“Online has opened the door for new exciting product developments,” says B+D CEO Roberto Crom

“It is very difficult to predict what will happen in travel retail, but it is clearly the beginning of a new era,” says B+D Roberto Crom who shares how the eyewear company has pivoted to survive and thrive amid the pandemic crisis.

Key to B+D’s approach was the acceleration of digital and ecommerce. The company is a Sponsoring Partner of the upcoming Summit of the Americas — A Virtual Experience (5-9 April).

“Whereas the pandemic hit our traditional travel retail business in a dramatically negative way, we saw the exact opposite effect with our on-line business,” Crom says. “You could almost say that the pandemic stimulated our online business.”

B+D has also developed new eyewear innovations to cater to changing consumer needs. This includes the upcoming launch of its Screen Glasses and B+D Kids range that protect the eyes from prolonged screen exposure and harmful blue light.

“Without a doubt, developing a new screen glasses category to protect us from the negative effects of blue light was one of the clearest opportunities for B+D,” Crom adds. “Not only for our traditional market of reading glasses, but also for younger consumers and children.”

In this interview, Crom discusses B+D’s shift towards ecommerce and how the eyewear company is addressing the online world’s constant demand for newness and innovation. He also underscores the importance of having a clear dialogue between industry stakeholders to move the channel forward in what he calls ‘the new era’ of travel retail.

According to Crom, B+D has enjoyed a particularly strong business throughout the Latin Americas 

What are your major targets by geography, channel or retailer type as you seek to tap into a recovering market?

Geographically our company has been traditionally strong throughout Latin America, Mexico and Central America as well as in most European countries. In recent years, we have grown in our business in the Middle East and Asia with Thailand and Singapore being especially strong.

Australia is also a big star in the world of B+D international customers. As markets begin to recover throughout the world, we will look at the opportunities in each one and decide the best strategy for our brands.

In the last year, B+D enhanced its ecommerce capabilities and expanded its presence in various online marketplaces 

How do you view the continuing impact of COVID-19 on Americas travel retail and the wider industry?

Whereas the pandemic hit our traditional travel retail business in a dramatically negative way, we saw the exact opposite effect with our online business. You could almost say that the pandemic stimulated our online business. This is especially true for our own ecommerce pages in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and our global ecommerce platform based in Barcelona.

We also invested in the online marketplaces of smaller countries with really positive results. We also focused on sending new communication ideas to the travel retail channel in order to anticipate the return of travellers to duty free stores. Or at the very least, maintain communication with potential customers to tell them that we’re still here and that we can’t wait to welcome them with new ideas.

One of the initial things we noticed was that the new growing online channel demanded new product introductions on a regular basis. This forced our design teams to constantly forecast market trends to develop new designs, new colours and even new product categories in real time.

Ecommerce demands constant newness, engaging communications and high-impact visuals, says Crom

How does a brand like B+D stand out in a highly competitive online retail landscape?

It’s not just about having new and innovative products. We have to also effectively communicate these new concepts to online consumers. Our senior managers make sure that we constantly release well thought out and well-designed advertising campaigns with new images that reflect the signature aesthetic and visual appeal of our brand.

Ecommerce demands high-impact images and videos to communicate the new products from B+D to our consumers, both in domestic and travel retail channels.

Within our core business, we’ve explored new categories of sunglasses and readers and found new ways of communicating these new products. Everyone knows that space is always at a premium in most travel retail stores and sometimes it can be difficult to exhibit your new product categories properly. In many cases it can even be impossible.

Clearly, this has hampered our ability to create new product lines and display them efficiently, but now online has opened the door for new exciting product developments.

COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviour and B+D pivoted to offer eyewear products that address these new consumer needs

The pandemic has increased the use of laptops, tablets and cell phone more than ever – and exposure to blue light has never been more dangerous. Without a doubt, developing a new screen glasses category, to protect us from the negative effects of blue light, was one of the clearest opportunities for B+D. Not only for our traditional market of reading glasses, but also for younger consumers and even children. As a result, in August we will be launching B+D KIDS and B+D KIDS Sunglasses, which are especially designed and developed for our new younger consumer.

At the same time, we have also seen huge growth in our capsule collections of sunglasses. Within the next few months, we will be presenting a spectacular addition to the Solskin line. It has great product design, fantastic merchandising and super exhibition ideas. It goes without saying that the product design, presentation and displays will be top-notch and we will be able to adapt these to travel retail stores when the pandemic eases.

What is the role of the eyewear category in driving channel recovery? 

The eyewear category has become more important over recent years. We believe this to be the case during the recovery of travel retail too. The innovations we are introducing will be part of the sales rebound that will happen in the short term. The new subcategories of Screen Glasses and Kids’ Eyewear will also help attract new people to shop in the eyewear zone and drive additional sales.

B+D’s capsule collections have proved to be popular amid the pandemic crisis. Pictured above is B+D Readers’ new ‘Max’ collection, while below is the blue light protection-enhanced ‘Powdered Pastels’ line.

How would you like to see industry partnerships evolve as we enter a new era for travel and travel retail?

Crom is confident that B+D’s new product innovations, striking visual campaigns and best-in-class merchandising will resonate with eyewear customers both new and old

It is very difficult to predict what will happen in travel retail, but as you say it is clearly the beginning of a new era. So far it has been a little stop-and-go; and unfortunately, we feel this will continue for a few more months.

Communication with the end-customer will become more important and retailers must engage fully with suppliers to make sure that the right message is communicated to travellers, before, during and after their trips.

As many travellers have become more accustomed to ecommerce, retailers must look at ways of using this channel to attract customers. They also need to look at ways of incorporating new brands into their product offer more quickly.

It is crazy that sometimes new ideas and new brands take six months to get through the administrative bureaucracy that some retailers still operate.

There should be clear dialogue between all the players to find the best way to give travellers what they want in this new era. We are already talking to our duty free and duty paid customers around the world to show them our new innovations.

We are confident that our new designs and our new communication campaigns will allow retailers to attract old and new customers into the stores. We are also convinced that great product collections, excellent merchandising units and high-impact visuals will generate the very best sales for our customers.

There are just a few days to go until the highly anticipated Summit of the Americas – A Virtual Experience begins on 5 April. There is still time to register and join over 800 delegates who have already confirmed their places.

Visitor registration (free to all travel retailers and airport companies) remains open at the official event website.