcolin’s growth journey, particularly in Asia?
Pictured: Marcolin’s APAC team. Source: Marcolin

Barberio: The last three years of Marcolin were outstanding and in March we announced another record year with net sales at EUR558.3 million, up 2 percent compared to 2022 and with margins still positive: adjusted EBITDA, equal to EUR78.1 million, grew by 27.9 percent compared to EUR61.0 million in the previous year. The impact on net sales was positive, standing at 14 percent.

APAC was the best performing region in percentage for Marcolin in the last two years, following a strong 2022 vs 2021 where we recorded a 47 percent growth at current exchange rates (mainly helped by a super 2H booster were we grew triple digit at 108% vs PY) we scored again another strong year, growing 81.9 percent in FY2023 compared to FY2022.

I always knew Marcolin had huge potential in Asia but the results in the last two years exceeded our expectations. What set us apart and allowed us to consistently over perform in this competitive landscape is the competent group of people that have been very focused on the company objectives and executing the strategy.

This asset, together with our supportive team in HQ, made it very easy for us to clear roadblocks and guide the regional and local teams at every step. Our focus has been on building credibility in the markets and across partners, and assembling the right team. We knew that the rest would come organically since Marcolin has already an extraordinarily strong and assorted portfolio of brands, from luxury to diffusion, and premium and sport segments.

Retail in Asia: How do you view Marcolin’s growth in Asia? As you look to the future, what are some broader initiatives that you have planned in the coming months?

Above: At the Marcolin offices in Singapore and China, two of four Marcolin subsidiaries in APAC. Source: Marcolin

Barberio: We have four subsidiaries in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Singapore that allow us to be very close to the end consumer places and chains. Each subsidiary has still high potential of growth across the wide brand portfolio.

What we have also been doing in the last two years, relying on a strong marketing team built along the way together with Marzia Viel, our APAC head of marketing and Alessio Puleo, the group marketing director, was a total requalification of the partnership around APAC.

In fact, we haven’t been growing by enlarging distribution, rather by requalifying it, with outstanding campaigns in each market and gaining space in the stores of our partners while we were adding value and strong sales for them.

From left: Marzia Viel, head of marketing, APAC, Marcolin, and Lorenzo Barberio, general manager and head of sales, APAC, Marcolin. Source: Marcolin

Another significant initiative that put us here today is the compounded effect of our actions planning and creating products that are relevant for the markets and that consumers want. Anticipating the market is a pivotal skill and we perfect analysing trends online and offline, while still using the old-fashioned way of talking to all our opticians and salespeople in department stores.

During our countless market visits around Asia, together with my team, we treasure their feedback because they talk with the final consumer, and they always have insightful suggestions. For us, the goal is always to be the best and preferred partner to work with.

There are three pillars of our success globally, as in APAC: first, a wide portfolio of brands that allows us to have great competitiveness both in the luxury and diffusion segments. Second, distinctive character in the talents of managers capable of deploying the global strategies while acting locally: open mind and understanding with the utmost respect for the expertise of our partners in APAC are crucial attitude, especially among this diversified region.

Third aspect is our heritage. Our history is a history of increasing expertise, process, technologies to allow our products to interpret the various brands’ iconographic stylistic codes.

Retail in Asia: Tell us about some of Marcolin’s activity in various markets in Asia.
Marcolin at The Xiamen International Optics Fair. Source: Marcolin

Barberio: Across markets and across brands there have been countless new launches in APAC by Marcolin in the last two years. We will surely surprise the eyewear market in the next few months with new launches and events for several brands in the luxury space, mostly in the southern hemisphere of Asia.

Last year we worked extensively on the northern part of the region, namely Japan and Korea which are key markets in terms of fashion and luxury trends. Here we have dedicated collections and communications investments that we can leverage at regional level.

Marcolin’s press event in Beijing, China, in April 2024. Source: Marcolin

Finally, China – a market about which I am very passionate about. I have the conviction that this is a market that is still not fully mature and has great potential in the future to compete with much bigger markets like North America.

According to Euromonitor data, even though the US total frame market is around USD20 billion-dollar market and China is just almost one-fourth  of that, with its USD5 billion of consumption for it, the average price for frame purchase in China is still quite low with around USD40 compared to the USD119.34 that an American consumer spends on frames today in one year.

This alone speaks volumes about the potential of the market while it is maturing right now in terms of the brand experience offered to consumers, shopping environment and education to final consumer on the importance of purchasing a quality pair of frames and lenses, since they serve an important organ like the eye and are so visible on our face.

If we look beyond the market and we point the lens on Marcolin APAC, the China acceleration in the last two years was the best story that we wrote, and it remains the biggest opportunity for us in this part of the world. We are still investing and gaining market shares here.

The launch of the Tom Ford Eyewear flagship store in Tmall Pavilion represents a real milestone in this journey, it was supported by a livestream event by the number 1 Chinese celebrity live streamer, Austin Li, that had more than 10 mln views on that night within his 83 million fans, and a collaboration with influencer Ruilin Liu. We have more to come to support this channel and to unlock the potential of synergies with Tom Ford Beauty, a collaboration that will start to gain prominent visibility across markets in APAC along the second half of the year.

Retail in Asia: Marcolin has an extensive variety of brands in its portfolio. Can you tell us about some recent developments in your portfolio?
Source: Marcolin

Barberio: Tom Ford is one of the leading luxury eyewear licenses in the world. We are now focusing on growing selectively the rest of our luxury portfolio, which includes Zegna and Max Mara and the recently joined IC! Berlin, acquired last November.

Zegna and Max Mara both have a very strong awareness and momentum in APAC as a brand and there are numerous partners across Asia who want to launch their eyewear line in the right selective stores. We are making sure that positioning, adjacencies, and image are right for both these brands.

IC! Berlin completes our current luxury portfolio in Asia and it is a strong addition also in terms of expertise, as they specialise in screwless metal frames. We will be able to enhance our expertise in metal manufacturing and broaden our luxury portfolio: our new colleagues in Germany did an amazing job in markets like Taiwan and Thailand, where the brand is market leader across all categories and above well-known global luxury and fashion brands.

We are now working with them to replicate this amazing success also in the other big markets in Asia.

Our portfolio also gives us a chance to compete in the diffusion segment with Guess which is very strong in Southeast Asia and Australia and Skechers that in some markets in Southeast Asia sells more than notable leading lifestyle brands and continues to surprise us with very solid sales.

Timberland is also a very interesting license for us, its collections are made in metal, bio-based injected plastic and bio-based acetate. We are working on an imminent launch in Australia on the occasion of the O-Show in Sydney in mid-May that we are sure will be a success, adding value to our subsidiary there.

We are also engaged in the sport channel with adidas which is growing everywhere in Asia in both optical and sun categories.

And we will have two new major launches bringing fuel to the team and to our regional events: MCM’s new fall/winter 2024 collections will be unveiled to our top partners soon in Singapore and in Hainan for the Chinese ECP.

[We also have] very high excitement for the first ever eyewear collection signed by Christian Louboutin for spring/summer 2025.

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Finally, our owned brand Web Eyewear, inspired by travel and exploration motifs, has evolved over the course of the years. Web Eyewear is still one of the main sponsors of Sauber F1 Team and donates unique opportunities to enjoy the grand prix with our top clients around the world next to the team and drivers, as we did recently in Shanghai, where our top partners had chance to spend time with Zhou Guanyu. This [initiative] is something money can’t buy, and that creates a very bonding partnership [with our clients].