NEW YORK—Marchon Eyewear is viewing its 40th anniversary as an occasion to look ahead. As Thomas Burkhardt, president, describes it, the milestone is a chance to capture the spirit and vision of its original founders—which was to be an American-based frame company redefining the notions of sales and service in the optical industry when the company debuted in 1983—to one that is now a global leader, employing modern digital systems, new approaches to multiple brands of eyewear and sunwear, product technology and international relationships with leading manufacturers and designers to provide 21st century notions of service to ECPs and retail partners around the world.

Thomas Burkhardt, president of Marchon Eyewear.

Since 2008, Marchon has been a division of VSP, and today it is part of an enterprise division of that business set up to serve VSP Vision’s partners across the country, in a more efficient way. “Our integration into VSP Vision’s operations is stronger than ever,” said Burkhardt, “and we are particularly grateful to Mike Guyette, VSP Vision’s CEO, and Earnie Franklin, COO and VSP Vision’s leader of the supply chain pillar of the organization, for all their support and encouragement.”

At the same time, Burkhardt points out, Marchon is among the world’s five largest eyewear global players, selling 22 million units annually (the company will not disclose revenues). He and his team view that international position and size as a major advantage for solutions that can be tailored and scaled, through long-term distribution and subsidiary businesses, to meet the increasingly complex needs of customers, large and small, in a fast and dynamic business environment.

Burkhardt was named to his current role in August of last year. For the seven previous years, he served as Marchon’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president of global brands, marketing and design. He now reports to Franklin.

He also has a working partnership with Andy Skitmore, chief revenue officer of VSP’s new global sales organization, who oversees customer-facing teams at Marchon, Altair Eyewear, Allure Eyewear, VSP Optics, Eyefinity and the global business development team.

A special 20-year product timeline in New York traces Marchon’s founding in 1983, displaying the first Flexon, Calvin Klein, Nike, Lagerfeld and other designer product milestones.

The new approach is unique, tapping Burkhardt’s experience in the company’s eyewear design, marketing and product development sectors. Prior to joining Marchon, Burkhardt served as vice president of global marketing for Coty, Inc., leading the Calvin Klein fragrance and cosmetic license.

He also held several senior marketing roles with Procter & Gamble in Germany, the U.K. and Switzerland. Born in Germany, Burkhardt holds an MBA from the University of Cologne, served in the German Air Force and is multilingual. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Accessories Council.

In an interview with VM, Burkhardt noted, “When I joined this industry seven years ago, one of the things that excited me about getting into eyewear was that it was an industry steeped in tradition and craft. But it’s also an industry in great flux with an incredibly rosy future because the world needs vision correction and many people who do need it can’t access it. Being a part of VSP, which has the commitment as one of the leading experts and partners to ODs and eyecare professionals puts us in a unique position.”

He said, “Global brands want global partners, and this is important for us, not only in working with the world’s leading brands from Nike to Calvin Klein to Ferragamo and others but to have the capabilities that can be tailored to different regions and customers—with all the ‘back-end’ systems and supply chain flexibility to execute.”

He continued, “We can combine that with having boots on the ground, through our associates, sales teams and many distribution and subsidiary partners, too. That’s a huge network that’s another real-world advantage and one that also helps us analyze trends across many landscapes.”

Marchon currently operates 21 subsidiaries and two joint ventures, and has dozens of other distribution partnerships around the world.

Marchon has its own factory in Italy but also has achieved deep working relationships with core manufacturing partners around the world. Such flexibility, a part of the company’s product development and sourcing, has been an advantage for a long time.

Such scale is also coming into play with Marchon’s expanding commitment to sustainability, Burkhardt pointed out. As part of the company’s broad “Eyes on Tomorrow” commitment, detailed on its website and to its customers, there are initiatives on several fronts, including ESG efforts throughout VSP Vision.

Through work with Eastman on several of its renewed plastics platforms for acetate and injected materials, and, through businesses like Dragon, with its own eco-materials and others such as plant-base resins, “responsible acetate” and more in development, Marchon is already currently assessing that 25 percent of its eyewear styles are now based on sustainable materials—and Burkhardt has a goal of reaching 50 percent of its styles to be sustainable-based materials by 2025.

“Beyond that, the real goal is 100 percent, said Burkhardt, “because why would you not, if the consumer has a choice and particularly if the design integrity is there and it’s not more expensive?”

Translating the company’s investments in technology toward digitalization is not only service and supply chain but in marketing as well. Burkhardt, who is keen that customers are armed with the latest images and assets they need for point-of-sale and social media needs, too, sees another Marchon advantage. “We have 80,000 customers worldwide. I don’t want them to have a person sitting there emailing a JPEG file to batches of those customers.

“But we can arm our accounts with self-service, reliable ways to access those kinds of assets when they need them—its big brand data bank that can help them efficiently even as they create high-touch situations with their customers. These have always been Marchon’s strengths.”

Ferragamo was the first designer brand to feature frames made of Eastman’s Acetate Renew. Marchon has set a goal that 50 percent of its styles will be made from sustainable materials by 2025.

Kaleyedoscope is another example, Burkhardt explained. This is Marchon’s digital frame board management system which helps to simplify the process of overseeing a practice’s frame assortment. Practices can use Kaleyedoscope’s market analytics to create a curated assortment of best-selling frames and replacements for slow sellers and discontinued products to drive sales and margins for their business.

By incorporating this new, easy-to-use tool into their businesses, doctors and their staff can put their focus on patient care.

In addition, Burkhardt cites VSP Premier Edge as a program in the U.S. market for VSP members that integrates Marchon’s capabilities and along with others among the VSP enterprise businesses. For nearly 10 years, the Premier Program has provided a competitive edge for private practice VSP providers. Now under the new name, look and feel, plus exclusive VSP member offers, there are still other new opportunities for VSP members to use their insurance benefits and exclusive rebates.

Stated Burkhardt, “In effect, Marchon wants to be part of the change advancing our industry and advancing eyecare, too. We don’t just want to be a spectator. Notions of service have changed so dramatically and that’s what I think is the exciting journey that we’re on, one rooted in the history of this company but pointing the way to the future.”