Just three years ago, Walmart was ramping up its manufacturing operation in Fayetteville that makes optical lenses sold by the retail giant. This week, roughly 150 workers in Fayetteville were told their jobs are being eliminated along with similar jobs in Crawfordsville, Ind.
Walmart released the following statement regarding the local job cuts to Talk Business & Politics early Wednesday (July 18): “In response to changing business needs, we are making adjustments at our Walmart Optical Labs in Fayetteville to help ensure we have the right people in the right place at the right time. We are committed to helping the associates impacted by this decision take advantage of new opportunities and are hopeful that we will be able to help many of the associates find other roles at Walmart stores or Sam’s Clubs.”
Some of the staff was displaced beginning Wednesday, and others are receiving a shift change.
In the summer of 2015, Walmart said the local facility was running at about 70% capacity after the retailer spent $10 million installing new equipment and technology. Walmart also said it was expanding its vision centers in as many as 80 stores starting with the Walmart Supercenter located at Elms Springs Road in Springdale.
Walmart said at the time the expansion was needed because it was selling more eyewear. The Fayetteville center is the largest of the three and has been in operation for 23 years. The plant employs about 600 workers who turn out an average of 62,000 prescription eyeglasses a week.
The average worker at the Fayetteville center earned $15 per hour, Walmart said in 2015. The retailer declined to say how many of the local jobs were hourly and how many, if any, are salary or management positions. The Fayetteville center has been running three shifts and it’s also unclear if that is changing.
In Crawfordsville, Walmart will reduce staff by 108 by the end of September. The workers in Crawfordsville were let go Wednesday and they will be paid through Sept. 28, unless they secure another job with Walmart. In its WARN notice to the State of Indiana, Walmart said, “We expect the employment separations to be permanent.”
In 2016, Walmart laid off 91 workers from the Dallas Optical Center, which had been in operation since 1995. The Dallas center was last said to employ 430 workers. Walmart said then it was realigning the lab to create better efficiencies in its production process. Those job cuts were a result of more automation.
Roughly 64% of U.S. adults —more than 157 million people — wear prescription eyeglasses. Walmart is one of the nation’s largest producers of finished prescription eyewear, and it’s the only product the retailer manufactures from start to finish.
It’s unclear if Walmart is seeing a downturn in the number of eyeglasses it sells given the rise of more online shops such as Eyeconic, EyeBuyDirect.com, Coastal.com, 39dollarglasses.com, GlassesUSA.com, FramesDirect.com or Warby Parker, a company that allow consumers to try five different frames at home for free before buying. Warby Parker operates brick-and-mortar U.S. stores as well as a growing online business.
While Walmart.com does sell a limited selection of prescription eyeglasses online, it has not actively marketed this category for online or omnichannel. Walmart operates optical centers with partnering optometrists in more than 3,000 of its stores in the U.S. Walmart also has not said if any of the optical centers in stores are expected to close.
Statista reports Walmart was third in sales of optical wear last year at an estimated $1.692 billion. Vision Source ranked first with sales of $2.733 billion, and Italian eyewear company Luxottica had sales of $2.445 billion. Luxottica brands include Oakley, Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters. National Vision was fourth at $1.375 billion, and Costco was fifth at $1.064 billion. Warby Parker has grown sales to $244 million since it was founded in 2010.