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Eye for Retail

Himalaya optical was started with one retail outlet in karachi (now in pakistan) in 1935 by mannalal binani. after partition in 1948, himalaya started its second innings in india with a retail and wholesale division in bowbazar, kolkata. today, it has grown manifolds and has become a group of 62 comprehensive, multi-branded, and exclusive retail outlets and occupy over 60,000 sq.ft. of retail space across india. sarat binani, md, himalaya optical, shares his experience and vision about the future of his brand and eyewear retailing segment in india
Eyewear Retailing in India
No specific research data is available in India in terms of the size of the organised optical retail business; however, the estimated fi gure based on assumption says that 10 percent of Indians currently wear glasses and a further 30 percent require eyewear and eye care. A research paper by an Italian trade body estimated that 386 million Indians require spectacles every year and replace their glasses, on an average, every 3 years.
The total Indian market for optical products is estimated to be about over $1.13 bn, with the prescription eyewear market (comprising sunglasses, spectacle lenses and frames, Lasik surgery, contact lenses, and cleaning solutions) amounting to RS2,300 crore in 2007. Today, the demand in this sector is not necessity driven but fashion and lifestyle driven.

The organised players such as Himalaya Optical, Lawrence & Mayo, Vision Express and GKB Opticals have managed to gain leverage and establish themselves fi rmly in the Indian market for eyewear. Himalaya Optical already has 62 outlets in 32 cities and plans to add 1 store every month on an average to its retail network. “The eyewear market is largely unorganised and only 10-15 percent or a little more of the market is under the organised category. Among the organised segments, our market share should be among the top three players in India,” says Binani.
Challenges And Opportunities
The retail sector in India is growing fast. In fact every business is on a rise and the same is true with the optical market. Each and every sector in the optical business will grow, whether it is an independent optician, optician with three or four stores, or an optical chain store. But as the saying goes “The fi ttest survives” – the same formula will apply to this sector also in the coming years.
Eyewear retail industry is facing a lot of challenges especially in India. With a fast-paced society and faster-paced technological changes, customers want something new and different. Fast changing trends, huge infl ow of new brands together with cost sensitivity on the part of consumers are all creating pressures. Larger retailers, especially new chains with their effi ciencies of scale at international level, are quite often offering discounts that are pushing prices down and slashing margins. Stiff competition from departmental store with well-appointed optical departments, as well as semiwholesaler discounters, exerts additional pressure on the optical retail to remain competitive.
Binani opines:“The optical retail industry is currently on the brink of faster-paced technological changes
which demands huge investments to keep pace with such developments. But limited volume and non-trained employees do not allow a brand to reap benefi ts out of it. The typical nature of the optical retail where it is impossible to replace a human touch is probably also a reason for this.”

He further adds: “Profi tability of an optical store largely depends upon professional optometry facility. Graduate degree programme in optometry has just started in India, which means we still have a few years to go before we have abundant supply of qualifi ed optometrists. Ophthalmologists have strong longterm commitment to their profession. Their practice is mostly focussed towards medical and surgical treatments rather than just prescribing glasses. They do not respond to same stimuli as the other professionals in the eye care do.”
Binani also suggests a few remedial solutions for the growth of eyewear retailing in the country. According to him: “Poor eye care awareness, especially in the rural area, and lack of trained manpower and training providers are a few more challenges. The whole scenario is in fact not very conducive. To me, challenges show presence of huge opportunity. A sound base can be created by establishing optometry and optician training courses to create opportunity for education in a discipline which is very well established in the US and other developed countries, but not present in India. Regulatory bodies can be formed to limit the entry of non-professionals in this upcoming
health care industry. Existing chains like ours are ready to accept these challenges. We are looking at the government to invite us and discuss how employment opportunities can be broadened in this industry.”
Store Format Pioneering the concept of exclusive showrooms, at an early stage of its business, Himalaya Optical is positioned as one of the market leaders in this industry with over 75 years of experience. The company has grown manifolds in terms of revenue, retail space, and manpower.
Himalaya Optical has a store format of 500-700 sq.ft. in an A or B town and the investment in these stores is approximately around RS50 lakh to `80 lakh, depending upon its location, furnishing, and the stock mix.
Talking about the services that the brand provides to its customers, Binani says: “We offer assistance in frame selection, provide consultancy on choosing a suitable lens for frame and lifestyle, and advise our patients to select a suitable tint for their sunglasses. Dispensing of specialty glasses are our unique skills. Our dedicated team of optometrists can fi t all kinds of contact lenses.
With tight quality control, selection of the fi nest optical grade lenses and faster turnover time, our lab enhances the retail optical experience of our patients. At the optometry clinical front, we provide facilities to sports people in checking whether their visual defi ciency is blocking their success. We also take care of partially sighted people to regain their confi dence and also provide services to detect and treat lazy eyes of children. We also work with those who spend most of their time on computers and suffer from various computer vision syndromes, he further adds.
Upcoming Trends

Brands such as Ray-Ban, Vogue, Tommy Hilfi ger, Emporio Armani and Oakley are fast moving brands at Himalaya Optical stores. Frames designed by renowned designers of France and Italy, such as Philippe Morelle, Oliver Martini, Horn N Wood, GenX , Allan Azzaro, and Uth, are also in demand. A niche segment of customers also opt for luxury brands such as Cartier, Chrome Hearts, Mont Blanc, Prada, and TomFord.

“There is a huge demand for bold plastic frames in different shapes like the ones used in the 1970s; even the retro style is back and such frames are being fl aunted by the B town and Hollywood celebrities,” reveals Binani. He further adds: “Himalaya Optical is aware of these latest trends. All its stores house frames that are made of acetate and are much in fashion. The shapes in demand are round, pento and cat eyes and they are available in colours such as black, dark brown, and tortoise shell. Even the metal frames in store are very retro in style. These are available in mat colours and are round, pento and aviator shaped.”

Eye On Future 
According to Binani: “The whole retail trends are on a sweep for a big change. With the corporate coming into retail business and the market getting open to offshore players, the market growth towards getting organised will become rapid. If this pace continues, I hope the organised market share in every retail category will be doubled or more over next five years. There is going to be good consolidation and restructuring in every category of business over the next five years.”
“Our pan-India spread includes 16 states and 32 cities. We aim to open 75 stores by 2015 and intend to reach the milestone of 100 stores by 2018. We are not only focussed to increase the number of stores under our belt but also looking for overall growth of optical retail industry,” he informs.
In the financial year 2011-12, the company has grown by approximately 18 percent. In the current year, they are targeting a growth of 20 percent and above. Talking about the required fi llip that smaller towns are providing to retail, Binani illustrates: “After the top metros of India, companies are now focussing on tier II and III cities as these would drive the investment and growth phase owing to the huge unexplored potential in these areas. As tier I markets are becoming saturated, companies are moving to tier II and III cities where profi ts are higher due to lower rentals and operating costs. Since these cities are developing at a rapid pace and are largely under-penetrated, they have a huge growth potential.”