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No reason why Kwong Shin and Jamco cannot hold their own against Owndays – Singapore News

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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A CNA story on three long-running family optical shops triggered this column – for two important reasons. One has to do with the fact that many Singaporeans are myopic. The other is that we should never forget to support local businesses with a proud heritage.

Opticians and optometrists should not find it hard to survive in Singapore, based simply on the fact that we are fertile ground for their kind of business. Subject, of course, to the usual demands of market forces, including location (footfall), rent, fashion trends and competition.

Singaporeans are among the most short-sighted people in the world. According to a five-year study conducted by the Singapore Eye Research Institute and the National University of Singapore, about seven in 10 young Singaporeans have myopia by Primary 6, with an overall 83 per cent of young adults suffering the same condition.

How come? Spending too much time on smartphones, tablets, computers and studies because of parental pressure. Also, not enough outdoor activities when the eyes have a wider range of distances to focus actively on.

The problem is at both ends of the spectrum. The population is also ageing. Singapore’s eyewear market is, in fact, experiencing a surge in demand for high-quality, durable frames that cater to this group. This year, the total market revenue is expected to hit US$405m. The foreign competition for the retail business is keen. Among some of the market, key players are Lenskart and Owndays, to which younger Singaporeans are drawn because of their more glitzy appeal.

This brings me back to my not-so-glamorous youth and the point about support for down-to-earth local businesses which have been part of our lives.

I started wearing eyeglasses in 1957. No Owndays or Lenskart then. Just a roadside stall in Geylang Serai. My mother brought me to a man who had about 20 sets of spectacles of varying degrees set out on a small bench. I tried a number and chose one that “helped” me see better. My mother paid him 20 cents and that was it, my very first pair of spectacles.

I made a really quantum jump from that when I bought my next pair in 1960. By that time, I was in secondary school and had earned some money from a writing competition. With that, I went to Pin Pin Optical, somewhere near Capitol Theatre. I bought my first decent pair of glasses there. I liked their friendly service so much that I kept returning to the place. It became my default optician from there on. The same person who had been attending to me then resigned and started working in Care Optical in Funan Centre. I continued to see him until he retired about 10 years ago. Care also closed shop later.

I was in a kind of quandary when I had to get my next pair of glasses. But I very quickly found another optical shop in Woodlands. This time, the owner was much younger, obviously 3rd generation family. He was always talking about his father and the friends he made through the job. The customer was not simply another part of the shopping mall business footfall but real people to him and his dad.

Similarly, Kwong Shin Optical (Bras Basah Complex), Jamco Optical (Katong Shopping Centre) and Pearl’s Optical (Japan Berseh) – all featured by CNA as examples of durable family businesses – will evoke the memories of generations of Singaporeans. To the names mentioned, I would add Nanyang and Cathay.

May they survive and prosper.

Fashions come and go. Genuine service, family commitment and the personal touch are never out of fashion.

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg is a former senior leader editor with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company

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