The Top Nine: John Jacobs eyeing to build India’s first real eyewear brand
Over the past two years, we progressed from one store to four, and there’s more in store. Our website [www.john-jacobs.com] grew in transactions and fanfare. Our social media handles, especially Instagram [@johnjacobseyewear] have grown organically, and with stickiness. We’ve touchdown-ed a few international markets. And expanding our footprint across an array of Shoppers Stop and Lenskart outlets. Along the way, as we set out to build this brand on the pillars of storytelling and transparency, I’ve encountered a whole gamut of questions around our brand. Here’s summarizing our take on the top nine.
1. Why is John Jacobs termed India’s first real eyewear brand?
Historically, many eyewear brands have been built as large businesses in India, and even today, many new brands are emerging and gaining market sizes. They can be bracketed in either of the two categories, ‘Westernized’ or ‘Indianized’.
Westernized brands are the luxury labels from the western world that are household names- one doesn’t need an introduction to them. They mostly stand for glamour, star studded logos, and the supposed ‘rich’ tag they connote to the consumer.
The very few ‘Indianized brands’ that have built businesses are the typical Indian conglomerate held brands which are predominantly price-plays and lack aspirational value that the modern consumer seeks out today. The other set of Indianized optical businesses are businessmen held multi-brand outlets that stock an array of the westernized brands.
However, India is changing, and consumers are starting to care about ‘modernized’ brands- stylish, premium, high-quality, yet sensible: one that resonates with their smartness. There is a sense of relatability and realism- where brand tells an emotional story, has an engaging experience and an intelligent conversation at the store. The purchase decision is led by their mind, and not by wallet or potential show-off value. Here, relatable people and not brand ambassadors speak to you– to make it seem real, very you. That intersection of aspirational, honestly priced yet luxury quality, international yet homegrown, makes the brand very ‘modernized’ and very real.
John Jacobs is a modernized, real eyewear brand that people relate to and engage with.
2. What’s your story behind the collections, and what direction are you taking?
As we travelled the world, streets led the way. And inspired us. At every step, we found ourselves at the crossroads of historic narratives and urban subcultures. We discovered endless possibilities that the world had to offer. Here’s where our journey began and we couldn’t wait to go places. And thus, streets stuck with us as the inspiration for John Jacobs. We discovered various styles across various high-streets across the world, and couldn’t wait to bring those designs and materials in. And thus, as streets connote journeys and stories to be told, they became our collections. For example, Madison Avenue- the birthplace of advertising bigwigs in America inspired us on many levels. Everything about Madison Avenue from Street Art to Dive Bars has trendy, hipster and flamboyant connotations. We were inspired by these iconic styles, and we brought in this style philosophy to India. Each of our collections have a similar inspiration and a similar story.
As we have grown, we have observed that people care not just about where the collection is inspired from — but are curious about something deeper. They care about the material story- be it handcrafted wood, bullhorn, feather-light titanium, or acetate- they want to know the more substantial story. Conversation about ‘what kind of wood’ is packed with way more substance than talking about the Royal Mile collection. It’s just much more real, and it’s going places.
3. As a homegrown brand, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Overall, we see ourselves growing ten times to become valued at a billion dollar business. We’ll be at about 50 stores across Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in India, and also be present at a few marquee international destinations- decision’s under the works! Besides the retail foray, we will also be a sizeable online business and our website, IOS App and Android App will have strong stickiness- not just for the product being sold, but the story being told.
As a brand, we see ourselves as being the pride of an Indian consumer and occupying top-of-mind recall. People will love us, for our realism and our transparency.
4. Why is your brand philosophy ‘transparency’ and how have you translated that into business decisions?
In a world filled with confusion, empty promises, double meanings, doubts, hidden agendas and false claims, John Jacobs gives you transparency to help you see through things clearly. We are a brand that helps people read between the lines of everyday life and let them make smart sensible decisions. This message is the focal point of our logo, emphasizing our motto of eliminating the confusing the greys of the optical world- and portraying the black and white.
5. What is John Jacobs’ design philosophy?
John Jacobs’ design philosophy blends centuries-old craftsmanship with modern lifestyles. Using the choicest high-end materials like handcrafted Italian Acetate, pure wood, titanium etc., each collection is inspired by some of the trendiest and classic designs including classics such as aviators, classic round and hipster frames.
6. How has John Jacobs grown as a brand and what would you define it as today?
John Jacobs has transitioned from being a nascent brand trying to feet-find itself in the massive Indian eyewear industry, to a brand known for revolutionizing the eyewear industry- being the David amongst the Goliaths. Two years ago, our first foray was in Khan Market, right in the middle of big giants- however, we found our voice, sharpened our identity and consumers loved us for who we were. John Jacobs bestowed the much-needed color, elegance and youthfulness in the otherwise drab and monochromatic optical retail stores. And with this distinct identity, we have continued to grow to more stores and more cities, a beautiful website and an engaging instagram, international markets and across multi-brand outlets. Today, as the David who takes on the Goliath, John Jacobs stands for much more than just quality eyewear at affordable prices- it serves as a brand that resonates with the modern Indian consumer, telling them the truth and helping them make a smart choice.
7. How is John Jacobs revolutionizing the eyewear industry?
We’re the first and only eyewear brand in India to own the manufacturing-to-retail model, a disruptive model that allows us to control the product from sourcing materials & styles and bringing it straight to consumers. There are absolutely no middlemen involved, it’s just us all through the value chain. This disruptive model allows us to price the product sensibly, thereby revolutionary in approach and construct.
In a market laced with only multi-brand stores and aggregated online businesses, John Jacobs is pioneering the exclusive brand store experience, both online and offline. This, again is a first in the industry.
The retail stores aren’t merely stores- to start with, they wooden and warm, not clinical and opaque. They have a strong storytelling element with transparent communication around prices and lenses. Intelligent and educated people on the floor help strike up authentic conversations, helping consumers figure out what they may need- rather than merely sell. The engagement levels are unique- one day you may walk out of a John Jacobs store with a polaroid photograph of yourself, another day with a sketched portrait, another day find yourself popping champagne and celebrating mini joys of life, and more. The John Jacobs experience is first of a kind in the Indian eyewear industry.
8. As an eyewear brand how do you see the Indian eyewear market and where do you see future opportunity?
The Indian eyewear market has tremendous potential. In 2016, the Indian eyewear market was estimated around Rs 8400 Cr and is projected to grow to Rs 12,600 Cr in the coming years. While the unorganized stores handle most of the prescription eyewear, the organized market is set to grow much faster -at15% CAGR. The organized market, although smaller in volume than the unorganized sector, is expected to draw Rs 1700 Cr of business over the next four years. These figures shed light on the immense potential for a brand like John Jacobs Eyewear which extend their market presence through organized stores that have the objective of educating the consumer and rake in the much needed transparency that the eyewear industry lacks.
We believe the future of John Jacobs lies in selling reasonably priced, luxury eyewear through an Omni Channel network- neither purely brick&mortar, nor solely e-commerce, but at an intersection of both. By selling our products through multi-channel approach, John Jacobs as a brand will extend its presence to every market platform and provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping through a phone or a desktop or at a storefront.
9. What makes you different from other eyewear brands?
Our brand philosophy is transparency led and hence different. Our retail stores are polar opposite of what other eyewear brands offer. Our storytelling has realism and an emotional connect with consumer, something never done before. We’re belting out the only exclusive brand stores in India. We’re fresh, far from the clutter and different in every way possible from other eyewear brands.