“Ganko Is A Values-Based Company, And We Prioritise Relationships”

Bhavin and Dia Kothari tell us how Ganko barrelled out of being a traditional, conservative business to becoming one of the pioneers of the industry and a force to reckon with

The Kothari family has been in the optical business for over seven decades and in that time, they have turned Ganko, which began in a small room, into one of India’s leading optical brand. VisionPlus catches up with Bhavin Kothari and his wife Dia, to find out what the third generation of the family has in store for Ganko’s future.

VisionPlus (VP): Ganko came from humble beginnings to become a pioneer in the optical industry. What principles have led to this success?
Bhavin Kothari (BK): Ganko is a values-based company and we prioritise relationships. The founders of Ganko, my grandfather and grand uncle, Chandubhai, insisted we learn the importance of the human factor and that quality resonates in everything we do. Over the past year, we have begun an internal dialogue to identify who we are and what we stand for because we are ready to expand and cater to a wider audience. We narrowed down our philosophy to include what we call the Four Is and our marketing campaign will focus on promoting this idea. The Fours Is are: Inform – bring transparency to our actions; Initiate – evolve systems and processes to improve work environments; Innovate – constantly create value for employees, suppliers, customers and partners through products and systems; and Inspire – bring creativity in product design, business processes and adaptation of best practices for growth.

VP: Dia, what are your professional qualifications?
Dia Kothari (DK): I graduated with an MBA from Monash University in Australia, so marketing, communications and branding is my métier. After a stint in an advertising agency (TBWA) in Singapore, I moved back to India and worked for Panchshil Real Estate for five years before joining my husband to steer Ganko toward the future. I am also working on a degree in nutrition as I am passionate about healthy living.

VP: How has Dia’s active involvement in the business helped you?
BK: We are a very product-driven organisation, and frankly, we neglected marketing in the past. But, we realise how integral a sound marketing strategy is to us because we work with licensed and well-known products like Dora, Spongebob, Ben10, etc. So, while we created a great product, our ineffective marketing limited our audience. This is what Dia has, thankfully, changed. She put us on the map. Her ideas and refined communication skills are impossible to resist. She even convinced a commitment-phobe like me to tie the knot! She isn’t afraid to experiment and take risks. For example, our new Meet and Greet Campaign in association with Dora, which was held across select retail stores across the country, was her innovation and a first-of-its-kind in the industry.

Dia and Bhavin Kothari
Dia and Bhavin Kothari

VP: What do you think about traditional vs. digital marketing?
BK: Thanks to magazines like VisionPlus, and some very innovative campaigns and brand launches, we are seeing actual marketing happening in the industry. Eyewear is becoming an important category for a lot of people. We are moving towards a new age, but I think traditional marketing is still very important because retailers and most opticians will evolve over a period of time. We have observed great growth in digital marketing with varied results.

DK: Digital marketing is the way forward. It is cost-effective which makes it ideal for this industry given our small marketing budgets. Even a simple email has the potential to go viral and reach millions with no cost involved! I love it because it’s energy efficient as well and saves the planet, which happens to be my cause. Ganko’s digital plan is still nascent and I have divided the approach into phases: first, information and awareness for our products. Second, building and maintaining brand loyalty and promotional activities.

VP: Is social media a bubble waiting to burst or will it evolve?
DK: Social media is important and it’s here to stay. Our segment is the young generation and so, social media is inescapable and extremely relevant. People want to be in the know all the time and social media has become an extension of our lives. How can we avoid using it? We absolutely have to create buzz through this medium. After all, the first of our Four Is is Inform.

BK: I think the space is going through its own transition. Just two years ago, everybody was talking about social media as the next big thing. Now questions are being asked about the efficiency of the medium and there is a lot of fine tuning happening. The transition is very fast. You are dealing with a fast generation. There’s a lot of creativity and burn in that.

VP: The optical industry has a reputation for being an unorganised sector. But, it has been getting more professional recently. As part of this transition, what are your views?
BK: I can only speak for Ganko, and I don’t think we were ever unorganised to the extent of not knowing what the business is all about. I agree we had limitations. If we look back, Indian trading communities, manufacturing companies and even retailers have had access to the best products in the market, that too very quickly. We were unorganised with regard to our marketing plans and we needed to outline guidelines on how management will function because we are a family business. But these were old challenges and ones we have overcome. At present, we are evolving as an industry and the new evil to beat is piracy. Eyewear has become a highly marketable commodity and has gone from being a medical product to a thing of high fashion. And, whenever things become fashionable, cheap imitations always follow.

VP: Any family member who joins the business is obligated to complete their course in optometry. Why?
BK: This is again something we took from our forefathers. It is a medical business dealing with eye health, and my grandfather always said when somebody comes to our shop, we should be able to tell them about their eyes and explain what we are selling to them and why. For example, if you suddenly find out you need spectacles, you might not be too happy about it. It is then our job to make the first experience pleasant and we can only do this when we know what we are talking about. This knowledge is more valuable when dealing with kids. We need to prescribe what is medically appropriate and looks good too.

VP: What was the vision behind starting the Ganko Eye Hospital in Gujarat?
BK: As I mentioned earlier, Ganko is the vision of my grandfather and his brother, Chandubhai Kothari. It was his dream and my grandfather supported him completely. For Chandubhai, social responsibility was of supreme precedence. He was an ardent follower of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and like the Mahatma, he was all for the people. He started and supported many eye hospitals in West Bengal, some of which are operational even today. I remember him travelling to the villages of West Bengal every Sunday to organise eye camps and he was like this from a young age.

(L-R) Dia Kothari, Bhavin Kothari, Dilip Kothari, Pankaj Sampat (Sales),  Atul Vora (Operations)
(L-R) Dia Kothari, Bhavin Kothari, Dilip Kothari, Pankaj Sampat (Sales), Atul Vora (Operations)

VP: Ganko is known for its acetate eyewear. How is the acetate market in India?
BK: There was a time when the ratio of metal to acetate frames sold in India was found to be at 90-10 in favour of metal frames. This scenario and the Chinese invasion cast a pall of gloom over the Indian acetate frame industry. Many factories closed down. Experimentation and reinvention however, resulted in the creation of daring and innovative concepts in acetate eyewear and slowly but surely, the tide turned in favour of acetate again. This was mainly due to the efforts of the manufacturers and some dedicated distributors who revamped the product image and profile. Post 2010, acetate has made a smart recovery globally and is sold as a premium material in most international brands. Now, acetate is a preferred material for eyewear even in India, and the product mix with retailers is at 50-50 for metal and acetate products.

VP: What are Ganko’s main acetate brands?
BK: Ganko is one of the largest dealers of acetate frames in the country. Approximately 95 per cent of our entire product portfolio is made of acetate frames. Our flagship brand ‘Sillotti’ is a market leader in its category, ‘Modela’ has been an exclusive children’s collection in acetate for over 15 years, ‘O2 Art’ has innovated acetate by fusing concepts and ‘NuVo’ is in the lead in terms of colours and combines different materials like metal and TR90 to offer a great wearing experience.

Acetate is also the most preferred material for children because of its quality. Keeping that in mind, Ganko has over 100 styles in its children’s category through its home brand ‘Modela’ and its licensed brands: Nickelodeon characters Dora, SpongeBob and Ninja Hattori. Ganko is also the exclusive distributor for Ben10 Eyewear for Cartoon Network.

VP: Thank you for your time, Dia and Bhavin. We wish you all the best.

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