Lawrence & Mayo is known for its long history of eye care in India, with the who’s who of the land flocking to their stores. Absolute sticklers for quality and value, this ‘138 year young’ company practices constant innovation in its varied offerings and has also expanded into the newer spaces of social media and e-commerce. Today, we speak to Vivek Mendonsa, Marketing Director, of Lawrence & Mayo about their illustrious history, their strong present and the coming bright future.
How did this venture start?
Lawrence & Mayo was established in 1877. It is a 138 year young institution, started by two Jewish families: the Lawrence family and the Mayo family. It is now a multinational company with branches all over the world. My grandfather was associated with this company first in Lahore and Karachi and then in Kolkata. In India, the company started with five locations: Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Bangaluru and Mumbai. Then we were in Shimla and Nagpur. Wherever the British had establishments like the winter capital, we used to put up retail outlets. Right from 1945 we have been reinventing ourselves to Indianise our company. Of course the core values of being an old British company still remain in our mannerisms and way of operating. We have always had air conditioned showrooms and our staff and team member are always in uniform; very formal, polite and courteous without being overbearing to our customers. We are proud that we have been opticians to Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, J.R.D. Tata and several luminaries of our country. People who have been active in the freedom movement as well as artists, poets and writers have been our customers and clients.
Where have you reached in terms of market share?
The unorganised market share in this sector is really large. It must be at around 80-85%. Any market or railway station has shops where cheap sunglasses or cheap spectacles are sold. In terms of organised market share we have a good 10% share of the organised market because we have always sold A-grade and quality products. We have our own brand of Lawrence & Mayo lenses. We are associated with Essilor, which is a leading company worldwide, established in France; along with Zeiss, Hoya and Nikon. For spectacle frames we have dealt with the leading brands of the world right from Chanel, Cartier, Armani, Versace and DKNY. We also proudly carry a lot of Indian brands. We have our own range of private label spectacle frames and sunglasses under the Lawrence & Mayo Shades and Lawrence & Mayo Sunglasses range. So a plethora of brands and wide variety. The minimum that our stores cover is about 1200 to 1500 stock keeping units (SKUs) which can go as high as 3500 to 4000 SKUs at our larger flagship stores.
What does the competitive landscape look like?
The competitive landscape has been changing since 2007-2008. Lawrence & Mayo was the only organised player with 10-12 branches till the early 90’s. Today we have 97 optical retail outlets in 39 cities and 14 states. We have had other organised players like Titan, who have diversified from the watch and jewellery industry and entered. We’ve had a Vision Express which was a joint venture between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group Industries and a worldwide partner and now we’ve got an e-commerce player like Lenskart, who have entered the industry in the last 2 or 3 years.
So how do you differentiate Lawrence & Mayo as compared to these other companies? And what is your key value proposition?
Vision Express practices very simple value-for-money pricing; because of FDI rules and regulations they are not allowed to be a multi-branded store, so they carry only their own brands. Titan has also positioned themselves at the entry level of about 999 and they have a few products above that. Lawrence & Mayo is a niche player. It is definitely a premium eye wear brand and we are not into giving huge discounts or undercutting the market. The customers who come to us are highly discerning customers, niche customers. They travel internationally to global fashion capitals and know the value for money they are getting. They know we carry genuine brands at genuine prices. Wherever we can offer a value deal we are the first ones to offer it to them. Whenever we can reduce our prices across the country we are the first ones to do so. We come out with innovative products, product positioning and services for our customers.
What are the things you do to empower your team at the stores to best serve the customer?
I’ll answer the question a little differently. A spectacle purchase is a highly time and people oriented purchase. Customers bring a family member or friend along and they take 20 minutes for an eye test and about 15-20 minutes to select the brand or the product concerned. For personages like R. K. Laxman, who recently passed away, and Bal Thackeray and a lot of other illustrious people of our country, the spectacle or frame became a part of their persona. The look of the spectacle was part of the larger personality. I believe our customers are very discerning. They want to get it right the first time. So a spectacle purchase at Lawrence & Mayo is a highly evolved one.
Coming to your question specifically, we train our team members thoroughly. They go through 9-12 training programs a year where the features, advantages and benefits of the products are imparted to them. There are regular tests and we keep updating their product knowledge. It is important that they know the latest fashion trends by going through fashion magazines. As is recognising customers and having a friendly chat with them and understanding their occupational and lifestyle needs, their moods at different times of the day. Today, eye wear is not about owning one spectacle, it is about owning a variety of spectacles: Monday to Friday one type; Saturdays and Sundays another type, etc.
How do you approach training and development for your customer service representatives?
There are 3 levels of interviews to get into Lawrence & Mayo. Certain departments even have a waiting list. We are very discerning in the people we admit because of our high profile customers. So communication, be it in English or Hindi and one or two regional languages is a must. Body language, poise is definitely a must. We groom our boys are girls thoroughly, through repetitive training programs on technical and clinical skills and crucially, soft skills. That makes a huge impact, which is the experience of our customers throughout the country. We’ve got a very low, much below the industry rate of customer complaints.
Have you seen lenses and spectacles intersecting and challenging each other or they are cohesive?
Earlier a spectacle frame could be bought at about Rs 400-500 and the lenses would’ve been between 10-20% of that. The scenario has changed completely today. Bollywood has introduced vibrant colours with actors, actresses and leading heroines wearing really bold spectacles. The youngsters in our country have caught onto that trend; so what was considered a no-no 8-10 years ago like a bright yellow, bright green or bright red is being sported by our males today. In the Tag Heuer spectacle frame ad Shahrukh Khan’s spectacles with a red temple clearly signalled a change and had a huge impact. People are opting for vibrant colours. Not just the black and browns and metallic tones of silver and gold. So there’s been sea change.
Many international and national brands have launched in the country with a wide variety of colours and sizes. In the same way, spectacle lenses have also caught up. Earlier, there used to be only hard coated lenses or multi layered coated lenses. Today lenses come with 6-8 types of coatings. Technology from the aerospace industry and high-end products are being brought into the spectacle industry. These latest products are being offered to the consumer at premium pricing because a lot of investment has gone into R&D. The consumer is generally delighted to receive high-end products because they solve a particular problem.
What are the new customer needs and expectations you are seeing, considering the changing demographics of the country?
India is a highly complex country. In the 29 states and 6 union territories, customers vary from locality to locality. I can tell you particularly of the Mumbai market: A Lokhandwala customer who is an aspiring Bollywood star wants a very different type of frame and sunglasses. And a customer in Dombivli or Thane wants a different set of products than a customer in South Bombay. However, there are no fixed rules or water-tight compartments, because customers are very mobile and cross geographical areas. Today, by having 1500 SKU’s in a single retail outlet, we can more or less cover all customer wants and needs. In fact, we can really pamper the customer with a wide range of choices.
What are the initiatives planned for the next 12 to 24 months?
We will give more and better emphasis to e-commerce. We are already pushing contact lenses on our e-commerce site. We have got 24/7 information available at lawrenceandmayo.co.in, where suggestions, feedback or a request for an eye test is complied with within three hours. We are being more proactive. Eye care is a specialised job. There are specialised people who are trained and experienced to dispense spectacle frames and lenses. A badly fitted spectacle frame can give you a headache, a migraine, blurred vision and if not made and fitted properly, spectacle lenses can pop out. Compare it with a cardiologist or a surgeon; we don’t go to the cheapest cardiologist or surgeon, we go to the most proficient, the most experienced ones whose hand is steady. A lot of people who have burned their hands going to our competitors are coming back to Lawrence & Mayo because they believe we are masters in eye care and eye wear.
Tell is a little about your industrial products division.
We have more than 14 processing labs across the country. We believe in the hub and spoke model where all our spectacle lenses and frames are assembled and put together in our own workshops and retail stores. Secondly, coming to our engineering, scientific, vacuum and vocational instruments, they have been our mainstays since 138 years. Some of our products are used in key areas like the T3 terminal in Delhi, in MIHAN in Nagpur, in the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Bombay-Pune expressway, etc. We have supplied equipment to Hindustan Constructions, Lavasa and for several large infrastructure projects. Coinciding with that is our material testing division, where we test concrete, bitumen and soil for its hardness and tenacity to cope under pressure. So all the bridges and dams have concrete testing labs by our Lynx Lawrence & Mayo division. 100-200 ton pressure is put on a concrete block to test the tensile strength of those concrete blocks. Our third division, part of Engineering, is where we supply microscopy in metallurgical microscopes, biotechnology to pathological labs, teaching microscopes for use by dental colleges, etc. Then we’ve got our vocational division which our Chairman is very passionate about. We represent Electronic Veneta from Italy in India and we’ve got our own kits based on the syllabi of about 9 universities which are sold to engineering colleges, IIT’s and ITI’s.
What are the plans for the Engineering Division going forward?
The Engineering Division has a vast array of products. We’ve got 1500 engineering products under the Lynx brand name. We’ve got 250 sales service application engineers and it is primarily a B2B product range. We’ve got our own niche market and niche customers for it. We supply a lot of key establishments and projects, mainly to the Government of India, across the country.
What does the competitive scenario look like in this space?
It has got a few competitors; a few international competitors have entered the market. We’re proud of our 28-year association with Pentax from Japan. We’ve won 5 global awards competing with 90 countries for the kind of value and volume which Lawrence & Mayo has provided Pentax throughout the globe. We are a highly competitive technology-based company and we constantly send our people to be trained in China, Japan and Taiwan to upgrade their skills and absorb new technologies.
What are the strategies you are deploying for marketing?
We have participated in the past in ATL where we have done television, advertising, radio, hoardings, billboards, etc. However, we focus mainly on our vision screening in schools, colleges and corporate offices. Spectacles from Lawrence & Mayo are a need-based product. When it is required it should be top of mind for the consumer. It is not by seeing an advertisement on television that people will rush out and buy it, so over the last 138 years we’ve understood our marketing and we go to consumers using different platforms.
Any marketing initiatives in the digital arena?
We have the first mover advantage as far as the digital space is concerned. We’ve been on Facebook for nearly 5 years. We’ve got more than 70K+ fans there, though we’ve never bought likes. These are our consumers interacting with our brand. It is like a virtual feedback loop; on a 24/7 basis customers give us feedback about our services, products and their demands, all at once. We launched into e-commerce sometime back. We’ve got contact lenses and sunglasses there. We are widening the range of products with Lawrence & Mayo watches and Lawrence & Mayo pens. A mix of e-commerce and brick and mortar will be used to reach a variety of customers.
How do you view competition from the new players in the e-commerce space in your market?
There are a few e-commerce companies which offer sunglasses. Some of the sunglasses are offered at ridiculous price points: 399, 499, 599. None of those sunglasses are of a quality Lawrence & Mayo would keep. They don’t have UV protection or polarising effect and they will definitely not be quality sunglasses. To be authentically checked, a sunglass has to go through certain tests. Even a lay person buying one can check. If red, amber or green gets altered, those sunglasses are definitely not good for your eyes. Lawrence & Mayo is associated with only the leading international and national brands. We’ve got very stringent quality checks in place and only after it passes this test can a brand be given shelf space. Coming to new e-commerce player: Lenskart. Good luck to them. They are trying to take eye care to the masses. However, offerings like spectacles cannot be bought like groceries or apparel, just off an e-commerce site. There are a lot of adjustments to spectacle alignment which has to be done to match facial measurements like nose, ears and head size. Lenskart is also entering the brick-and-mortar space with retail outlets in a number of cities.
Is there a particular tier of cities you are still waiting to enter?
The bane of the optical industry has always been trained and qualified manpower. India is a country of 450 cities with huge buying but varying capacity. So the market in a Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4 city vary vastly. In a tier 3 or 4 city people may have a budget of 200 or 300 or less for a spectacle frame. A metro city may have a budget of at least 4 to 5 thousand for a branded spectacle frame. Lawrence & Mayo as a market leader and pioneer has been doing a lot towards Optometry and towards qualified and experienced manpower. I have the presidents of at least 50 educational institutions creating degree holders in Optometry. We are encouraging diploma courses to upgrade to degree courses. Spectacles, like any other health care item is a niche product. It is not a fast moving consumer good and cannot be treated as one. We call our orders, prescriptions. One person’s prescription cannot work on another person. So this is where we as a market leader are making a huge difference. We are not going to grow at the cost of quality, just to get market share.
You have a very strong vision for the social arena; it would be great to learn more.
For us Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not just a diktat from the government; we’ve been practicing CSR from way back in many ways. Right from 1976 we’ve been doing vision screening in municipal schools and colleges across the country, covering all economic and social backgrounds. We’ve been predominantly focussed on career guidance, which is a part of the Mendoza Foundation, where we train boys and girls to get into carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. We’ve also sponsored a number of female drivers to be a part of Priyadarshini and Viira cabs. We invest heavily in spreading awareness of Optometry in the 11th and 12th standards in science colleges across the country. From just 12 institutes of Optometry in 1996, our company along with a few others has been a pioneer in taking it to over 50 institutes across the country.
What are the secrets to your success?
As a brand or institution that has seen 138 years, we have constantly been learning. Full credit goes to our earlier set of managers, stake holders and promoters who have constantly used training and have upgraded our products and offerings for the consumer, and launched the latest products. We have withstood the tide of time and grown and consolidated. Constant innovation is what drives the evolution of our company. Those are the secrets of success our company – of constantly training and upgrading our people, technology and mindset, which has kept us relevant.
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