Amidst a boom in D2C eyewear, this Mumbai-based retail brand is taking the road less travelled

Mumbai-based eyewear brand Gangar Eyenation is into the retailing of frames, lenses, contact lenses, and sunglasses. The company is also an official distributor of international brands like Bentley, Mont Blanc, Gucci, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.
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According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the global eyewear market. Disruption in value chain, workforce loss, raw materials (lens materials, frame materials, polishing materials), trade, and more brought a lot of uncertainty within this sector. This, despite the essential and medical nature of the industry. 

Although the sector is now recovering from the ramifications of the pandemic, the road ahead is long. Access to advanced, affordable, and effective eye care solutions, especially in marginalised economies, is still not easy, and the pandemic has managed to only magnify pre-existing inefficiencies in the sector. And while there are many D2C players in the market now, offering eyecare services from the comfort of home, there are some that remain steadfast in their belief in the offline strategy. 

Mumbai-based eyewear company Gangar Eyenation is one such brand. SMBStory speaks to its Director, Jigar Gangar, whose father Champak Gangar and uncle Surendra Gangar started the company in 1977.

Gangar Eyenation is into retailing of spectacles, frames, lenses, contact lenses, sunglasses, etc, and is an official distributor of international eyewear names like Bentley, Mont Blanc, Gucci, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. 

The early years vis-à-vis now 

Back in the 70s, Surendra and Champak had sensed a blooming opportunity in the eyewear space when they started the company as Gangar Opticians, with its first outlet in Dadar, Mumbai. It was rebranded to Gangar Eyenation around 2007, and today, the second generation Gangars - Chetan, Jigar, Prabodh, Rohit, Divyesh, and Arun - run the company. 

Surendra says that in the initial days, people were hesitant to wear spectacles, but today that has changed. He also says that when the economy started opening up in the 90s, international brands made their presence felt, and this impacted ‌the industry as people started viewing glasses as a fashion statement. The company ventured briefly into manufacturing lenses in the 1990s but stopped soon after when international companies introduced better quality lenses and frames. 

Jigar admits the COVID-19 pandemic had a catastrophic impact on the company, with its revenues plummeting enormously. The numbers almost halved in FY21 (Rs 59.34 crore) as compared to FY20 (Rs 109.55 crore). When asked how they coped during the pandemic, Jigar says that they kept in touch with customers constantly who would call them whenever they wanted to visit the stores. “We would tell them that it might take longer to get their spectacles made. Some of our customers had been visiting since very long so they understood our position and waited patiently.”

Jigar also adds that they didn’t fire any employees to cut costs. 

 

Noting that disruptions were rampant throughout the world, Jigar says it was something unavoidable given the circumstances. And, despite many companies pivoting to D2C even before the pandemic, he adds that Gangar Eyenation will primarily focus on digitally enhancing its stores while tapping into the Tier II and Tier III markets, where he feels the penetration of quality eye care services is limited. 

Prod him on the popularity of D2C brands and the ease of ordering eyewear from home, Jigar says he has seen ample examples of people buying online, and then coming to his stores to get the glasses fixed according to the customer’s face size.

“The online model doesn’t help you decipher accurately how the spectacles fit on your nose, cheeks, and ears. They should have the perfect fit because you don’t wear specs for just five minutes, you wear them for 12-15 hours a day.” 

Gangar Eyenation was first started in Dadar, Mumbai in 1977.

Looking beyond the metros

India’s eyewear market is expected to reach $13.6 billion by 2024, according to a report by Deloitte. What’s more, unorganised players dominate 80 percent of this market. “We plan on beating the competition by spreading awareness on eye health, and offering modern and effective solutions,” says Jigar, adding that the company is installing new-age machines in all its stores. 

Elaborating on the technology, Jigar mentions Essilor’s Visioffice System, a digitised dispensing tool that helps in recording 4D dimensions of the head and eye to create the perfect lens for a frame. The company also uses lens profilers to do eye examinations digitally, he says. 

The advantage of using these machines and systems is that they help in thoroughly examining the eyes and removing inaccuracies while diagnosing. Most of the equipment are sourced from Korea, Japan, India, and more.

Today, Gangar Eyenation has a network of 55 outlets in India, with Maharashtra, Goa, and Gujarat being its most significant markets. The company will also invest Rs 25 crore towards developing its Tier II and III markets, Jigar informs.  

He adds that about 12-15 stores are in the pipeline for towns in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Chhattisgarh. “Contrary to perceptions, the spending power in smaller cities is huge. Hence, it’s time to ride the next wave of digitisation in the hinterlands of India.”

He also adds that with schools opening up, they see a lot more demand coming from students, who realise they cannot see the blackboard after two years on online classes. The brand is leaning on a “slow and steady” expansion strategy, Jigar says, signing off. 

(The copy was updated to add one more name to the list of 2nd gen Gangars.)

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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