Peyush Bansal reaches into his shirt pocket and brings out a pair of glasses rimmed by a brown, rectangular frame. The chief executive of eyewear retailer Lenskart twists the temples of the frame and tries to break them—all with a poker face. He then breaks into a smile, as if he’s a magician who’s just performed a magic trick. And magic it is. Despite the abuse, the 12gm Airflex range frame made of a lightweight material called Ultem retains its shape.

Sitting inside the glittering office tower of International Finance Corporation (IFC), one of its investors, in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex, Bansal retains the self-assurance he showed during the performance of the ‘magic trick’ when he says: “We want to be the Maruti [Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest automobile manufacturer] of eyewear in India.” The Faridabad-headquartered firm is looking to capture 50% of the Indian eyewear market in the next 10 years. Bansal estimates 1.2 million glasses are sold in the country every day.

There are enough grounds for his optimism. The eyewear market in India is highly unorganised and flooded with unbranded products. Retail consultancy firm Wazir Advisors says prescription-based eyewear makes up 78-80% of total sales, followed by sunglasses and contact lenses. Market research firm Euromonitor International forecasts in a report released in July 2018 that sales of eyewear in India will increase to ₹39,702.77 crore in 2023 from ₹28,431.74 crore in 2018. An April 2018 report by U.K.- based think tank Overseas Development Institute found that India has 477 million people in need of vision correction. “Only 25% wear them [spectacles],” says Bansal. Lenskart clocks about 30,000 spectacles a day and is looking to increase its daily sales to 100,000 in around 10 years. Even then, he says, Lenskart will only be addressing just 30% of the market.

Another reason for hope is the expected jump in branded eyewear sales. As consumers become increasingly conscious about fashion and brands, growth of branded eyewear sales is expected to be in the range of 15-18% a year, according to Wazir Advisors. This has spurred fashion brands like United Colors of Benetton, Levi’s, Jack & Jones, Tommy Hilfiger, ZARA, H&M, and Killer to enter the segment in a big way. Indian brands such as IDEE, Himalaya Optical, and GKB Opticals, too, are ramping up their presence.

Demand is also pushing retailers to offer better discounts and combo deals on purchases. “The idea is to increase the number of lens and glass purchases per person,” says Baqar Naqvi, director, consumer products and retail, Wazir Advisors.

Lenskart’s growth in the last financial year is telling. The company, set up in 2010, reported a 70% jump in total revenue to ₹310.98 crore in FY18 from ₹182.02 crore in FY17, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). “We intend to continue that trend of growing 40-50% next year as well,” says Bansal.

Bansal’s vision for the company is to expand its presence from 120 cities to 500 through 2,500 stores in the next 10 years. He says it is key to have a strong presence in cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Noida, and Gurugram, as well as the Northeast, which are populated by young millennials. Nearly 60% of online shoppers on Lenskart are from metros and the rest from tier 2 and tier 3 cities, where Lenskart plans to set up smaller stores of about 200 sq. ft. each.

Nearly 60-70% of Lenskart’s business is driven through online sales and Its brick-and mortar presence is through franchisees     

Nearly 60-70% of Lenskart’s business is driven through online sales. Its brick-and-mortar presence is through franchisees. Lenskart is now exploring the shop-in-shop format—under which a company sets up shop on another company’s retailing premises—and is in talks with hypermarkets to sell through this route.

Bansal, an engineering graduate from Canada’s McGill University and an alumnus of IIMBangalore, is also exploring the higher segments of the market and plans to infuse more funds into Lenskart’s affordable premium eyewear brand John Jacobs in the next fiscal year. In May 2018, Lenskart invested half a million dollars in California-based startup ThinOptics, which makes slim, temple-less frames. In December 2017, it invested $1 million in Israel-based startup 6over6 to help consumers check the power of their eyes and lenses in their eyeglasses through a smartphone application.

Despite its expansion plans, Bansal says the company has no plans to raise funds as of now. But he hints that there might be some secondary deals by the company which has turned profitable. In August 2018, private equity firm TR Capital and Hong Kong-based hedge fund Steadview Capital made a secondary investment in Lenskart, said a report in The Economic Times. The transaction, which according to the report valued Lenskart at about ₹3,400 crore, saw the exit of TPG Growth, Ronnie Screwvala-led Unilazer Ventures, and IDG Ventures India. Zurich-based asset management company Adveq and IFC— the private sector investment arm of the World Bank—are its other investors.

In its quest for market share, the first major rival that Lenskart must beat is Tata’s Titan. Its eyewear business—retailed under the Titan Eye Plus store brand launched in March 2007—has positioned itself as a fashion accessories label rather than just a prescription eyewear brand. “The Titan brand name and the consumer trust associated with it [will help] Titan continue to do well in the market. Further, with its brand Fastrack aggressively pushing fashion accessories including eyewear, this segment is expected to grow at a fast pace,” says Naqvi.

Lenskart’s bigger rivals are much ahead of it now. In 2017, at 2.6%, Titan had the second highest market share in terms of retail value after French lens-maker Essilor International at 10.3%, according to the Euromonitor International report. Lenskart’s market share in value terms stood at 0.5%. However, the opportunity for growth is huge. And Lenskart is trying to forge ahead with innovative services such as 3D virtual trials available on its website and doorstep eye tests.

Experts believe that players such as Lenskart have tremendous growth potential as customers start looking for more options and brands, but customer experience and retention will be crucial. “The customer will shift directly from unorganised to online or omnichannel stores as there are very few organised players,” warns Wazir Advisors’s Naqvi. “But if they fail to deliver on the product quality and customer experience, they will have to continue discounting to attract new customers and the bottom line will suffer.”

This story was originally published in the January 2019 issue of the magazine

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