‘Family businesses are complex’ says Meghana Manay – the sixth generation business leader now in charge of running S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians. It was in 2011 that she officially took over the role of COO at Bangalore’s iconic optician and eye wear retailer that has been in business for over a century and was quick to add a more modern flair to the brand.
Meghana is keen on the little details that complement the already established brand’s identity – an updated logo and an online presence is something she worked extensively to create once the reins were handed over and recounts this to be one of the first projects she took up.
‘Family businesses are complex’, she says, ‘but there’s a charm to them and it works a lot more intuitively, you go with that gut feeling and reasons can’t always be decoded’. Having been in business for over a century S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians witnessed not just generations of customers walk in through its doors but also the surreal changes to the city of Bangalore.
For old timers, the brand continues to be synonymous with the city, but for Meghana the challenge was to ensure the business finds resonance with a newer audience – a demographic of digital natives for whom the internet was not an invention but simply a part of life. ‘My goal was to continue to be known as the go-to optician in the city’ she highlights.
Turning back the wheels of time and going to Bangalore in the 1800s takes you into the life of an interesting personality. A watchmaker, dentist and most importantly an optician – S N Rama Rao the father of S. R. Gopal Rao. The former, in the service of Mysore Maharaja had set up shop opposite Tippu Sultan’s Fort in the old quarters of Bangalore city and later got handed down to his son who interestingly happens to be Bangalore’s first qualified Optometrist.
The brand was born in 1936 and in the coming years S. R. Gopal Rao’s brand and business grew in popularity in Bangalore. With facilities like the in-house lens grinding workshop the time to process customer orders were significantly brought down to the delight of their clientele.
Since 1936, S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians has been passed down from generation to generation and at present the fifth and sixth generation are in charge of running the three stores in Bangalore. Meghana recounts how cautious her parents and the family were when the third store was launched around the time she stepped into the family business. For a growth and expansion obsessed world, this caution seems rather curious, especially in a time where brands are more inclined to play the game like a T20 match while brands like S R Gopal Rao with their legacy view business akin to that of the glorious test cricket format.
It was important not to deviate from the kind of experience you got at S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians when it was just one store according to Meghana. As opticians you are technically in the field of medicine and patience is the name of the game – this extends to the way in which customers are listened to, their queries attended to and after sales support and service. For a brand that has existed for over a century, customers are not just someone you sell to according to Meghana but also someone you have a long standing relationship with and maintaining this style of doing business was a paramount concern as S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians began opening newer stores in the city.
The road ahead
Having been closely involved with the business since 2011, Meghana has been involved with ensuring that the brand is able to grow sustainably and contribute to society in ways that they can. ‘Eyewear should not be sold as a fast fashion product’ she points out and adds that for much of the stock that cannot be sold or serviced, S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians, instead of discounting them, donates them to the Essilor Vision Foundation.
With a century’s worth of experience S.R.Gopal Rao Opticians can’t be viewed just as another optician and eyewear retailer, to Bangalore it has become more of an institution, an entity that has always existed. However, what excites the current COO the most about the brand when she took over was not just the legacy but the immense possibilities of where it could be in the future.