LensCrafters will need 5,000 to 6,000 staff in the next five years Our eyes are the window to the world, and for fashion-conscious consumers who wear glasses today, style coupled with eye care have become a necessity. The retail eyewear sector has seen growth in recent years, particularly in the emerging markets of China and India, with the former registering more than 10 per cent growth per year. LensCrafters, a leading retail brand under one of the world's largest eyewear groups, Luxottica Retail, is riding on this trend to promote eye care and to foster expansion. 'China is primed for change,' said George Minakakis, Luxottica Retail CEO for Greater China. 'Before we entered the market, the optical retail business only had a few regional players and one national player, but there was a level of opportunity to bring an international brand with a deeper and greater level of experience to the marketplace. 'We can deliver a higher level of service and a higher level of quality eye care, and introduce a line of products and services that the Chinese consumers have not experienced before.' Bursting onto the retail stage, the company has grown to about 250 stores on the mainland in recent years and is still growing. Capitalising on its leadership position in the China optical market, it aims to have 1,000 stores in the next five years, which means the need for manpower. 'We have about 400 employees in our stores, so if you add another 750 stores, you are looking at needing about 5,000 to 6,000 employees,' Mr Minakakis said. While the company's objective is to have an organisation that is 99.8per cent run by Chinese associates, it is also realistic about the manpower challenge, and says there is always room for overseas talent. It has turned to Hong Kong to fill key positions and to help operate the business, but is not just looking for anyone. 'We're looking for candidates with the most suitable experience. At the same time, it's about cultural fit,' Mr Minakakis said. The company is looking for people who would be comfortable working in a 'backstage and volatile' retail environment, and who are committed to their work and to finding ways to contribute to the organisation and to help it grow. 'With any drop of the penny, you have to be able to change course and react to whatever changes are happening in the industry,' he said. Vice-president of marketing and product Singmay Chou said LensCrafters represented a new kind of optical store on the mainland, not only in the way it provided a more cleaned up, upscale image focused on international brands and fashion, but also in the way it offered its products in stores. 'We have displays such as free browsing where you can try the products on. In Hong Kong, it's been that way for many years, but in the mainland it's quite different,' she said. Besides international fashion and service, the brand's No1 marketing strategy is its dedication to professional eye care. Most stores are equipped with state-of-the-art eye examination services. This can have a tangible impact in a country estimated to have about 6.6million blind people where almost 50 per cent of cases are preventable, according to Orbis, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness in developing countries. 'Our initiatives have started to increase awareness ... individuals outside of the retail world have commented that we do a professional job with eye exams and eye checks,' Mr Minakakis said. Trained optometrists do the checks, and the company has an internal school in Beijing offering eye care programmes to staff. A combination of eye care, fashion and service has seen LensCrafters grow to become one of the most recognised brands in the mainland in a short time, and the company foresees further growth. 'The reception among Chinese consumers has been very positive,' said Mr Minakakis. 'We are only just starting to grow now, but the audience has been good and consumers are starting to appreciate what we have to offer.' He said the attraction for working with LensCrafters on the mainland was that it was an international retailer bringing a new skill set to the country. So for those who wish to join a new brand and to expand their skills, this is the place to go. 'We are excited about our future in greater China and hope to continue to grow,' he said. 'It's just the beginning and we've only been here a couple of years in mainland China, so the future looks great.'