Anup Kumar, Senior Partner, R. Kumar Opticians, Ahmedabad in conversation with Mr. Siraj Bolar, CEO, VisionPlus Magazine, on how the optical industry has evolved in this new era of technology.
Anup RavinderMohan Kumar is the patriarch of R Kumar Opticians, the multi-store establishment in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. A popular personality in the optical industry, Anup Kumar is a council member of Platine Optics and a founder member and Hon .Treasurer of All India Optical Federation. Here’s Anup Kumar ‘In Conversation’ with Siraj Bolar on the sidelines of recently held VisionPlus Academy program in Ahmedabad
Siraj Bolar (SB): May I ask you to describe Mr Anup Kumar as a person as well as a businessman.
Anup Kumar (AK): I am a very private person. I was brought up in a very disciplined environment. Work has always been the priority. My late parents inculcated very strict work ethics, dedication toward work, meticulous planning and timely execution. All these have stood the test of time through my career. I often think about the business with my heart. It is my firm belief that this recognition that the industry has bestowed upon me is a testament of that honesty, dedication, commitment, discipline are still sought after, these may be scary but not yet redundant way of conducting oneself in business and in life.
SB: Any shortcomings?
AK: I do have my shortcomings. I am very honest, often critical in my opinion. I cannot mince words and give it straight like I feel it. I guess that shows that I am also emotionally invested in the business.
SB: Can you briefly describe from your point of view the evolution from your early years in the business to now?
AK: Of course the business has changed, as should every progressive line of profession. I began my career with fused bifocals and today have graduated to personalised progressive lenses and am still learning. Evolution of lens materials from organic glass to CR39, Polycarbonate, Trivex and beyond; evolution of frame materials Cellulose nitrate to acetate and injection moulding techniques of today have changed the aesthetic landscape of eyewear. Eyewear has evolved continuously to become a lighter, better, more comfortable and versatile piece of visual aid while its form continues to remain the same: still, two lenses held at the nose and anchored around the ears. In my earlier days it used to be hand edger, today we have CNC guided auto edgers that make the art of making spectacles so much more technical. Technician today requires a different skill to achieve the same objective of cutting and glazing lenses to the shape and size of the frame. The distribution models, our communication methods, our models of customer retention, stocking, logistics, everything has evolved to match the scale at which we have grown and the style in which we have grown.
SB: This is the era of technology and it has brought about big changes in whatever we do. How is technology working in the optical business?
AK: In fact, a lot of this has been addressed in my previous reply. Technology has revolutionised the optical industry, today the optical lenses manufactured with help of CNC machines are far more accurate, the frames are designed better, they have a better finish. The technologically advanced auto edgers give us a more accurate and better-finished spectacle.
Communication has become easier and there are more numerous platforms to communicate. Technology has opened newer ways to touch the modern customer, across distances. It has helped increase our footprint.
SB: I am given to understand that at R. Kumar technology is used to it’s optimum…
AK: Yes, we at R. Kumar, have adapted to technology to the fullest, we have a centralised unit with some of the best auto edgers to help us in dispensing. Our Contact lens clinics are equipped with technologically advanced instruments. All inventories are maintained on our customized software, and we are continuously upgrading our selves. Perhaps, it is our efforts, that our customers appreciate, in the video testimonials you saw at the awards function.
SB: In today’s atmosphere, how do you see the advent of Online business?
AK: I like to consider online not as a separate business at all. It is another channel of the existing business. Like in every other way of life, the digital touch point is now a necessity for each business. To sell or not to sell online is an individual’s choice. It does require a different skill set to sell online than in store. It is more a question of how well a business acquires the new capabilities and how efficiently they can leverage these to make the online channel a viable business.
SB: Are you a political person?
AK: I do not harbour any political ambition; however, I would not shirk away from a role of responsibility to serve the larger interests of the business that I have toiled so hard to build with my family. The optical community at Gujrat hse seen, how I have worked for rationalization of commercial tax for our trade.
SB: If you have to pick a few exemplary opticians or optical stores for the way conduct the business whom would you pick? And for what reason?
AK: There are a good number of successful optical stores & chains in our country, who are doing very good work and are a role model to follow. A lot of family-owned, multi-generation businesses, have stayed progressive while there are some ambitious young entrepreneurs. Both of these give us hope for a bright future for the business. My personal role models would be Shri Ramnikbhai Modi, whose blessings and encouragement have always inspired me to grow and evolve and my late father Shri RavinderMohan Kumar whose timeless principles of hard work, consideration for one’s time, meticulousness and paying your dues before time have helped the family build this business on.
SB: You are one of the office bearers of the All India Optical Federation.. and it’s known fact that the Optical Association of India has a soured relationship with it. Doesn’t this kind of relationship go against the overall interest of the optical industry? How do you think this can be resolved?
AK: The business has too many stakeholders with diverse opinions and mindset. Each one is in a different phase of growth and sees the future differently. It is not fair to all that one set of thoughts be applied to all. Hence there is a room to have multiple platforms each broadcasting a philosophy and vision for people who think like them.
What is important is that each of these groups recognises that they should not be antagonistic to each other. For the industry to grow, each group has to have a common minimum agenda to work with each other.
However, often it is the ambition of some individuals of a group overpower the larger good of the group. Associations by themselves have nothing against each other, it is the human ambition that corrupts the objective. It is for members of the group to realise if the one person’s personal agenda hijacks the objective of the association, then how do they want themselves portrayed.
Maybe it’s time for the associations to have certain rules of formation which ensure that the association’s objective are not compromised for the blatant ambitions of one or a handful of people who can speak louder than others.
So as long as certain voices get rid of their selfish motives and speak with decorum showing goodwill towards other associations. Without being specific of a certain association, I believe that all associations of stakeholders in the business retailers, wholesalers, optometrists, technicians, fitters, everyone allied to the trade, can get along. We all want the same thing, an atmosphere wherein all of us can grow. We need to grow along with each other rather than at the cost of any one of us. This in an age where we should look at, if I may borrow the word “Cooperation” rather than “Competition”.
That philosophy is the reason I hold the office with the AIOF. The day I find them deviating from that principle or if I see a specific personalised agenda being pursued, I shall demit office. The industry knows that I am very conscientious about principles.
SB: Business aside, a few interesting aspects of your personal, family and social life…
AK: I was always a very studious child, topping the class most of my schooling years. I was active in the Jaycees club and the Lions club in my early years, though I am a simple family person, and attend parties and social functions only occasionally.
I have been an active member of All India Optometric Association and was the organising secretary of the Ahmedabad Conference in 1995.I am the founder member of the Ahmedabad Optical Association and have served as President for 12 years. I am a founder member and Hon Treasurer of ALL India Optical Federation. I am also a Council member with Platine Optics. I have also served on the advisory panels of Bausch + Lomb and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.