Aiming for a revenue run rate of Rs 400 Cr, here’s how John Jacobs is building an Indian D2C eyewear brand

In conversation with YourStory, Apeksha Gupta, CEO of D2C eyewear brand John Jacobs, speaks about her career in the retail industry, the impact of COVID-19, and the company’s growth plans.

Aiming for a revenue run rate of Rs 400 Cr, here’s how John Jacobs is building an Indian D2C eyewear brand

Friday February 04, 2022,

6 min Read

When Apeksha Gupta took the helm at D2C eyewear brand John Jacobs, she wanted to bring fashion and retail to the future of eyewear. Today, the brand is targeting a revenue run rate of Rs 400 crore, with absolutely no money spent on marketing.

In three years, the brand has hit two million paying customers, with 70 percent repeat customer base. This year, the team is looking at a stronger branding roadmap, eyeing how they can get the customers to experience the brand beyond the product touch points - store experience, assisted selling, and customer experience. 

“We are looking at implementing circular economy-related business models within John Jacobs, and are eyeing sustainability-driven material scoping, recycling, and reselling models. We have a customer base that values sustainability and want to facilitate this choice,” Apeksha says. 

She adds that the company is now looking at implementation of blockchain technology within fashion.

Apeksha Gupta

Apeksha Gupta, CEO, John Jacobs

 Getting started

“I started my internship with Future Brands, and then went on to Reliance Brands. I also worked with Diesel and Super Dry. These were the heydays of Diesel; how they used branding and provocative imagery was a case study of its own. I started my career in the luxury space, but India wasn’t friendly to this segment then. For the few years I was there, there was something fresh that came our way, be it pricing strategy or customs,” says Apeksha, 30.  

For her personally, demonetisation and the toll it took on the luxury space was something that made her focus on a larger market, one where external problems wouldn’t impact the business. The likes of Marks & Spencers, Reliance, and other brands caught her attention. She was learning the children’s business at M&S, working to break into the space. 

“It was a great segment to be in, but then I had been in the likes of Diesel in its early days of exploring omnichannel and online retail, so I really wanted to be in a space where there was fashion, and I could enjoy everything that I loved about retail…the theatre and experience of it, bin an online, tech-driven world,” she says.
Apeksha Gupta

Looking at eyewear 

In 2018, John Jacobs was in its early days, and the founding team invited Apeksha to join them to build an eyewear brand for the digitally-native Indian consumer. 

“It is about product and price; it’s no secret that it is a hostile and oligarchic market. So, it about being a transparent business. There simply wasn’t a better time to be a brand in India, especially a digitally-native D2C brand,” Apeksha says. 

Having worked for international luxury brands, Apeksha had realised that most of the calls were global and larger market calls. But, she feels, with an Indian brand there is an ability to focus on a larger market along with niche needs. 

“Luxury brands bring in vision of a lifestyle that they are able to sell. And Indian brands can learn from that; we can work on our storytelling. It was something I learnt, where you build strong product properties and look at selling the story. With John Jacobs, there is an opportunity to be the brand, subsidiary, be the person building the product, and looking at what the customer wants,” she says. 

Focus beyond pricing

The John Jacobs team spent months interviewing customers to understand the base products and what the customer needs. The pricing isn’t in the luxury realm, but the team works with a set of suppliers associated with global luxury brands. 

“We focused on a one-price point strategy, starting at Rs 3,000. Building the go-to market, I focused on looking at markets like Singapore. We are online already, and started our offline foray in December,” Apeksha says. 

John Jacobs started as a challenger brand in a space like eyewear, “where you have entrenched local players, that offer price, style, or quality, but not all”. 

“We realised price in India is an easy battle to lose, as one can start at Rs 999 and someone will make it Rs 899 and someone else Rs 799. We focused on a customer base that values transparency, ease of lifestyle, and curation. Two years ago, we became the largest independent brand in the country,” Apeksha explains. 

How a global supply chain helped

The team focused on brand strategy and the retail footprint. Apeksha says they are looking to expand in the network they are available in, and are in talks with several international aggregators looking to add John Jacobs to their product assortments. 

Having a global supply chain helped John Jacobs. The team sources raw materials from different specialists across the globe. The hinges, for example, are sourced from Germany; the titanium is sourced from Japan. 

Apeksha says the team has a specialised workforce that work in certain pockets across the world. 

“For us, the COVID-19 disruption was massive as we no longer had control over the supply chain. The first wave hit different supplier countries at different times. But, we were primed for expansion and had built our inventory. Also, we never stopped our expansion plan due to COVID. We never cancelled any orders from any suppliers. Thus, amid the first unlock in June 2021, we were already trending flat on the year, and by July we were positive in growth,” Apeksha says. 

She explains they focused on “tolerating the gap” and retailing. Also, being an essential category, the online channel helped the business. Apeksha says they also launched new products like anti fog lenses. 

“Despite the first wave, we were able to close at 92 percent of our original operating plan, and grew our business by 50 percent last fiscal. We were primed for growth. We cut marketing spends, doubled down on pre-sales, and assisted selling teams,” Apeksha says. 

Also, as real estate wasn’t a tough business, they got attractive rentals and sites. This year, the John Jacobs team is doubling down on the retail footprint as it guns for a revenue run rate of Rs 400 crore. 

“We are looking to go from 20 stores to 40, and are looking at 100-store expansion this financial year. Our online business has grown 4x from pre-COVID to now. We are looking to expand further on the omni-channel and augmented reality pieces. Even though we have existing tech, the customer education and adoption still needs to be done.”

“We are focused on expanding through South East Asia with a specialised product strategy. We are also looking at the Middle East, the US and London,” Apeksha says. 

Edited by Teja Lele