Walking in the wide street of La Rambla in Barcelona, amidst the multitude of colourful tourists, shops and kiosks selling everything from fruits to jewellery, Tai Hau spotted a handcraft shop selling something quite extraordinary; three pairs of glasses made from the wood of used skateboards.
“I’m very sure about that because the frames were cut out from the skateboard and the empty holes have the same shape as the glasses frames,” said the 25-year-old, Kelantan-born co-founder of Pott Glasses.
“Of course that sparked the conversation with the owner and that was the ‘wow’ moment, these people can really turn everything into artwork. I really love art works and I thought why don’t we have this appreciation towards glasses back in Malaysia? Why shouldn’t people see glasses as a piece of artwork?”
A back-packing trip across Europe turned into an experience of inspiration. Before Barcelona, he was in Berlin, where the urban chic and professionals alike wore their glasses as a statement, a reflection of their identities. The designs were unique and vibrant, something that was both functional and fashionable. This gave him an idea to start a local online spectacles business in Malaysia that aimed to redefine the experience of buying glasses.
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From Childhood Friends to Business Partners
Pott Glasses is the brainchild of both Aw Tai Hau and Eden Hoong, childhood friends of 20 years, who are not only the same age but have the same passion for their job. Hau finished a degree in civil engineering in NUS but realised even before he graduated that e-commerce was something he wanted to sink his teeth into.
Having loved fashion since young, he found a way to combine the two. “I am quite ambitious because I want to be the biggest player of online glasses business in Malaysia.”
Hoong, on the other hand, has 7 years of experience in the eyewear industry before he decided to start Pott Glasses. Creating their very own brand was Hoong’s idea as a way to set their business apart from other optical stores. “It’s the positive feedback on my service from the customers that keeps me going in this line,” he stated, adding that being the solution to someone’s eyesight problems is very gratifying.
Windows to Your Soul
With frames set at a standard price of RM265, Pott Glasses’ handcrafted creations definitely look stylish yet sturdy. For most people, their glasses are extension of themselves, something they would never leave the house without.
Hau believes that glasses can reflect one’s identity and personality. Pott Glasses proposes that apart from a working pair, we can have a second pair to match our outfits that also shows our quirky character.
Glasses aren’t something we buy just for the sake of fashion, so naturally, I wanted to know how well has this concept been embraced by their customers.
“The concept has taken off ‘partially’. Some of the customers really buy into the idea of second pair, especially the young adults. Some prefer a change, for instance, a lot of the customers changed from a rectangular frame to a semi-round one, and vice versa.”
“This is very encouraging because at least they accept the idea of personalised pair. For the price they pay and the products they get, they are very satisfied,” Hau stated while Hoong added that quality lenses are used to add to product satisfaction.
Salesmanship of the 21st Century
Starting an online spectacles store definitely came with its own set of challenges. When buying a pair of glasses, more than clothes and jewellery, customers wanted to ensure that their glasses fitted well, suited their face and felt comfortable. After all, every face-shape is unique.
To solve this, Tai Hau and Eden Hoong came up with the idea of Door-to-Door Try On, a service which allows customers to choose up to 16 pairs from the website and arrange for a meeting to try on the glasses—all for free. On top of that, Pott Glasses will bring an additional 20 pairs of glasses that they think will suit the customer as well as offer advice on matching their face-shape with the right glasses.
But this system was not without its drawbacks.
Chief among them is that the service is limited to within the Klang Valley and given that traffic in Malaysia is notoriously unpredictable, careful planning was needed. “Due to the bad traffic condition in KL, we often waste time being stuck in jams,” Hau admitted and added, “Another problem is the uncalculated cost such as the transportation cost and the travelling time.”
A physical store—which opened just last month at SS15, Subang Jaya—have cats eyes, oval to rectangular shaped frames lined on pinewood shelves, ready to be picked up and tried at any moment. The open-concept, more than anything else, marks Pott Glasses’ effort to break away from convention.
“We do not use cabinet nor glass boxes for displaying purposes because it hinders customers to try the glasses,” Hau explained. Before the shop, customers had to send the details of their glasses’ prescription online, and to make adjustments they had to go to pop-up bazaars. With the physical store, Pott Glasses has gained a sort of permanence, both in the industry and in its location so customers can easily visit them.
So You Look Asian…
We are all aware the Asians and Caucasians have very different face-structures. Asians have rounder cheeks and wider skulls with flat to medium nose bridges, whereas Caucasians have prominent cheekbones, deeper eye sockets and higher nose bridges. “Most of the glasses are designed to suit Caucasians thus no matter how good the brand is, if it’s designed for Caucasians, it will not look as nice on Asians.”
Pott Glasses once again sets themselves apart by emphasising the ‘Asian Fit’.
This begs the question: what is the ‘Asian Fit’?
“We work with manufactures to produce frames with protruding and thicker nose pad, as well as more curvy shape so that it sits more comfortably on the nose bridge. We also take in glasses with silicone nose pad because it is easier to adjust to fit on different faces. We choose frames with certain width and curvature so that the frames do not touch the cheek. The key here is to get the size and nose pad right so that we Asians can look good with the glasses too!”
More Than Just A Business
It’s not often you hear SMEs taking a practical step towards charity. It’s not just fund-raising and donations that the less fortunate need to move on with their lives. “Both of us are born and raised in Kelantan and we both experienced the 2014 flood. The first-hand experience made us understand how difficult it is to face the aftermath of flood. Seeing many poor villagers who could not rebuild their house really broke our hearts.”
Hence, the Pott Glasses project ‘A Pair for Those in Need’ aims to provide 100 pairs of glasses to school kids in Kelantan for free. “We talked to the vice-principal of a primary school and she loves our idea of giving glasses to the students. Currently we are more than halfway to our target volume.”
Pott Glasses has more plans for the future but it all depends if they can successfully carry out their current campaign.
“Do more, ask more and learn more”
You would think that venturing into business with a childhood friend sounds like something out of a movie—who wouldn’t want to have someone they can trust to have their back. But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Quite the contrary in fact, as I discovered from the co-founders of Pott Glasses who admitted that it isn’t easy working with one another as they both had very different ideas on how to approach the business.
Sometimes, conflict happens but compartmentalising their tasks helps a lot. “We’ve set the bottom line in the very early stage of our business,” Hau explained. Hoong is in charged of everything related to glasses, from dealing with manufacturers to performing eye tests while Hau handles the branding, marketing, and business strategies planning.
Like many young entrepreneurs, Hau and Hoong know that the path to success is often paved with challenges and insecurities. Their advice to anyone who wants to venture into startups and business is to be able to plan yet stay adaptable and most importantly, be positive.
“The journey might seem fun and exhilarating, but there are a lot of dark sides many do not foresee. You will face loneliness, helplessness and a lot of rejections because going non-mainstream requires not only hard work and persistence, you need to believe in yourself and be very clear of the steps you take. As long as you believe, all you need to do is to make it work,” advised Hau.