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Alensa interested in opportunistic acquisitions in Europe to help it scale up – CEO

Alensa, a Czech online retailer of contact lenses and glasses, is interested in opportunistic acquisitions in Europe to help it scale up, CEO and co-owner Radek Hejl told Mergermarket. 

The company could, for example, look at peers with several offline stores to accelerate Alensa’s expansion in the offline space in markets such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Germany, Hejl said. It would be interested in hearing about potential opportunities from owners or advisers, he said.

This could, for example, be companies with around 10 opticians‘ stores and a sizeable customer base that would be willing to be rebranded to Alensa, Hejl said. It is not currently in talks with any targets, he said. 

Alensa could also consider acquiring online players in central and eastern Europe for attractive valuations, he said. These could be targets with turnover of up to around EUR 20m, he added. 

Alensa had 2022 retail revenues of EUR 112m, up 15.5% year on year, and EBITDA of EUR 4.5m.  

Targets would have to be well-operating companies that brought synergies, Hejl noted. 

While it has looked at some potential targets in recent years, high valuation expectations from sellers have always hindered any potential deal, he said. Alensa has always placed great emphasis on profit in addition to growth, which is not always the case at other companies, he said. 

Owners would entertain talks with potential buyers

Alensa’s owners are not actively pursuing any sale, but would entertain approaches by investors with a view to an exit, Hejl said. This could include western European peers seeking to consolidate the European market or private equity funds, he said. 

Alensa was founded by co-CEO Jaromir Kijonka in 2004. Hejl owns 50%, and Kijonka and his wife Simona Kijonkova hold the other 50% through JSK EyeCare.  

A key driver for the owners considering an exit is wanting to ease the burden of taking over the company from their children, he said. 

Alensa has held initial talks with potential buyers after receiving several approaches in the past as recently as 2022, but no agreement about a sale has ever been reached, he said. 

The owners are not interested in selling a minority stake, Hejl stressed. The company does not need to raise any external financing and prefers to finance any inorganic growth from its own resources and bank financing, he added. 

Founded in 2004, Alensa sells contact lenses, sunglasses and dioptric spectacles, as well as contact lens solutions and eye drops. Its offering includes hundreds of thousands of items such as its own brands including Crulle and Marisio, Gelone and Laim-Care.   

It also offers an online virtual try-on service enabling clients to try on glasses frames using their computer or phone cameras. 

Alensa handled more than one million orders in 2022 and is active across the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. The company is the second-largest retailer of contact lenses in Europe, Hejl noted. Exports account for 89% of revenues with the Netherlands and Germany among its largest foreign markets, he said. 

In addition to selling products online, Alensa opened its first offline store in Prague last October and its second offline store in Brno this month, with plans to open another in the Slovak capital Bratislava this summer.

Good offline potential in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary

The company sees good potential to expand in the offline segment in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary over the next two years, building on its strong online brand and offering buyers an additional customer experience with the same prices as online, Hejl said. It plans to connect the online and offline worlds, he went on, adding that it could expand offline to further countries in the medium term. 

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the company’s plans to expand offline, but at the same time enabled it to further prepare for this move, he said. 

This news service reported in 2019 that the company was in talks to acquire one unnamed peer in eastern Europe and could agree this deal next year. 

Since then, Alensa acquired Hungarian peer Lencsebolt.hu in 2020, Hejl said. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers shifted from physical stores to online stores for contact lenses and glasses, Hejl added. 

Alensa plans to focus on further growth in its existing markets, the CEO said, adding that there is strong potential to cross-sell products to existing customers. 

Alensa, which has 275 employees, has always placed importance on retaining all aspects of its operations including software development, warehousing, and marketing in-house, Hejl said.

by Katka Krosnar