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Where does Indian Optical Industry stand today?

Where does Indian Optical Industry stand today?

Mr Siddharth Salecha, Editor-In-Chief at Nowyouseeme in conversation with Mr Umesh Mayekar the owner of V.A.Mayekar a leading Optical chain in Maharashtra discussing about the current market scenario and sharing their perspectives.
It was established in the year 1959 by his grandfather Mr. Vasant Aatmaram Mayekar (V.A. Mayekar) on the auspicious occasion of JANAMASTHAMI in 1959 as they opened their 1st ever showroom in Dadar,Mumbai and since then they have opened up 36 stores across Maharashtra.

What is your SKU selection criteria ?

There are 2 perspective to this one…
  • Sunglasses:As you know our country is majorly influenced based by celebrities, sportsmen, social platform influencers where they influence people on what and which things are to be used. All of these trends majorly come from brands of European countries. so, what we do to keep ourselves updated beforehand, we follow 2 major exhibitions in Europe i.e. SILMO and MIDO which happens in Italy and Paris respectively. We see to it that we at least attend any one of them if not both as they are open for all. This helps us to understand the perspective of what is trending there and as INDIA has been a trend follower that same products will be coming in after 6months from date.We get our products manufactured overseas, and so we understand the designs and models to invest in, to serve our customer needs.
  • Frames: Here the whole collection is based on 2 aspects, Experimental products, So, these are the products which are pleasing on the shelves and are great for attracting the customers but that is only consumed by 15% of the customers and not more. Traditional products, 85% of people go by these products as they have a sense of selecting the perfect frames which matches well with their attire or occasion. Our shelf has 35-40% of experimental products and rest 55-60% is traditional which we know is an easy to buy for our customers.

What is the behaviour of optical industry? Cost-centric, Customer centric or Product centric?

During the Pandemic: Right now, during the pandemic the whole industry is Cost-centric as churnings are stuck. Also, we couldn’t open our optical stores during lockdown as it didn’t come under essentials, but we have managed to just begun the operations from this month (JULY) under restrictions of ODD-EVEN alternate rule by the government.
Before the Pandemic: Optical Industry lies between Medical & Fashion, so the most important part is to strike the balance, we understand that we are into hospitality industry and so the focus has always been into service i.e. customer centric and then comes Cost centric for V.A. Mayekar at least.

What government policies or licences are required to open an Optical Store?

We require regular shop establishment and other common certificates required across India. Apart from that when it comes to refraction i.e. testing done in the outlets, there are no licences as such in fact no governing body to overlook that is one loophole in the system, you must have seen many small opticians in the market which have 2-3years of sales experience with enough financial backups to put up a store but they lack expertise. Even though eyes being the most important and delicate organ of our body, it is surprising that there is no such regulatory body. There are 3 stages where an optometrist or the person who conducts the eye tests can complete their education.
  1. Degree holder (an optometrist)
  2. Diploma holder (same process as an optometrist but without a degree)
  3. In this case people do a 6month course over a video call with a doctor who gives a certificate which certifies one to perform the activities of an optometrist.
So, for the 3rd point mentioned above we need a governing body which can filter out such people and also examine the optometrists as per their calibre if they are fit for the job or no. Because of not having a governing body there are chances of many people taking advantages of the power and due to it many cases which could be saved by an expert were worsen because of lack of expertise in many practicing with a 6month degree. Many a times eyeglass is wrongly prescribed to the customer which can also lead to their vision loss in future. A consumer should always look for an authorised dealer distributor as there are many fake brand sellers in the market. Always ask or look for an authorized distributor certificate in the retail store you’re purchasing from.

What are the best marketing strategies to pull walk-in customers?

Pre-Pandemic: Every year we have a strategy as in what we have to focus on for both new and existing customers. For our existing customer we do have a loyalty programme where he keeps on buying on a regular basis and the points keep adding to his/her account. Procuring new customers: We have been going through all our digital mediums and stretching our muscles over there. So here, we are not competing with the global competitors which is difficult, so we work on geographical radius where we make our POA and advertise on the basis of demographics like location, customer type, convenience to reach the store etc. We keep changing the window and shop displays which shouts out to the customers and keeps our displays new every time. So, these strategies were implicated before the pandemic but currently things are different.
During Pandemic: In the current situation we are just looking for SURVIVAL. So, in these times we have sold glasses to our existing buyers for the same quality of product but a lesser price as we understand that the difficult time is just not for us but for our customers too.
Post-pandemic: As soon as the survival period is over and people start stepping out of their houses there will be a short recovery time of about 6months I assume, where again there will be an incline in the sales graph. I see a lot of opportunity and see India becoming a boom market where hopefully the investors come in and change the direction of the market upwards. I would say, the time is surely difficult today but tomorrow will be way better than ever!

There are few plans we wanted to initiate but we have kept it on hold due to COVID-19, which are:

  1. Optician on Call: A customer looks for convenience, and having the touch and feel of the eyewear is only possible by going to the stores and trying it out!! But this gap is to be filled by V.A. Mayekar, Pre-pandemic we started off with a pilot project of OOC in 3-4 areas which proved to be successful. Our person goes DOOR-to-DOOR and gets your refractions done by a qualified optometrist. All the details of the person visiting at your place with all the detailed information of the process would be sent to you as you book through our website. Based on your test report we would provide eyeglass options with prescribed lenses and you can choose your favourite frame sitting at your home!
  2. Customized frames: We have tied up with a company from the States where we have an open ground for our customers who love wearing customised frames. Under this project a customer can literally get their frames customised from options of shapes, size, colours, designs, materials (available from wood to bull horn) from the convenience of their phones where they need not get off their sofa even or also we can allot our designer to come at your place and explain the whole process and get it documented for you, the service would be free of cost! (As we look for the safety interests of our team members and customers the above services are on hold until the pandemic is over).

Could you share what a buyer should look for, while buying eyewear for themselves?

It completely depends on what they require. I would raise a question for the readers to understand better:
How dependant are you on the spectacles?
If the power is below 1.50 then surely your dependency on the spec is low, who can go for any frames which ever you like on the showcase without brainstorming a lot.
If your dependency is high then I would say you got to invest in the right lenses and frames, as the lenses are going to be in front of your eyes 24/7 and the frames should be presentable. A customer should really understand on how the lenses are going to contribute in the daily chores.

If the customer is a traveller then yes, he has to see if the lenses are equipped for environmental conditions.

If you are into a profession where you got to deal with screens then I would say to go for a blue cut lens or coating which can protect you with excess blue light emission.

So, our staff is completely trained and educated on all these various points and questions raised by the customers to help serve with the right fitted frame and lenses suited for them.

What are your views on companies which hold 80% of the global market share? Is it possible for someone in India to takeover or even have a bite of their share?

Luxottica has partnered with Essilor who is into spectacle lens market, here you see 2 giants have partnered together to grow in multiples. To compete with them is very difficult but not impossible. No! we surely cannot foresee overtaking or have a bit of their share for next 5 years or so because for this someone has to be in the race even!! There is nobody even close to them who can be a part of the race and compete with them.

What is the contribution of Optical industry in India’s GDP?

The contribution has been really low from past many years but, we do see a substantial growth in the coming years as The growing digital dependency of every individual by 5x, which will eventually require optical solutions in near future. This is the biggest factor for the optical industry to grow and see a spike in the contribution. The spend pattern which we have been following and understanding from our customers perspective, people were never spending that high when it came to luxury brands, a very niche segment used to buy these brands the whole concept of luxury brands is not very firm as to Indian market. But from last few years, people have been travelling a lot and so have been exposed to a lot of luxury brands at airports, streets, malls and so a large no. of people have become brand savvy and conscious with more knowledge on which brands they should buy and are likable by many across the globe. Especially when we talk about men shoppers, they were quite sceptical but now they understand what accessory they got to flaunt and could get their status raised. The parallel market of luxury brands have been developed and will be increasing in coming years too which contributes in the GDP collectively.

What are the key changes the optical industry has to do in order to continue see the sales high after the pandemic?

  1. We got to be proactive from now, need to understand all the price segments and the customer needs which is possible only after forgetting the year 2020 and give a fresh start.
  2. Manufacturers and distributors need to be more compliant to the retailers and understand a retailer’s situation in terms of flexibility of pricing.
  3. Need to understand the digital segment rising and educate the consumers on topics which can help their eyes be saved, like good and bad blue light emissions from digital screens and encourage them to protect by wearing glasses.
  4. From the industry perspective we need to produce more optometrists in India. Currently the ratio of the no. of people to a single optometrist is more than 2,50,000 :1. This particular field needs exposure to grow by educating people about the benefits and needs of this field in India. If this career option is open to people from the 10th grade people will start opting for it and understand the need for this. Students who aspire to become doctors, opt for MBBS or BDS, but very less are exposed to the OAT or OD i.e. Optometrist Admission Test or Optometrist Degree.

We have been manufacturing products from China, what scope do you see in India to start manufacture and export to the globe under Aatmanirbhar Bharat Scheme?

Quality: India is not able to match the quality of china’s production with best finish, frame plating, raw materials and creativity on new models as we do not have necessary infrastructure. Even the whole European market has shifted to china too, all major brands about 85% are manufactured in China. We have a few manufacturers in India but the quality is not up to the mark, yes there is a good market for manufacturers in lower priced segments but still the quality is unmatched.
Price: Indian government has been trying hard to incentivise Indian manufacturers but their steps in terms of subsidies,wages,labour and other various overheads aren’t enough for a manufacturer to survive in the economy.This is the current scenario, if at all the demand of BAN CHINA keeps on rising then surely foreign investors will look up, to come and invest here by which a required infrastructure can be built. We look upon this future in the coming 2-3years from today.

According to you what would be the 3 key changes optical industry and the government would have to do to pull in the investors and push China out?

Government is allocating lands and give for longer lease with lower rates and everything post that what comes is the willingness, but yes if people do see the opportunity then willingness comes with it but at the same time foreseeing things how the govt copes up and helps people to believe that it’s the right time to invest. The govt should show a better and bigger future to us and also the investors. If at all this is developed people would want to take up a chance to work on it.

What were the key driving factors and challenges in the India Optical Industry?

Drive: India has a population size of more than 130crore people which itself is a driving factor for us.
Challenges: Yes, online market has been a challenge for the optical market as it has a lot to offer with hefty price tags and all the attractions of images and videos it is a lot easier for a customer to get influenced and buy the product even if it’s over the budget. And later when he has to buy a product from the outlet, he will think twice to make that decision. Even after the industry is with a touch & feel product, attracting customers with lower budgets has been easier with e-market because when a customers finds a product online which is way cheaper than what he’s wearing at present he will forget everything else and buy the product before it is sold out! I would say decision-making is quite faster online than physically in the store. This industry had just begun to grow right now so by the time people realise how European and Australian market has evolved or reacted to it, we understand that this process is on in India right now and the touch & feel factor would be reduced, looking at the digitalisation today!

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