You are the customer

This philosophy sounds so simple. And yet it was the key to success for our company founder, Guenther Fielmann. Thanks to his clear customer focus, he managed to revolutionise the optical industry. Guenther Fielmann made good vision and hearing available for millions of people. His name became a trademark, synonymous with fashion, quality and fair prices.

Guenther Fielmann

Company founder and long-standing CEO

Guenther Fielmann worked hard to achieve success.
Almost nothing in his impressive life story had simply been a coincidence – it is the product of a clear vision, considerable courage and unbridled aspirations.  

Apprenticeship

1956-1959: Apprenticeship as an optician at the Campbell company (Hamburg); graduated with honours for the journeyman's piece

1959-1963: Positions at well-known opticians in Germany and abroad

1963-1965: Higher technical college for ophthalmic optics in Berlin; graduated as a state-certified master optician

1965-1972: Experience in the manufacturing industry at the lenses manufacturers Essilor (France) and Bausch & Lomb (USA)

Important milestones in our company's history

1972: Opening of the first optical store in Cuxhaven, Germany

1977: Introduction of the Three-Year Warranty

1981: Fashionable eyewear at zero cost

1981: Introduction of the Satisfaction Guarantee

1982: Introduction of the Best Price Guarantee

1986: Environmental Pledge: Planting a tree for every employee every year

1991: Expansion to Eastern Germany

1994: IPO

1996: Beginning of international expansion

2002: Opening of the manufacturing site in Rathenow

2004: Zero-Cost Insurance

2006: Opening of the Fielmann Academy at Ploen Castle

2007: Brand hearing aids at zero cost

2019: Handover of the chairmanship to his son Marc

To the company history

“I have surpassed my wildest dreams.”

Guenther Fielmann shaped the optical industry. It is thanks to his entrepreneurial creativity that a large part of the population no longer had to endure unsightly standard-issue glasses mostly paid by health insurances. The democratisation of fashionable eyewear is the historical achievement of our company founder. 

Childhood and youth

 "Opticians are always needed"

Guenther Fielmann grew up in the small village of Stafstedt in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It was on long walks through beautiful marshland with his mother, Luise, that his love of nature was awakened; and this would later develop into an incredible passion. 

Fielmann originally wanted to become a photographer, and he would sell his early photographs to the local newspaper. However, his father, Dr  Wilhelm Fielmann, a headmaster, was not fond of this career path. He wanted his son to have “a real job” and advised him to train as an optician, saying: “Opticians are always needed”.

The apprenticeship

“I seek the challenge. I want to create something meaningful. That’s my passion.”  

From 1956 to 1959, Guenther Fielmann learned his craft at the renowned firm Campbell, in Hamburg. He was ambitious. His journeyman’s piece – a self-developed, artisan pair of glasses – was commended by the Hamburg Chamber of Crafts. 

For a short time, Guenther Fielmann worked as an assistant optician in a number of well-known companies. But he soon wanted more. In 1963, he made the decision to enrol in a master artisan course at the Berlin Technical Optometry University. He then qualified as a state-approved optician in 1965. 

Several formative years in the industry followed. Guenther Fielmann spent time with the French glassmaker Essilor, and during his time with Bausch + Lomb, the world’s second-largest ophtalmic company, he learned all there was to know about the production of lenses and frames. The industry’s pricing policy was of concern to Guenther  Fielmann because, back then, the sales prices of glasses had nothing to do with the actual production costs and were simply high across the board. 

The beginnings

“When I started my company, the optical industry was organised in an almost cartel-like fashion.” 

The optical industry in the late 1960s cannot be compared with the industry today. Back then, opticians wore white coats and their stores resembled pharmacies. Their glasses were stored in drawers and filing cabinets. This meant that the optician was in charge of narrowing down the customer’s choice and decided which frames to show to them. For customers who could not afford any of the “premium spectacles”, a small selection of timeless – yet ugly – standard-issue glasses were the only option. 

When Guenther Fielmann opened his first store in Cuxhaven in 1972, he took a completely different approach, taking the first definitive steps in a new direction. He displayed his glasses openly so that customers could choose their own pairs. From the very beginning, Guenther Fielmann linked the sales prices of his glasses with the actual production costs. This made his prices much lower than all of his competitors, who continued to demand high prices for their goods. 

His stores in no way shared the old-fashioned feel of the 1960s, but were instead styled as modern fashion boutiques. Guenther Fielmann had turned an unpopular sight prosthesis into a fashion accessory.  

This did not escape the attention of the industry. Above all, it was Fielmann’s marketing of its position as the cheapest supplier of glasses that attracted the most criticism. This approach was branded as aggressive marketing and some complained about it, trying to thwart him. This was the moment that Guenther Fielmann refers to as the “spark that lit the fire of success”. He would later say: “If they had left me alone, I probably would have stuck with my six or seven stores and that would have been it.” However, the provocation and intimidation he endured made him fight back. His success proves that he was right to keep going – by 1980, the Fielmann name could be found above 49 shop fronts. And his greatest breakthrough was just around the corner. 

The revolution of the optical industry

 “Those who could not afford expensive glasses essentially wore proof of their low income on the tip of their nose.”

Standard-issue glasses were a great source of stigma during this time. There were six models for adults and two for children. Guenther Fielmann found this to be a veritable form of discrimination and he wanted to change this. He visited health insurance providers up and down Germany, trying to talk to them about new, fashionable standard-issue glasses. His determination finally paid off when AOK, a small local health insurance provider in Esens, saw the potential of this idea. In 1981, in the presence of the former Federal Minister of Labor Herbert Ehrenberg, Guenther Fielmann signed a historic contract to produce 90 fashionable, high-quality frames in 640 combinations of material and colour. These frames were immediately available to AOK’s members. The other health insurance providers soon followed. Just like that, Fielmann made standard-issue glasses beautiful. The number of customers continued to rise. By 1983, Fielmann had 75 stores. The company’s new flagship store was opened in a truly spectacular fashion. On Hamburg’s renowned Moenckebergstraße, Guenther Fielmann pushed the optical industry forward into a completely new dimension. More than 10,000 pairs of glasses from all of the hippest brands and designers were available in what was then Europe’s largest optician’s store. What more could you ask for? 

The recipe for success

“See yourself in the next. Think long-term. Take responsibility.”

Guenther Fielmann continued to drive forward his "revolution of the optical industry" and introduced more and more services that had never existed before. In 1982, the Satisfaction Guarantee was rolled out, promising to accept any complaint – no ifs, no buts. Many warned that customers would exploit this policy, but Guenther Fielmann saw it differently: “If I treat my customers fairly and don’t squeeze money out of them, then they will treat me fairly as well. Trust goes both ways, after all.” Once again, his success proved him right. 

That same year, the Best Price Guarantee was introduced. If customers buy a product at Fielmann and find it cheaper elsewhere, they can return the product and Fielmann will refund the purchase price.

What evolved here is more than simply one promise after another. It has grown into its very own corporate culture and company philosophy. 

“You are the customer” – that is the guiding principle of this mentality. Guenther Fielmann once explained it in this way: “I would like my employees to treat each and every customer as if they were their brother or sister, their father or mother.” 

In short, the goal is not to generate maximum profit, but maximum customer satisfaction. The reward here is loyal customers who come back, and recommend Fielmann to their friends. 

The expansion to Eastern Germany

“It's worth the wait – Fielmann is coming!”
By the end of the 1980s, Fielmann had taken over even more optician’s chains growing to a network of some 201 stores. Then, the Berlin Wall fell. There was no time to lose for Guenther Fielmann. Just a few days after the borders between East and West Germany opened, he travelled all across East Germany, made contacts and swiftly signed a contract with the country’s social insurance provider. He knew that glasses were in short supply in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). “It's worth the wait – Fielmann is coming” was plastered on advertising columns. And this promise was kept. Barely 18 months after the Berlin Wall came down, with Germany freshly reunited, Fielmann opened stores in a number of cities across the former GDR. The demand for glasses was so high that there would be queues outside these stores for months to come. 

This shortage was brought about by the glasses manufacturing process in the time before the Wall came down. The East German cradle of the optical industry was the town of Rathenow an der Havel. Glasses had been manufactured there for over 200 years, and in the days of GDR, Rathenower Optische Werke (ROW), in partnership with Carl Zeiss Jena, produced all of the glasses for Eastern Europe. Operations had become entirely overwhelmed and there were long waiting periods, with glasses wearers in East Germany often having to wait many months for their glasses. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the "Treuhandanstalt", which was responsible for privatising East German companies, took on the task of privatising the former “publicly owned works”. For ROW, this meant the end and thousands of workers were left workless. Guenther Fielmann quickly took action. In 1991, he constructed a modern lens manufacture in Rathenow, creating jobs and manufacturing metal and plastic glasses frames.

The Initial public offering (IPO)

“As an entrepreneur, if you have set yourself a goal, you have to see it through.” 

In 1994, the time had come for Fielmann to go public. One of the “peoples shares” in the company was priced at 5 German marks and led to the year’s most successful new issuance of shares. With this new capital, Fielmann was able to expedite growth, and in the following years the company expanded into Austria, Switzerland, Poland and the Netherlands. 

In the meantime, the demand for Fielmann glasses became so great that the previous manufacturing workshops were no longer able to keep up. In 2000, together with his son Marc, Guenther Fielmann laid the foundations for the realisation of his latest project: a large-scale production and logistics centre in Rathenow. Today, more than 1,000 qualified employees work at this location, manufacturing millions of lenses every year and distributing millions of pairs of glasses to the company’s many stores. 

The Fielmann Academy at Ploen Castle

“I’m not only responsible for delivering excellent products – I’m also responsible for my employees.” 

The Fielmann employees are at the heart of the company’s success. Guenther Fielmann is aware of that. Shortly after the millennium, he acquires Castle Ploen from the state of Schleswig-Holstein. This building has a long history – in former times it was the summer residence of the King of Denmark – however, particularly it was in poor condition. Walls were threatening to collapse and the roof trusses were rotten. Guenther Fielmann needed just a few years to completely renovate this Renaissance castle and in 2006 he opened the Fielmann Academy at Ploen Castle, the company’s centre for specialist and apprentice training. Every year, several thousand employees come to the Fielmann Academy to be trained in fundamental and specialist skills and to obtain their master artisan qualifications.  

The generational succession

“I would like my son Marc to lead the company into the next generation.” 

When Guenther Fielmann celebrated his 70th birthday in 2009, the company had 664 stores and sold half of all glasses purchased in Germany. Slowly and meticulously, the founder was preparing to hand the family business over to the next generation. His son Marc obtained his degree from the London School of Economics completing a number of placements at renowned manufacturers in the optical industry after, before working his way around the Fielmann world. In 2016 he got appointed to the Management Board. At this time, Guenther Fielmann and his son stand together at the head of the family business until he hands over the chairmanship of the Management Board to him in 2019.

Guenther Fielmann  started to dedicate more and more time to his second great passion: organic farming. He has run several farms in Schleswig-Holstein since the mid-1980s, cultivating Limousin cattle and endangered domestic breeds such as the Angeln Saddleback pig and the Jezersko-Solčava sheep.

His life's work is summarised in a sentence that Guenther Fielmann always uttered with deep gratitude: “I have surpassed my wildest dreams.”

Farewell to Guenther Fielmann

After a long and fulfilling life, our longstanding Chairman of the Management Board passed away peacefully at the age of 84 on 3 January 2024, surrounded by his family.

Selected Awards

First Class Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

Honorary Professor of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein

Deutscher Gruenderpreis

Honorary Doctorate of Christian Albrechts University, Kiel

Unternehmer des Jahres, €uro am Sonntag

„Hall of Fame”, Manager Magazin

German Trade Award, Category Lifetime Achievement, Handelsverband Deutschland

Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

Honorary citizen of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein

Honorary citizen of the town of Ploen

An extraordinary life in pictures

Born on 17 September 1939, Guenther Fielmann grew up in the small village of Stafstedt (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany).

Guenther Fielmann originally wanted to become a photographer but his father wanted him to do “something useful” and suggested he should pursue a career as an optician.

Guenther Fielmann with his parents, Luise and Dr  Wilhelm Fielmann. It was on walks with his mother that his love for nature was cultivated. His father taught him Prussian virtues.

After completing his apprenticeship and master's studies, Guenther Fielmann spent several years working in the lens industry. 

In 1972, Guenther Fielmann opened his first optical store in Cuxhaven. The start of an incredible success story.

This is what a traditional optician’s practice would look like in the early 1970s. Back then, opticians wore white coats and the stores resembled pharmacies.  

In contrast, Fielmann’s stores were styled as modern fashion boutiques. He displayed his glasses openly and let his customers choose their own pairs.

Guenther Fielmann offered his customers fashionable glasses at significantly lower prices than traditional opticians.  

The stigma of the era: standard-issue glasses mostly paid by the health insurances. Guenther Fielmann said: “If someone has to wear standard-issue glasses, they are essentially wearing proof of their low income on their nose!”

In 1981, Guenther Fielmann supplied AOK Esens with the production of 600 new models of standard-issue glasses. Federal Minister of Labor, Herbert Ehrenberg (second from the left) attended the signing. 

In 1985, Fielmann became even more famous with the release of the TV advertisement featuring little Julia. Her legendary saying became iconic: “…And Daddy didn’t have to pay a single extra penny!”

Fielmann turned the opening of new stores into a media spectacle – sometimes even bringing an elephant into the mix.  

Nowhere was there a greater selection of eyewear than at Fielmann, who also designed many of the models of his own collection.  

In 1991, 18 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Guenther Fielmann opened his first stores in the former GDR. 

In the former GDR, glasses were a scarce commodity and there were long waiting times for new pairs. Long queues stretched outside of Fielmann stores for many months. 

In 1994, Fielmann was floated on the stock exchange, bringing the “peoples shares” onto the market at a nominal value of 5 German marks Fielmann shares went on to become the most successful newly issued shares of the year.  

In 2000, Guenther Fielmann and his son Marc, laid the foundation stones for a production and logistics site in Rathenow an der Havel. Lenses have been grinded in the town since 1806. 

Today, at its site in Rathenow, Fielmann produces millions of orders of mineral and plastic lenses every year and employs more than 1,000 specialists. 

2006 saw the opening of the Fielmann Academy at Ploen Castle. Every year the Academy trains Fielmann employees in fundamental and specialist skills.  

Guenther Fielmann’s passion: protecting nature and environment. Every year since 1986, Fielmann has planted one tree for each of its employees. Pictured: Koenigsallee in Gottorf.

In 2009, Guenther Fielmann planted the millionth tree alongside former Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Peter Harry Carstensen.

Throughout his life, Guenther Fielmann was an avid organic farmer.

Guenther Fielmann was awarded many honours in his lifetime including the Federal Cross of Merit First Class. In 2016, he also became the tenth person to be awarded honorary citizenship of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. In granting him this honour, Guenther Fielmann’s home state recognised his efforts in protecting environment and nature and conserving monuments, and his role as a benefactor and patron.

In 2019, Guenther Fielmann stepped down from the company’s Management Board, handing the reins to his son Marc, and decided to dedicate himself to his hobby of organic farming. 

Guenther Fielmann - visionary, entrepreneur, patron and producer of lenses and organic goods who surpassed his wildest dreams.