Grand Optics: A Pure Retail Concept Since 1997

20 years and counting, this is the story of grand success of Grand Optics. VisionPlus magazine in conversation with Shawqi Ghanem, Founder, Grand Optics explains his journey and the excitement for a bright future

Shawqi Ghanem, Founder, Grand Optics

Advancements in the eyewear retail industry are unreal. And people like Shawqi Ghanem are huge contributors to it, specially in the UAE. VisionPlus talks to Shawqi Ghanem, the pillar of support behind Grand Optics and its success.

VisionPlus: You are the founder, the pillar of Grand Optics, which is celebrating 20 years this year. The audience would love to know about the man behind this chain. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Shawqi Ghanem: I am an Electronics Engineering Graduate by profession with several years of experience as a Medical Engineer in Ophthalmic equipment. I began my career in the optical industry working for my family’s business as a distributor. I began Grand Optics in 1997 as a pure retail concept in Dubai that has become a regional leader with over 50 showrooms in prime shopping destinations across the Middle East.

VP: It is celebration time for Grand Optics – completing 20 years is no small feat. What is the feeling you are currently experiencing?
SG: I feel extremely proud of our successes. I am also optimistic of the future especially since my daughter is now tending to our business – a second generation of the business is currently taking over which makes me excited to see how we evolve and our future successes.

VP: How has the journey been this far? From inception to now.
SG: The journey has been eventful! It was characterised by many nights of hard work and relentless drive. It was also rich with learnings, as well as a lot of trial and error. Every entrepreneur knows that success cannot come without failures and learnings, so it was a humbling process that included many successes and a lot of lessons.

VP: What are the challenges that you had faced during this period, and how did you combat them?
SQ: There were of course many challenges, too many to list here! There were challenges at every stage of development which is entirely natural. I believe what set us apart was finding innovative solutions to all our problems. Innovation is a value that has been instilled in our company culture from the beginning and we pride ourselves in that.

VP: What are the major turning points of Grand Optics?
SQ: We started as one independent store in Dubai in 1997. After its success as a homegrown concept that brought international brands to an economy that did not have access to many brands we were able to expand to the rest of the Emirates. Our strength in the UAE as a new young brand gave us the platform to expand in the region. We are at another turning point now exploring new avenues to business that we are yet to expose!

VP: Your brand partners, how would you describe your relationship with them?
SQ: Our partners have always been extremely supportive. But we made it a point when we first started out to have a direct relationship with all brand partners – that’s also part of our company culture. This has made our business model very particular to us.

VP: Currently there is a market slowdown. How is Grand Optics coping with it? To be celebrating 20 years at this point of time might be a challenge?
SQ: One of my favorite sayings that I always share with my loved ones is, “some people feel the rain, others just get wet”. I think that it’s in the most challenging times that we should find opportunities. In 2008 when the financial crisis hit most economies around the world we took it as an opportunity to restructure our company. This time around the challenge isn’t so severe but we are looking at new opportunities and innovative ways to combat a stagnating economy. It’s a good time to look inward and reflect on ways to adapt to the changing market.

VP: The eyewear industry has seen a great amount of changes, with a whole lot of mergers and acquisitions in the case of most big eyewear companies. Has any of these affected the retailers in any way?
SQ: As of now I don’t believe retailers have really felt the impact of it. I think it will take a little more time. However, we look forward to the changes and the potential opportunities it will bring.

VP: Between sunglasses, frames, lens and contacts, which one is the most revenue generating item?
SQ: Spectacle lenses and frames would be the most profitable however all these items complete one another. A patient who requires vision correction frames might also require contact lenses. A customer who wears sunglasses often might require prescription lenses. Optical products complete each other and don’t compete!

VP: What does the future hold for the opticians in Middle East?
SQ: The future will require investment in digital platforms and finding products that suit a young audience. With social media penetration being one of the highest in the world as well as one of the youngest populations it means that we need to become more relevant for a young market segment.

VP: If there is anything you would like to add or promote and reach out to the consumer and the industry?
SQ: We would like the industry to take note that Grand Optics is experiencing a turning point and we are excited about that.

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