Day in the life: Opticians in León, Spain

Paulo González inside his store Óptica Argentina on Gran Vía San Marcos

If you draw a triangle between Plaza de la Inmaculada, Plaza Guzmán El Bueno, and Plaza de Santo Domingo, there are nearly a dozen glasses stores within that small area. So close, you could walk past them all in under five minutes.

That is an excessive number, even though one of those streets, La Avenida Ordoño, is one of the bigger shopping areas in León. So wouldn’t it be difficult to start a business there with that much competition around?

Paulo González is the manager at Óptica Argentina, one of the newer fish in a crowded pool. After working 25 years at other stores in both Argentina and Spain, he decided to set up his own shop in León three years ago.

“[It’s been difficult] because we only have arrived for a little time, and there are other stores that have been here for many years,” González said in Spanish. “The worst part is when a customer doesn’t trust our opinion because we are not one of the bigger brands.”

Despite this challenge, González and the other ópticas still provide free consultations. Clients would only need to pay for glasses, contacts, and other products, but the actual eye examination to test their vision is free.

León has an older population and thus plenty of people who need glasses. In fact, González’s assistant, Noelia Ruiz, actually came to work at Óptica Argentina after studying to be an optician in Madrid.

“There was less salary in Madrid, and I only could work half a day, either in the morning or in the afternoon,” Ruiz said. “So I was looking around for a job, and found this one on Facebook.”

They both are more focused on customer satisfaction rather than the margins they make. As a younger business, they have come to realize that if they make a good impression on a new customer, that person will return at least for their input when they need an updated prescription.

The profit is also enough for González, who is supporting his two daughters’ college educations back in Argentina. He has no intention of going back to working at one of the larger chains.