VisionPlus in conversation with Mohammed Sherif, Managing Partner of Lens & Frames
Lens & Frames has successfully established its reputation as one of the leading providers of designer frames, lenses and a variety of other eyewear accessories in the southern regions of India. Headed by Mr Mohammed Sherif and team, Lens & Frames was founded twenty-seven years ago with one of the first air conditioned stores in the state of Kerala. Ever since, the brand has successfully expanded its presence to 23 stores in various parts of South India.
In this edition, VisionPlus talks to Mr Sherif, Managing Partner of Lens & Frames to get an insight into the market down south, the company’s way of working and its future plans.
VisionPlus (VP): What is your take on the evolution of the eyewear industry in the last ten years
Mohammed Sherif (MS): I believe that the biggest evolution for the optical trade can be seen in the way lenses have established themselves as an extremely successful products. In the past, there was a certain inhibition towards lenses in the end customers. However, a large part of this inhibition was being attributed to the lack of awareness in the end consumer.
Even though the product was good, the optician did not have the required knowledge about the benefits of the lenses to convince the end user and so the benefits never reached the consumer. In order to combat this gap in the flow of information, lens manufacturers started educating the opticians. This practices continues till date. Lens makers have made it a point to involve opticians at the basic level educating them about the product and benefits. This in turn has ensured that opticians are able to help the customer identify the right product that suits his or her needs.
Basically, thanks to the knowledge, the opticians who are at the shop find it easier to engage the customers and convince them to make the purchase. I would say this is an important and long term investment that the lens makers have made in order to improve the overall dispensing of various types of lenses.
VP: In your opinion, how have the technological advancements impacted the business of optometry?
MS: Every industry is growing fast due to the impact of technological advancements and optical trade is not an exception to this rule. In fact, I would say it is the decision to adapt to technological advancements that have helped in Lens & Frames establishing its distinctive identity as one of the best choices for customers in the markets down south. These technological advancements obviously impact the business positively. For instance, we now have computer software in many of our stores where customers can actually upload their image and see how the frame will suit their facial features. Such advancements have indeed helped our business grow and have also contributed to the evolution of the optical trade on the whole.
VP: Tell us a little about your decision to foray into the eyewear business.
MS: I don’t come from a family of opticians like many of the big brands in the country. In fact, I didn’t have any background in the domain of optometry before I started this business. We are the first generation into the business and now our children are also following suit.
Twenty seven years ago, I saw the potential in optical trade and was keen to pursue my dream of entrepreneurship in this industry. I started the business with a close friend and a relative. Till date, the three of us, continue to be partners. Initially, I was keen to get into lens manufacturing but ultimately I ended up choosing the other side as I truly believed that back then opticians were not able to provide the level and quality of services that the customers were eligible for.
MS: We have recently completed twenty seven years since our inception and are extremely proud of the growth that we have achieved. During the initial phase of our business, we conducted an extensive survey because we wanted to identify the needs of our customers and ensured that we are able to cater to them. Through this survey, it was revealed that the optical trade, at least in the southern part of the country was restricted to a traditional approach. Opticians still preferred to keep the expensive products hidden and the customers were being given the same boring options to choose from.
To top it all, there was little or no focus on the shopping experience. The major motive identified behind the establishment of Lens & Frames was to change this traditional approach to something more consumer-friendly. Initially, of course even I was tensed but we had faith in our idea and as you would see, it has clicked well. We started with an air conditioned optical store in the state of Kerala which was something totally unexpected at that time. Even the display of the store was designed through expert architects to ensure that the customer was welcomed to a completely new and pleasurable shopping experience, each time he or she stepped into the store.
We were amongst the first in the state to get an auto refractometer on board and even had a trained ophthalmologist at the store in the state of Kerala. This enabled us to provide people with better service and they loved it. Since then, we have continued to expand our presence across the southern region and currently have twenty three branches, all of which are really doing quite well in their respective regions.
VP: What according to you are the factors that need to be considered in order to give your customers an engaging shopping experience?
MS: As I have already shared, Lens & Frames has always focused on giving the customers a shopping experience that serves their purpose and is absolutely pleasurable for them as well. So yes everything from the store ambience to the display and service counts when you are focusing on overall customer experience.
However, I believe that above all this, the person who is on the counter and ultimately facing the customer should be educated enough to strike a conversation that is engaging and of course informing at the same time. Additionally, the type of facility that the customers are offered at the store can also make a difference to the overall shopping experience. This includes the instruments for eye examination, software simulations that help customers understand the product or service, etc. In fact, this is also the reason why I always insist on hiring professionally trained optometrists so that they are well versed with the details and are able to help the customers also in a better way.
VP: Which according to you earns more revenue for your business down south: optical frames or sunglasses?
MS: I believe, optical frames are the strong performer for us. With the years of consistent service, we have successfully established our reputation as one of the leading providers of high quality eyewear frame and I think this is what keeps bringing our customers back to us. When it comes to sunglasses, I am afraid that the increasing number of malls across the state have led to sunglasses being perceived as a mere fashion accessory and so people rarely come to optician stores to buy them. Therefore, our business does not rely on sunglasses sales.
VP: When it comes to markets in the south, is there a demand for niche brands or do the popular ones do better?
MS: In south, the customer is highly educated and so they are more aware when it comes to making the choice. Even though a large part of the customers are for the popular brands, occasionally, we do have a select few come in demanding the niche brands. Basically, from what I observe, the specification varies from customer to customer and so does the choice. Occasionally, these demands are also influenced by the advertising that brand owners indulge in and so it’s difficult to give an accurate decision.
VP: When do you plan to expand your presence beyond the southern markets?
MS: Currently, we are amongst the best players in the market down south and we do have expansion in the pipeline. However, it is too early to share details. As for extending our geographical presence beyond the southern markets, I believe, if we do see the potential in a particular area, we will be happy to take the step. Since we are a completely, self made organisation, our foundation is strong enough to support our expansion plans. But, it all depends on the potential that our team sees in the prospective market.
VP: Lastly, what is your opinion about the growing impact of online retailing on optical trade?
MS: Online retailing is growing fast and it would be wrong to deny its impact. But, I still believe that opticians like us have the advantage of giving the customers a chance to experience the look and feel of the product. Coupled with other factors like the overall shopping experience, it is important for opticians to focus on building a strong relationship with customers.
VP: Thank you for your insights Mr Sherif. We wish you all the very best for all your future endeavours.