Lenskart plans to have 10 stores, all of them in-mall locations, in Dubai as part of the regional rollout. The bulk of its displays will be made of its own brands and prescription glasses. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The eyewear retailer Lenskart has a simple enough prescription to be the biggest player in its category within the UAE and Middle East markets.

“Rather than be a gallery of {third-party} brands, our stores will have our own manufactured brands,” said Sudhir Syal, Chief Business Officer at Lenskart, which plans to operate as many as 200 locations in the region in another two years. The brand, which has its origin in India, recently opened the first one, at Dubai Festival City. Initially, the focus will be on in-mall locations as the brand builds up sufficient exposure here.

“The other thing we will do different is cut out the middleman entirely – we will bring direct from our manufacturing bases in New Delhi and China. It’s about going direct-to-consumer. We will build up to 200 stores through a mix of own and franchised, and that puts us way ahead of the competition, who would have about 80 stores max.”

Got the money

Last year, Lenskart raised $220 million in a fresh round that included Abu Dhabi’s Falcon Edge Capital ($100 million), Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and TPG. Those funds and another ongoing round has raised the retailer’s valuation to $5 billion.

These funds are handy enough for the Middle East expansion, which comes after the brand’s entry into Singapore. The next likely stop will be the US. (In the UAE, Lenskart is also thinking about other investment options. Syal did not elaborate on these.)

Own brands

In a brand conscious marketplace as the UAE’s won’t Lenskart take longer to build its own labels? Sayal reckons that brand preferences among users are changing, and that there are enough shoppers who would rather spend Dh1,500 buying two or three pair of glasses than on one premium one.

“The truth is that the eyewear market has changed – being here we could be part of that change and even accelerate it,” the official said. By the company’s reckoning, the UAE eyewear market is about $1.5 billion, while the entire Middle East would be about $3 billion.

“I don’t think it’s anymore about an eyewear retailer from India expanding. Ours is a story about a global eyewear retailer with definite plans to reach out into all the important markets. The UAE and the rest of the Middle East are a definitely central to that growth.”

Stock - Sudhir Sayal of Lenskart
Sudhir Syal of Lenskart has reasons to smile. His company is embarking on a major physical store expansion in the region with an eye on 200 stores by 2024. Image Credit: Supplied

Major battleground

The UAE and Gulf markets are turning out to be fertile ground for eyewear retail. One such retailers is eyewa, which started out as an online portal and is now working on a 100-store network in this territory. It is not the only one.

Based on industry estimates, the wider region is recording 8-12 per cent growth in the eyewear category. “While everyone needs sunglasses because of the weather, prescription glasses make up 25 per cent of the overall eyewear business,” said Syal. “Even then, only 30-35 per cent of the prescription marketplace needs are truly being addressed. This is fertile ground.”

Our playbook for retail is different - we go direct to consumer, from manufacturing plant straight to to the face. We don't need a middleman to grow the business.

- Sudhir Syal of Lenskart