3i's Brazil buy Óticas Carol in step to dominate eyewear market

SAO PAULO - 3i Group, which agreed to acquire Brazil's Óticas Carol with a group of buyout funds, expects Brazil's No. 2 eyewear retailer to rise to the top spot by year-end after almost doubling existing stores, a senior executive at the British buyout firm said on Friday.

Under the expansion plan designed by 3i and its partners, Siguler Guff and Neuberger Berman Inc, between 150 and 200 Óticas Carol stores will be opened by December, Marcelo Di Lorenzo, a partner and head of 3i's Brazilian unit, said in an interview. The company currently operates 490 stores, most of them franchises, in 235 Brazilian cities.

"We have a very clear strategy for the company. With the very strong network of franchises that we have, plus the consolidation opportunities out there, we think we can become market leaders this year," Di Lorenzo said.

The purchase comes as 3i seeks more presence in fast-growing sectors that are benefiting from a resilient job market and torrid demand for entertainment, healthcare and other services. The funds paid a total 108 million reais $55 million (36 million pounds) to Brazilian entrepreneur Marcos Amaro for 100 percent of Óticas Carol.

Di Lorenzo expects revenue at Óticas Carol-owned stores, laboratories and royalty fees tripling to 200 million reais in between three and five years. Revenue from franchised stores could rise to 1 billion reais in the same period, he added. He declined to disclose details on the deal's multiples and expected earnings.

The investment highlights Brazil's growing allure as a destination for private-equity capital. As has been the rule for years, Brazil was the top recipient of private-equity money in Latin America last year, accounting for 72 percent of the total amount invested and 62 percent of all deals, the Latin American Private Equity and Venture Capital Association said on Tuesday.

Bankers at Credit Suisse Group and other investment-banks have repeatedly said they foresee buyout firms' appetite for targets in the consumer sector and the need for scale in a vastly fragmented market to encourage Brazilian corporate takeovers this year.

Di Lorenzo, a veteran with more than 18 years in private equity, said Brazil's eyewear market grew at a compounded average growth rate of 15 percent in the past seven years - three times economic growth in the period. That trend should continue thanks to Brazil's aging population, rising demand for prescription glasses and the increased use of eyewear as a fashion accessory, he added.

Currently, 3i has investments in Brazilian cable TV services provider Blue Interactive Group and snack food chain Casa do Pão de Queijo.

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