There’s much to be learnt from China and from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Carl James, VP Sales and Operations, Optical, Luxottica Australia and New Zealand. It’s been quite a rocky year for Mr James, who returned to Australia in January, having spent the past four years in China as the company’s General Manager, Retail.
In an interview with mivision, Mr James said Luxottica’s practices are now experiencing demand beyond expectations and looking forward to exploring potential growth opportunities.
“In the early days of the pandemic and subsequent lock downs across Australia and New Zealand, we took the decision to modify our operations in a way that would ensure ongoing access to eye care for our customers while adhering to each state’s regulations and keeping our customers and staff safe.
From a technical standpoint, we all know that China is quite advanced in the digital space
“Initially, this meant that we operated under a ‘hub’ model, where we kept some stores open (albeit on restricted trading hours, in line with customer demand) and closed others, with customers able to access urgent or critical eye care within a defined geographic range. We were also able to leverage the open stores to facilitate our teleoptometry program, which allowed us to offer eye care to those unable to come into store, or for essential workers who couldn’t make it in to a store due to working hours.
“As restrictions progressively eased and safety procedures were embedded into our daily operations, we started reopening stores.”
Having experienced life and work in China, Mr James said speed and agility were key learnings that helped him navigate his organisation through the pandemic.
“China is a very fast moving and adaptable country, while also being both geographically and culturally diverse. The importance of moving with appropriate speed, while investing in clear and regular communication, was one of the learnings from my time at Luxottica China that has been highly beneficial during this pandemic. Keeping our optometrists updated and informed on a regular basis through multiple communication channels has allowed us to ensure a high quality of care consistent with the relevant guidelines and regulations.
“In particular, we put special emphasis on ensuring our optometrists were continually updated on how to provide eye care in a safe way, so they could focus on providing those services in a way that was not only compliant with government regulations, but also made them and their patients feel safe.
“From a technical standpoint, we all know that China is quite advanced in the digital space. Having experienced that firsthand has allowed me to understand just how quickly an organisation like Luxottica can evolve the customer experience during the pandemic by better leveraging digital tools and communications. During early 2020 we very quickly developed and implemented a number of digital tools to guarantee ongoing access to our customers while providing our optometrists with new ways of meeting everchanging customer needs,” said Mr James.
Moving forward, Mr James says the organisation is looking to further raise the standard of eye care and overall eye health in Australia and New Zealand.
“I began my career with OPSM in 1997. I recall our TV advertising from around that time had the tag-line Trust OPSM to look after you. In 2020, this fundamental ethos of being our customers’ trusted expert still exists and is a source of great pride for me, as it is delivered every day, in every store, by our team of wonderfully passionate people. We have team members who joined us last week, and team members who recently celebrated 50+ years as part of the team. What holds us all together is this desire to help every patient, combined with the strength and passion of our team members and the entire organisation.”
Mr James said Luxottica has a plan to continue to explore potential growth opportunities while investing in the development of its people. Additionally it will upgrade its existing network, bringing “the best of Luxottica’s global strengths” to local markets.
While the eye care market in Australia and New Zealand can be described as mature, Mr James says there is room for continuous improvement. “Legislation is slightly behind China in regards to eye care and technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to us the strong need for eye care innovation, and to offer true teleoptometry services. We look forward to this conversation continuing, so that technology development can be an enabler for better eye care access and advancement.”