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Building a brand in a virtual monopoly: Glassic and its journey

In an industry where choice is an illusion, Glassic is trying to bring to consumer quality products at an affordable price point

Devesh Nichani

Many of us must have wandered into shopping malls and eyewear stores and marvelled at the range of eyewear on display. The brands, the styles and, obviously, the prices vary. But what if the choices that you see in front of yourselves were merely an illusion? What if the eyewear industry was virtually a monopoly?

Impossible to imagine given the brands that exist in the category. But with a little digging, one would realise that much of these products come from one company – Luxottica.

The Italy-based company is the world’s largest eyewear company and it designs, manufactures, distributes and retails its eyewear brands. While two of their best-known brands are Ray-Ban and Oakley, the company also makes sunglasses and prescription frames for a range of designer brands such as ChanelPradaGiorgio ArmaniBurberryVersaceDolce and GabbanaMiuMiuDKNY, and Tory Burch.

And into this highly competitive and difficult market, two brothers, Devesh Nichani and Kailash Nichani, have made their foray with their eyewear startup, Glassic.

“My father has been in the eyewear industry for more than 30 years. My family owns a couple of stores in Chennai and these are aggregator stores. The idea of Glassic came to us when my brother joined the family business. Since the eyewear industry is essentially a monopoly, what happens is that Luxottica can price the glasses a lot higher than what it would ideally be. We realised that there was a huge gap in what the consumers wanted and what they were getting,” said Devesh Nichani.

Customers would see the high-end glasses in stores and go to the Nichanis to figure out if there was another eyewear brand that gave the same quality and designs but at a cheaper price. There wasn’t any and that is when the Nichanis decided that if no one was doing it, then they must.

“We decided to start our own private label where we would take control of the design, manufacturing and the entire supply chain so that we could sell the products directly to the end consumer. Since we cut out Luxottica, the middlemen and any other wholesaler from the equation, we are able to take control of the supply chain and pass on that benefit to the end customer,” said Devesh.

Essentially, Glassic’s eyewear is made in the same factory where the Ray-Bans and Oakleys of the world are also produced but because Glassic sources its products directly and ships them directly to the consumers, they are able to sell the same quality glasses at one-third the price.

Positioned as a premium-affordable brand, Devesh explained the rationale behind the bi-polar branding.

“Most consumers are not aware that Luxottica controls much of the industry. So, the first goal for us was to educate the customers and explain to them the reason for the exorbitant price they were paying for eyewear. Because consumers pay so much for their eyewear they don’t end up owing more than one pair, so in terms of repeatability the rates are really low in our industry. If you look at our average selling price, our products range between Rs 2000-3000. If you look at this price range in the context of e-commerce shopping in India, the average selling price is under Rs 1,000. So, we too are fairly costly compared to the average selling price. But that is because our glasses are made of the most premium materials but because we sell directly, we are also affordable and hence the premium-affordable positioning,” said Devesh.

Glassic began by using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram a lot to advertise their products and get the word out about their brand to the customer. But the brand has also been able to leverage WhatsApp to drive sales. Earlier this year, the brand was also recognised by Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook, for their customer relationship initiatives through WhatsApp for business.

“WhatsApp was really a reactive thing for us and not a proactive thing. We used Facebook and Instagram a lot to advertise our products and our website. Most of the visitors who came to our website wanted to interact with us and although we have a live chat on our website, customers chose to WhatsApp us on our support line. It came as a surprise to us. We still get a lot of messages from customers every day. Over time, once we understood that consumers are literally always on WhatsApp, we too started reaching out to our customers on WhatsApp. Now every time we have a product, we broadcast a message to our existing customers on WhatsApp,” said Devesh.

Although majority of their marketing monies still go to social media platforms, the brand is now branching out to traditional mediums like print and OOH as well. The brand has roped in Mumbai-based creative agency Icomo Advertising to help them with their communication and messaging. The media-buying is, however, still done in-house.

“We will be doing our first offline campaign in the month of February, since we have gone offline now,” said Devesh.

The Nichanis opened their first offline store last month in Bangalore to facilitate the touch-and feel factor. Being a Bangalore-based company, 25% of their business comes from the city.

While Devesh didn’t share their marketing budget for the current year, he did mention that the brand typically spends anywhere between Rs 50-60 lakh in a year on marketing.

Although the brand grew entirely on revenues for the first three years, they raised funding by a group of angel networks, which includes The Chennai Angels, Lead Angels and LetsVenture, just last year.

“For a start-up at an early stage, the whole point of raising money is not to be limited by revenue when faced with marketing challenges. For the first three years, we were boot-strapped. Every month, whatever revenue was coming in, we would pump some of it back into marketing. But we have realised that we want to grow faster and hence the funding,” said Devesh.

Apart from the threat of a global giant, in India, there is also the question of the unorganised market. According to Devesh, in India, 70% of the market is unorganised and even the country’s largest brand Ray-Ban has only a 7% market share.

“We had two goals really. One was to give people a brand at a more affordable price point and the second was to organise the whole unorganised market. This is also a challenge because essentially we occupy a middle ground where we are appealing to people who purchase a brand like Ray-Ban and telling them that you can get the same quality at a better price point and then we are appealing to another segment that is buying unbranded products and asking them to upgrade to a better quality, branded product,” said Devesh.

In the online space, Devesh considers Lenskart as their biggest competition and when it comes to offline, he agrees that Fastrack is a fairly big player.

“Fastrack is targeting the age group of 18-24, basically the youth and that is very evident from their communication and their pricing. But our target group is between 25-34,” explained Devesh.

In the long run, Glassic wants to not only be a big player in India but the brand has also trained its eyes on international markets.

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