By Zsarlene B. Chua

FROM THE outside the newest Owndays store in SM Megamall didn’t look like a typical optical shop with white walls and glass cases everywhere protecting the merchandise — the floor to the fixtures were done in shades of brown while the ceiling is decidedly industrial with hanging lights — but it was hard to miss the rows upon rows of frames for sunglasses and regular eyeglasses.

And making the brand’s flagship and largest store yet not look like the normal optical shops was the whole point — in order to encourage customers, whether they need prescription glasses or want them for fashion, to not be intimidated by both the store and its vaunted all-in pricing system.

“We’re the only optical shop [in the country] who offers ultra-thin, multi-coated lenses right off the bat instead of offering them as extras,” Vohne Yao, Sungears Sales managing director (Owndays’ local partner in the Philippines), told BusinessWorld during the store’s launch on Nov. 8 before adding that the upfront price also includes a one-year limited warranty and lifetime cleaning and mechanical services, the option to choose from 1,500 frame styles, and a waiting period (after payment) of just 20 minutes until the finished pair is released.

A pair can range in price from P1,990 to P6,990.

Spanning 280 square meters, the SM Megamall branch is currently the largest store the Japanese optical brand has ever opened, and while it wasn’t hard to convince the Japanese principals to open the store, one of the challenges they faced was deciding what to actually put inside it because of its size.

“Owndays has never done something this big so one of the challenges we faced was what to put in it… so why not put a special section for the kids and sunglasses so we can encourage parents to get their kids glasses at an early age?,” Mr. Yao said, adding that the dedicated section for kids glasses would lead them to expand the collection.

But whether having a section dedicated to sunglasses and kids’ eyewear would be replicated in succeeding stores remains to be seen as Mr. Yao said it’s “an experiment” — though if it works, they might do this in other stores as well.

And because the retail space is so big, Owndays put in three refraction rooms — with a space for another just in case — to guarantee the fast roll-out of the glasses and chairs for those who’ll wait.

Since opening in 2015, Owndays now operates 21 stores across the country including Cebu and Pampanga. Next year, Mr. Yao said they are planning on opening 15 more.

“We opened 21 stores in less than two years. Next year we’re opening another 15 stores. We really want to bring this to anyone — the price is affordable for everyone and it’s value for money because you get the frames, the lenses, the choices, the service,” he said.

And for those who want to have a collection of frames ranging from the conventional to the decidedly funky, Owndays introduces new styles every three weeks, something fast fashion retailers such as H&M are known to do.

“Sometimes we tell them the frames are too unconventional — we have butterfly frames — but they said it was to show what Owndays can do in terms of design,” he explained.

While he acknowledged there are a lot of other optical store brands whose branches number well into the hundreds, he believes there is much room to grow because “only 10% of Filipinos who need glasses get glasses,” unlike neighboring countries such as Hong Kong and Japan whose numbers are way higher.

“There’s room for us to grow the market. We need to work together to grow the market,” he said.