Dubai: Ramesh Prabhakar always had the sharp eye for a business opportunity. He’s still got it.
The Vice-Chairman and Managing Partner of Dubai-headquartered luxury retailer Rivoli is, in fact, going big on vision. He has brought together three of the Group’s eyewear-focussed retail concepts under the ‘Rivoli Vision’ umbrella. From there, he plans to develop a store and online presence that will make Rivoli Vision a one-stop shop for anything to do with the eye.
“It’s only in the Gulf markets that eyewear sales make up 50 per cent of the business – in most mature markets, 35-40 will be sunglasses and the rest will be ophthalmic-related,” said Prabhakar. “But even here, the market is ripe for a change.
“More people will be living to grand old ages and obviously there will be a degeneration of the the optic nerves. When it comes to the young ones, you have kids starting on tablets from age three or four.
“So, the need for ophthalmic care will be growing from both ends – that’s where Rivoli Vision comes. In the 24 months we have been putting this together, I have never been as excited about what it will mean for the Group. Not even when I was building our watch business 30-odd years ago.”
Within its Vision arm, the Dubai retailer has brought together the Avanti, Rivoli Eyezone and Style 88 concepts, with the first name representing some of the most treasured names in fashion eyewear. Avanti is where you go for the Tom Ford and Cartier names, as well as the Zeiss Vision Expert centres. The Eyezone concept comes slightly lower down on the price points, and at Style 88 it’s about trendy eyewear at accessible prices.
Not cutting down
Prabhakar makes one point clear – Rivoli Vision will not be about reducing the retailer’s physical store presence. In fact by year-end or early next, there will be more than 100 stores between the three concepts from the current 75 locations in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
“With an ophthalmic business, it is absolutely important to have physical stores,” he said. “Diagnosis such as refractions have to be done one-to-one and in-store. Moreover, based on government regulations, we cannot do remote ophthalmology.
“All the locations we will adding in these three to six months are already contracted. We will be servicing anyone looking to buy a sunglass, a frame, or prescription lenses.”
Plus, by December 1, Rivoli Vision will have its own dedicated ecommerce site, “where we will place all of our existing brand portfolio and have web exclusives as well. Today, we have partnerships with Kering, Richemont, Marcolin and is the preferred partner for Zeiss in the Gulf. They are all leaders in the eyewear industry and all of them realise this industry has got legs to grow a lot more.”
Beyond watches and accesories
The Rivoli Group came into prominence in the 1990s, first as a retailer of branded watches such as Omega and Breguet, among others. Then came Rivoli’s expansion into accessories, writing instruments and leather goods. (Incidentally, the world’s biggest watch company Swatch is a shareholder in Rivoli.)
But the time had come for Rivoli to grow beyond its core lines. Weren’t there other options it could have picked other than ophthalmology?
“Yes, there were limitations on scale with the existing businesses because we had peaked out,” said Prabhakar. “We had looked at which industries we could go into.
“Fine jewellery was considered briefly, but that’s a market dominated by four or five players like the Van Cleef and Harry Winston. So, that was not an option. We did not want to get into generic jewellery either, because we are in the brand business.
“There was also no plans for fashion – that is not our DNA. In my opinion, branded fashion is also a market that’s saturated. But eyewear, we already had a presence and had the domain knowledge. The question then was why not amplify it. That’s why we went into Rivoli Vision.”
And is there any further expansion at some point down the line? “Hearing aids could be interesting, again because of the changing demographics,” said Prabhakar. “The way I see it, hearing aids, eyewear and ophthalmology could all go hand-in-hand…”.
Prabhakar clearly has his eyes - and ears – tuned for a new opportunity.