Managing Director, Spectacle Hut
Back in 1997, there was a big gap in the optical retail market in Singapore. With only about 20 qualified optometrists island wide, consumers were left with the choice of either paying exorbitant prices or settling for lower priced opticians who the lacked proper training.
That was when Gary, together with his wife, decided to start Spectacle Hut. Offering the best of both worlds, consumers could now get quality eye care from trained optometrists but at reasonable prices.
And yet, despite this being a sound business idea, Gary found it difficult to secure a space for his first store. “No one knew who we were so they were reluctant to rent us a space. But we kept knocking on doors and eventually managed to set up our first outlet in Northpoint Shopping Centre (in Yishun)”, he recalled.
But things for Gary and Spectacle Hut only got harder from there.
“Because of industry politics, our regular supplier at that time decided to stop supplying goods to us”, he said, adding, “It was then my wife and I decided to travel to the US, Europe and Hong Kong to source for other suppliers.”
Fortunately, this worked out for Gary as he was able to secure supplies directly from the US at much cheaper prices. With the lower prices Spectacle Hut was offering, it grew to become Singapore’s largest optical retail chain in just 10 years.
Even with his company standing at number one, Gary isn’t resting on his laurels.
“My wife and I frequently visit the optical fairs in Paris and Milan to update ourselves with the most recent fashion trends. We also attend seminars to learn more about the latest developments in contact lenses and ophthalmic lenses. Because of this, we’re able to provide customers with the latest fashion eyewear and lenses way ahead of our competitors,” he said.
With Spectacle Hut’s continued success, it’s no surprise that Gary has to deal with his fair share of copycats. And yet, this only serves to push him harder.
He said, “Many competitors try to copy what we (at Spectacle Hut) do, right down to the promotions we offer. But this makes us work harder and plan ahead further. That way, when our competitors try to copy us, we have already moved on to the next level.”
Despite having more than 40 outlets now in Singapore, Malaysia and China, Gary goes by an old belief when it comes to managing his business, saying “If you want to things done right, you have to do it yourself.”
However, recognising the limitations of what only one person can do, Gary trains a select group of people he can rely on – meeting with them frequently, offering advice and monitoring their progress. Empowering them to make decisions only when the time is right. “But I still will be the one who makes all the major decisions,” he said.
To all aspiring entrepreneurs, Gary shares this advice, “On a business level, you must know how to persevere when facing adversity and never give up easily. On a personal level, you must be generous and always find time for the less fortunate. Even when you’re successful, you need to learn to be prudent and manage your finances carefully.”
It is no wonder Gary enjoys helping others with their vision. After all, when it comes to seeing the big picture in business, his vision is crystal clear.