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Secrets of a 53-year-old family business

Customers at Vijay Optica, Mombasa. [Ishaq Jumbe, Standard]

For the last 53 years, Vijay Optica, a thriving eyewear enterprise, has been a steady fixture within Mombasa’s business circles.

The firm started when Vijay Dhutia, an ambitious optician, in 1969 bought out the then East Africa Optical Ltd from his former employer and renamed it Vijay Optica, now run by the second generation.

The current managing director of the firm is his son Jayesh Dhutia, also a trained optician, who gained experience in the trade by learning at his father’s feet. 

Jayesh trained as an optometrist (eye specialist) in England and after qualifying as a Fellow of British Dispensing Opticians (F.B.D.O), he took over management of Vijay Optica in 1994 to usher in the UK standards in optical management in Kenya and captain the family business into the 21st century. 

What was originally an outfit with vintage binocular microscopes, trial lens sets, slit lamps and hanging optical testing sheets has evolved into a modern company with fully adjustable optical trial frames, ultra-modern trial lens sets, remote-controlled near vision charts, digital eye test charts and computerised slit lamps.

Besides the display of a wide array of eyewear, they have an optical lab as well as two consulting rooms.

Catering for budget spenders as well as high-end customers, Jayesh reveals to Enterprise how he has managed to keep his family business afloat in the viciously competitive optical business.

Running a family business

Running a family business requires efficient communication. The family must be on the same page always regarding the business in matters of leadership structure, goals to pursue and what every member actively involved has to contribute.

This is while bearing in mind that even those within the greater family and not actively involved in the business are in some ways ambassadors and have to maintain a certain code of ethics as far as supporting the business is concerned.

Therefore, boundaries must be set so that everyone knows their limits and personal family matters never spill over into the business dimension.

Another important aspect of running a family business is coming to terms with the all-important fact that employees are part of the larger family and should be treated as such so that propelling the business forward is well coordinated.

I believe that working for the family firm should always be an option and no one should be compelled to join or groomed by force to take over.

Therefore, recruitment and promotion should always be on merit. When you play favourites, the business pays dearly.

Mr Jayesh Vijay Dhutia. [Ishaq Jumbe, Standard]

Stay relevant

Like any other business with a long-haul vision, staying relevant ranks high. You cannot invest in a business and then in a few years become insignificant because of the entry of new players or competition. 

“You have to ensure that you stay dynamic and evolve with the times or perish. Always be open to new ideas and wide consultation as you monitor emerging trends in the industry,” advises Jayesh.

He advises entrepreneurs to pace themselves and remember that the race is a marathon and not a sprint. 

Remain focused

Our business is a family business established by my father back in 1969. He was trained in the UK and was a passionate pioneer of running an ethical optical business in the country. He inculcated in me a desire to maintain standards even before taking me under his wing and later sending me to the UK to study.

We ensure that only professionals handle our clients and patients. Our staff are familiar with our mantra and they are expected to operate within the house policy to ensure quality service to our clients.

On beating competition

This is one of the trickiest business aspects. Vijay notes that integrity ranks high for starters. This means that you do what you promise to do instead of coming up with excuses. For example, no hiding additional charges in fine print and treating clients with the utmost respect.

“If you fail the integrity test, you fail in any venture you pursue,” he says. Many of his customers are through referrals, he adds.

The optical firm packs a wide array of products to facilitate varied prescriptions, tastes and trends.

“We have a policy to stock the latest, most diverse portfolio with our staff familiarising with product specifications to guide our clients on what suits them best. Couple this with quality products and you will always have a clientele that is satisfied,” Vijay tells Enterprise. 

Target customers

A business survives only where there is a niche in the market that it strives to satisfy. Vijay’s stocks for the poor who really need spectacles, short and long-sighted common mwananchi as well as the high-end pilot who cannot take to the air without his aviators.

We also consider the trendy who want their pair of glasses to make a fashion statement as well as the high-end stylists who take eyewear, whether prescription or just sunglasses to match their luxurious lifestyle.

And all these customers receive the same quality impartial treatment.

Comprehensive service

Making your line of work a one-stop solution, says Vijay, is key to ensuring longevity in a business. “Besides checking for eye pressure, we dispense spectacles, interpret optical prescriptions, advise patients on lens types, frame styling training on contact lens care and correct usage and fit spectacles according to facial measurements that are conducted at our shop.”

Expansion

Virtual expansion into digital space has seen us sell and keep in touch with clients all over the world. They follow us on social media, get to know which products have come out and we deliver all over.

During the pandemic, this worked as we ensured, in keeping with the pandemic restrictions that people stayed home to be safe, it worked marvellously.

Then we used to conduct free home deliveries and it was business as usual, albeit with the usual precautions in place.

Modernisation

We are the pioneers of automated computerised eye testing in the region and are always on the lookout for new technology to incorporate.

With the rise of lifestyle changes, more and more people are in need of professional eyecare. Diseases like diabetes and pressure also affect the eyes and determining and diagnosis of sight issues as a result requires the highest level of technology to effectively treat.