Those who follow the fashion sunglasses industry religiously know that Italy’s Luxottica dominates the market. They own almost all the biggest brands in the world along with commensurate ownership of prescription eyewear and retail optical franchises. Their control over the eyewear market is unquestionable.

Having said that, Luxottica would not be the company it is without the brands it owns. But what are brands other than names, really? When you step back and deeply analyze branding as a marketing tool rather than a tangible difference that distinguishes one from another, you are left with another question: do brands really drive fashion sunglasses or is it more about distribution?

Well-known eyewear designer Moss Lipow indirectly answered this very question in a blog post published back in September 2017. His insights into branding and distribution clearly demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of branding. He went as far as to describe a very specific scenario that, if realized, would threaten Luxottica’s dominance of both fashion sunglasses and prescription eyewear.

The Branding Aspect

Lipow’s scenario is based on two fundamental principles of retail, the first being the importance of branding. Manufacturers and distributors rely on branding to do everything from build customer loyalty to create a company image. There is no doubt that branding is an immensely powerful tool.

Some of the most powerful brands in all of global retail continually ride their branding to maintain market share. And as long as they don’t do anything to upset customers, the loyalty a strong brand generates provides a solid base for sales. It doesn’t take much to upset things, though.

Remember when Coca-Cola made the mistake of changing their formula? The Coke brand was instantly under assault. Coca-Cola had to do something, so they introduced Coke Classic to keep fans of the original formula happy. That only made things worse. They ultimately had to scrap the new recipe altogether or risk destroying a brand they had worked for decades to establish.

The lesson here is that branding is important. It is as important to fashion sunglasses as it is with any of the retail products. And it’s just as important to smaller companies like Olympic Eyewear as it is giants like Luxottica.

The Distribution Aspect

The other principal Lipow touched on is that of distribution. A manufacturer’s distribution network is to retail what veins and arteries are to human circulation. Without enough distribution infrastructure in place, even the best brand isn’t going to get very far. Believe it or not, this is really Luxottica’s biggest strength.

You could make the case that Ray Bans aren’t any better, in terms of quality, than a comparable brand from Olympic Eyewear. Luxottica is likely to sell a lot more because they have a global distribution infrastructure. But what if that were not the case?

Distribution Is a Brand’s Strength

If branding is marketing’s biggest strength, then distribution is a brand’s biggest strength. In other words, the success of a given brand will ultimately be determined by the success of the distribution network that gets products into the hands of consumers.

As Lipow explains, the best way to compete against Luxottica is to find a way to match the company’s distribution capabilities. He offers a very plausible way this can be accomplished: a group of smaller companies joining forces to create a much bigger distribution infrastructure. The point is that brands may drive the retail industry, but distribution drives the brands. You cannot have success in one without succeeding in both. It is as true for fashion sunglasses as it is for soft drinks.