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Online retailer with 80,000 frame catalogue establishes flagship store

02/05/2018By Matthew Woodley • Staff Journalist
One of Australia’s largest online eyewear retailers, Vision Direct, has opened a ‘first-of-its-kind’ flagship store in Melbourne that it says offers patients a unique service by bridging the divide between the real and virtual world.

The 85sqm concept store will stock between 800 to 1,000 frames on site, but the business differs from traditional optometric practices insofar as patients are also able to access the company’s substantial online catalogue via in-store computer kiosks.

Vision Direct began trading in 2008 after being established in the apartment of co-founders Mr David Menning and Mr Doron Kalinko. After gaining a foothold in Australia, the company expanded, establishing a presence in more than 30 other international markets.


“We’re able to source 160 plus brands that we all know and love, from manufacturers or distributors and bring them into the store, bypassing many of the traditional middle men in that process.”
David Menning, Vision Direct co-founder

The company claims to have the world’s largest online collection of designer eyewear – said to be more than 80,000 models – and Menning says strong relationships with manufacturers and distributors has allowed it to offer lower prices than competitors.

Menning, who is based in Italy but travelled to Melbourne to oversee the design of the store, said the concept was unique in Australia and would allow patients to access the same quality care associated with independent optometry practices, along with the benefits of an online eyewear vendor.

“The goal of the store is to bridge both of those gaps and bring that into a reality – to be able to provide full optical services that customers expect from an optometrist, but also bring into the physical realm the largest range of product in the world at the best price,” he said.

“Through our global scale selling in over 20 countries, we’re able to source 160 plus brands that we all know and love, from manufacturers or distributors and bring them into the store, bypassing many of the traditional middle men in that process.”

Menning says it is this access to the business’ wider online catalogue that will set it apart from competitors.

Aside from providing the ability to offer an expanded range at a reduced price, Menning said the company’s global distribution network meant it’s able to access new frames and styles faster than previously possible.

“In Australia, sometimes there’s a perception that we lag other markets, because we’re a little bit further away from Italy or France or the US, and based on seasons as well, so this is also a way that we’re able to stay on the pulse of the latest collections of sunglasses and eyeglasses,” Menning said.

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Vision Direct has partnered with Melbourne-based independent optometry practice Chester Eyewear to develop its physical presence, and store partner and optometrist Ms Jessica Chester said it made sense to combine the online and offline benefits of the two entities.

“My partner Sam and I have a knack for creating beautiful stores with that really cool boutique feel. With the branding of Vision Direct behind us and the quality products that we’re getting at such good prices, it’s a no-brainer,” Chester said.

“I’ve travelled across Australia as a locum and I know how all different types of optometry practices work. I’ve been in franchises, independents, and I now own independents, and my experience is that there’s nothing like this.”

Future developments

Given the online nature of the business, Menning said he would consider online eye examinations, like that offered in the US by companies such as Opternative, to complement what is already being offered by the physical store. However, he added there were no immediate plans as yet to utilise this type of technology as there was still uncertainty surrounding its use and regulation within Australia.

“That service is not available based on the legal guidance provided by the regulators. But at the same time we do seek to innovate and we are an innovator in our field – for example right now our website offers virtual try-on, and we would like to continue to innovate,” Menning said.

Likewise, Menning said while the business would investigate opening more stores in major cities, the priority was to ensure the success of the Melbourne store.

“We [already] service customers across the whole of Australia, so we have goals to also offer the physical [store] product proposition to customers across Australia as well, which would result in the need to open stores. That is certainly part of our growth plans in the months and years to come.”

GALLERY


The front signage of Vision Direct
The front signage of Vision Direct's new store

Around 800 to 1,000 frames are available onsite
Around 800 to 1,000 frames are available onsite
The computer kiosk where customers can access the online range
The computer kiosk where customers can access the online range

Optometrist and store partner Ms Jessica Chester with Vision Direct co-founder Mr David Menning during the set up of the store
Optometrist and store partner Ms Jessica Chester with Vision Direct co-founder Mr David Menning during the set up of the store

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