The tough Corona COVID 19 days the world is facing today is also raising questions at all levels on where the nations are heading. As it is obvious that the answers are bleaker than encouraging, the dependence on what the respective governments do for their people is the crucial aspect for the success or the failure of it.
Prediction of deep recession and negative growth is what we hear from economists. The optical industry will have its own problems post lockdown. There is a possibility of a drastic cut of import of goods from China as also the negative sentiments in the minds of the whole nation for it being at the centre of this catastrophic situation.
However, it is encouraging to see some of the leading businessmen with their individual capacities or collectively as associations seeking help from the government by writing to the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. While all this is happening around, is there an opportunity for the business? Can the manufacturing community, brand owners and distributors, retailers and the eye care professionals working in different levels, reinvent and think anew with their experience and skill to move towards normalcy?
Opticians will have a tough time handling their customers as it may need enough or rather extra care in the use of instruments while attending to eye check-ups. How much would be the need to emphasise masks and sanitisation. Managing distance between the sales personnel and customers and between customers themselves is a huge responsibility of the store management.
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The customer’s behaviour will also be different from normal times. The dropping purchasing power will have a big impact on the buying style of almost all customers.
Price will play a bigger role in the buying pattern than at any time in the past. From the eternal optimists, there seems to be an emergence of two new segments for customers – one of eye-protective eyewear which will be worn like an eye mask but may become a trend in daily eyewear. I am given to understand that models in this category are already being sold in other countries.
The second one is vision protective glasses for those like students especially kids who have to learn from home using electronic devices like iPads. Besides these two categories scope for the opticians to recommend sunglasses to all their customers as eye care products in addition to fashion could also potentially increase the sale of eyewear.
So it’s more in the hands of the individual optician to make the best of his own experience and that of his close associates in the business to use effectively to reinvent himself in customer service. Also there’s a need today for all the opticians to promote themselves in whichever way possible.
Social media should be a good source for this but seeking professional guidance for this from media experts should benefit better. Now moving to a larger issue I would like to emphasise on a proposal sort of to help the optical industry as a whole
and not just the retailer segment. In my opinion, our trade should look at setting up manufacturing facilities in
India rather than depending on China for every requirement. Manufacturing gives a strong base which creates jobs and helps the economy. By importing, we help the Chinese economy grow, while we just compete on prices. Nearly the whole optical industry has become a trading community.
A few days back, a Whatsapp group that I am part of had a discussion among close to two hundred members of the eyewear industry. It suggested the possibility of India’s potential of becoming the next manufacturing hub for optical products. Incidentally, I have been discussing this probability since a few years back almost when the present Government was highlighting the ‘Make in India’ campaign. While the idea has remained a vision, who will take the idea forward was the big question for which there seemed no answer. However, today it seems a need as well as an opportunity for the industry to take this idea forward.
Having a decisive government at the centre is an advantage at the moment and it would be only happy to listen to the voice of the industry. What the industry needs is an allotment of a fairly big land of maybe tens of acres preferably in one of the states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal or Andhra Pradesh to develop an estate-like setup only for manufacturing optical products like Wenzhou or Guangzhou in China or Sabae city in Japan.
Another requirement in this direction is setting up of a university-level of educational set up to develop skilled workers offering diploma, degree and masters level certification so that the quality of products manufactured in India becomes a benchmark of its own and attracts even international brand owners to come to India for manufacturing their products in India.
I don’t have to say anything here on how it will help us. In simple terms, it’s better if the optical industry as a whole with its retailer and other segments think of self-help and avoid dependence on other countries for its success and thereby its growth.