This NTU grad revitalized her father’s optics business – Tips & Results

Passed down from generation to generation, family businesses have a lot of history. They are often appreciated by many, so it’s not surprising that grief erupts when these businesses announce their imminent closure.

Lam Huili, 29, is aware of this, and there is no way she would let her family business – an eyewear business with more than 45 years of history – go down without a fight.

A graduate of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Business School, Huili found a job in performance marketing in the food and beverage industry.

Meanwhile, her father ran Kwong Shin Optical, one of Singapore’s oldest optometrist businesses, which he founded in 1976.

As her father’s health deteriorated, Huili made the bold decision to quit her job and join the family business instead. But with no prior experience or knowledge in the optical industry, Huili wanted to advance her studies in the field.

“There is no degree in optometry in Singapore, so a diploma was the only option. I chose Singapore because I didn’t want to be away for so long,” said Huili.

She started an optometry course at Singapore Polytechnic in 2018 and started working at Kwon Shin Optical at the same time. It wasn’t until after she graduated early last year that she decided to go into the business full-time.

Give the company a digital facelift

After starting at Kwong Shin Optical, Huili saw untapped potential in the business and immediately started to drive digitalization of the business and go online.

Luckily for her, her father was very receptive and often asked Huili, who is more tech-savvy, for her input to improve the business. She then began exploring what the store could do in terms of customer outreach and retention, and how the store’s facilities and offerings to customers could be improved.

We didn’t have a website so we got a grant to help us develop a website to get started. And then I had to create all the social media accounts from scratch. We only started with Facebook and Instagram before setting up a WhatsApp and Facebook business account. I’ve also experimented with paid ads on social media.

– Lam Huili, second generation owner of Kwong Shin Optical

Photo Credit: Screenshot of Kwong Shin Optical Instagram page

In addition to social media, Huili also wants to use technology to expand Kwong Shin’s offerings.

For example, Kwong Shin uses machines for eye exams. In addition, following the trend of myopia control in Singapore, she is considering investing in a machine that can help measure the axial length of an eyeball.

Challenges as a 29-year-old boss

In addition to the success of Huili’s digital transformation of Kwong Shin Optical, Huili has also faced challenges to get Kwong Shin to where it is today.

“It was more difficult than I initially thought. Some regular customers have already had an eye check done by my father and compare it with what I do. Another of my biggest adjustments was getting used to working on Saturdays because I was used to having my weekends off.”

In addition, her youth did not immediately instill confidence in her abilities, either among her employees or clients.

“Everyone else in the shop has at least 20 years of experience. So when people look at me, they think I’m not that good,” Huili lamented.

However, she made a point of acknowledging the concerns of others, respected the way things were done and valued her contribution.

I didn’t do it either [much] major changes…I didn’t get in and tried to overtake the place. My mom tells me stories about other optical stores where the kids come in and change everything because they think they have bigger and better ideas and then they screw it up.

– Lam Huili, second generation owner of Kwong Shin Optical

Kwong shin optical
Photo credit: Kwong Shin Optical

For example, when she got into the business, she tried to convince her father to offer delivery services to customers. At the time, customers had to go to her store in Bras Basah to pick up their glasses, which Huili found a nuisance.

After discussing this with her father and other employees, she found that this was not feasible as customers sometimes had to make adjustments for their new glasses and had to come to the store one way or the other.

Merge old and new

Huili’s digitization of Kwong Shin Optical is not the end of the story, and she intends to continue improving the business with technology.

She has already identified several areas where technology can help and wants to make further changes while respecting the experience and knowledge of employees.

For one, it convinced them of the need for an automated booking system. They are currently accepting appointments through multiple channels: WhatsApp, phone appointments and email.

An automated booking system would allow them to speed up this process and save a lot of work.

While she continues to urge customers to pick up glasses in-store, she’s also found that not all customers — such as B. Customers with backorders of contact lenses – need to make a physical visit and therefore have expanded delivery options for them.

Ultimately, Huili is dedicated to combining the experience her father and other employees have accumulated over the years with her own skills and technological know-how to build a business that can truly be called her family’s.

“If I had to run my own business, it might as well be my family’s,” Huili summarized.


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Credit for selected images: Kwong Shin Optical

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