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Interviews | October 22, 2020

Amélie Morel – The challenges of the relaunch

Amélie Morel, President of Silmo Paris, told exclusively to Eyebook how the board of Silmo took the decision to cancel the fair, the challenges that eyewear is facing during the COVID pandemic, how the market will change, the new role of opticians, the digitalization as a key factor in the future

words Stefano Ampollini

This year Morel celebrates 140 years (founded in 1880). The company grew up through 4 generations: what did you keep from your heritage and what did you, Jerome and Francis bring that is new to the company?

We are the fourth generation of Morels in charge of the Morel company. Each generation has contributed to the legacy. In 1880, Jules Morel began crafting pince-nez glasses artisanally; Marius Morel, our grandfather, developed the industrialisation; and Jacques Morel, our father, developed the exportation. We are building on their work to develop the design of our glasses. We have maintained our glasses manufacturing expertise while modernising the tools of the trade. We have remained independent while designing our products in proximity with our partners and employees through the world. Today, the Morel brand is present in 92 countries, with specialised distributors and integrated subsidiaries that enable us to be as close as possible to opticians. We allow our designers carte blanche in order to infuse our products with ever more creativity.

How is Morel facing and managing the Covid 19 crisis?

The health and safety of all our employees has been our priority. During the lock-down period we also chose to maintain minimal service for all the markets in order to continue providing for our clients’ everyday demands. To do so, a limited number of people ensured the sales and logistics operations. Each one respected the safety distances and strictly followed the health recommendations and measures issued by the government. We worked every day to prepare for recovery. As soon as everyone returned to work, a sales re-launching plan was rolled out with our clients to best guide them through the crisis recovery period and enable each one to transition successfully. We developed and digitalised our sales assistance tools in-house.

How do you think the Morel strategy will change in the near future?

For 140 years, Morel has accompanied opticians throughout the world. Our independence enables us to be more responsive, and to give free run to our creativity while maintaining the quality so distinctive of Morel. Proximity and service have always been central to our concerns. Today even more than before, our optician partners need their partners to be within reach. With our creative products, full control over the distribution, and digitalised sales tools, opticians can count on the support of Morel.

You are the Chairwoman of Silmo Paris. What do you remember of the weeks leading up from the beginning of Covid epidemic in Europe till the decision to cancel the fair? What was your strategy in those moments? Did you wait or seek out solutions?

My initial reaction to the news about Covid was astonishment, followed by a period of doubt with regard to the contradictory information from the various scientific and political authorities. I then had to take a step back. With the Silmo executive board, we analysed the situation realistically and from a distance, to work on the possible alternative fallbacks and to provide concrete solutions.

How important was the dialogue with the brands? You definitely talked with many brands: what was their feeling in those moments?

We have continued to remain available and attentive to the businesses, and they have acknowledged our involvement and our clear, realistic position. Obviously, they wanted Silmo to take place “as usual”, but they are confronted with the same health issues as we are, so they understood our position and they appreciate our choice to stage a roadshow. It is not an ideal solution, but it is a pertinent choice, and it is consistent with the context.

How disappointed were people with the decision to cancel the fair? When did you decide to cancel it, and what pushed you to take this decision?

There was a great deal of disappointment at first, since Silmo would have been the only major trade fair of the autumn year, along with Opti Munich, which was held last January. However, to be quite honest, it did not appear realistic to go forward with the trade fair in such an unstable environment. We made the right decision, and everyone recognises that now.

In your letter / press release of July 23 you never used the word “cancellation” or “postponement”. Why?

Since the beginning of this pandemic and the global lock-down that followed, we had been on uncertain ground, and the only thing we were sure of was that we were following the daily developments of the situation and adapting to them. For the Silmo executive board and for myself as chairwoman, cancelling or postponing was not on the table. We wanted to consider the alternatives that could provide a platform for business and discussion in a way that is consistent with the government’s health requirements. That is how we came up with this idea of a roadshow: setting out to encounter opticians in France and elsewhere in Europe. Long-distance travelling is still not open, or only in very limited, restrictive ways.

You announced that it was “a responsible decision, a simplified plan, and a continued commitment to guide the industry into 2021”. What do you mean? Can you explain it?

We know the economic importance that we have for the entire optics and eyewear industry. For 50 years, Silmo has been a crucial event, a prime sales opportunity on the international agenda. Accordingly, we are not just responsible for offering a platform for discussion and business at a given time, but also for guiding companies, supporting them, and helping them to overcome crises like the one that we are going through. It is important to understand that we are not just organising a trade fair, but providing continual support in the service of an entire industry. That is why we are continually committed to helping companies to get over such crises.

What’s the program of “Silmo Hors les Murs” (“Silmo Outside the Walls”)? What was the feedback from the brands? Is it working as expected?

The objective of this roadshow is to reach as many French and European opticians as possible. We therefore targeted cities that enable visitors to access the various showrooms in the east, west, north and south of Europe by car or by train. That is why we chose Paris, which will play a pivotal role over two days; and then the roadshow will move on to Bordeaux, Rennes, Lyon and Copenhagen. We decided to opt for showrooms with lighter structures, since they are easy for the exhibitors to manage and set up, and are relatively inexpensive. At this phase, the reception is positive and constructive: the companies understand that we are going through an exceptional context, and they understand that we are committed to serving them.

How is Covid changing the market of eyewear irreversibly? In terms of supply chain, customer attitude, role of opticians, impact of digital / e-commerce, and so on.

No, it cannot be said that Covid is “changing the market of eyewear irreversibly”. We are in a sector undergoing organic growth because an increasing number of people require vision correction. Glasses are essential medical goods, but that doesn’t keep them from being irresistible must-haves. That being said, it is necessary to take into account the changes underway in terms of purchasing methods and consumption patterns. The need for proximity and expertise reinforces the central role of opticians and highlights the necessary developments in terms of distribution, in particular through the development of online sales, which offered appreciable efficiency during lock-down.

What do you think the new role of the International trade shows will be in the future? Do you believe that everything will come back to how it was before, or not?

As I said, the pertinence of the economy’s digitalisation has been largely demonstrated in these last months. However, nothing replaces physical presence when it comes to assessing products, gauging them, touching them, and so on.  Nothing can replace the convivial dimension of an event when it comes to enjoying and socialising with other professionals from your industry who gather in the same place at the same time. Trade fairs remain an essential way to get an idea of the market, do business and discuss issues with peers.

After Paris, Bordeaux and Rennes, the recent sanitary news and the new imposed rules forced SILMO Hors Les Murs to cancel the last date in Lyon.