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How this NTU grad revived her ailing dad’s optical business that has been around since 1976

Passed on from generation to generation, family businesses hold a lot of history. They are often cherished by many, so it’s not surprising that there is an outpouring of sadness when these businesses announce their imminent closure.

29-year-old Lam Huili is well-aware of this, and there was no way she was going to let her family business — an optometrist shop with more than 45 years of history — close down without a fight.

As a graduate from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s business school, Huili had found a performance marketing job in the Food and Beverage industry.

Meanwhile, her father ran Kwong Shin Optical, one of Singapore’s oldest optometrist shops, having founded it in 1976.

When her father’s health declined, Huili made the bold decision to leave 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.

“In Singapore, there’s no degree for optometry so diploma was the only option. I chose to do it in Singapore because I didn’t want to be away for so long,” said Huili.

She began taking up an optometry course at Singapore Polytechnic in 2018, and started working at Kwon Shin Optical at the same time. It was only after she graduated early last year did she make the move to join the business full-time.

Giving the business a digital facelift

After starting work at Kwong Shin Optical, Huili saw untapped potential in the business and immediately began pushing for the shop’s digitalisation and go online.

Fortunately for her, her father was extremely receptive and often asked Huili, who is more tech-savvy, for her input on how to improve the business. She then began to explore what the shop could do in terms of customer outreach and engagement, as well as how to enhance the shop’s facilities and offerings for customers.

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

– Lam Huili, second-generation owner of Kwong Shin Optical
kwong shin optical
Image Credit: Screenshot of Kwong Shin Optical’s Instagram page

Aside from social media, Huili is also looking to expand Kwong Shin’s offerings using tech.

For instance, Kwong Shin uses machines for eye checks. Additionally, following on the trend of myopia control in Singapore, she’s considering on investing in a machine that can help to measure the axial length of an eyeball.

Challenges of being a 29-year-old lady boss

Beyond the success of Huili’s digital transformation of Kwong Shin Optical, Huili also faced challenges to bring Kwong Shin to where it is today. 

“It was more challenging than what I initially thought it would be. Some regular customers have had an eye check done by my dad before, and they compare it with what I do. Another one of my biggest adjustments was getting used to working on Saturdays because I was used to having my weekends off.”

Furthermore, her youth did not immediately inspire confidence in her ability, from either her staff or from customers. 

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

However, she made the point to take note of the concerns of others, and remained respectful of the way things have been done and value their input.

I haven’t made too [much] major changes… I haven’t come in and tried to overhaul the place. My mother tells me stories about other optical shops where the children come in and change everything because they think they have bigger and better ideas and then they mess it up.

– Lam Huili, second-generation owner of Kwong Shin Optical
kwong shin optical
Image Credit: Kwong Shin Optical

For example, when she first joined the business, she tried to convince her father to offer delivery services for customers. At the time, customers had to head down to their shop at Bras Basah to collect their glasses, which Huili felt might be hassling for them.

After speaking with her father and other employees about it, she realised that this was not feasible as customers would sometimes need to make adjustments for their new glasses, so they would have to come to the shop either way.

Blending the old and new

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

She has already identified several areas where technology can help, and is looking to implement further changes while remaining respectful of the experience and insight of the employees.

For one, she has convinced them of the need for an automated booking system. Currently, they take appointments through multiple channels: WhatsApp, phone appointments, and email.

An automated booking system would allow them to expedite this process and cut down on a lot of work.

Additionally, while she has continued to ask customers to collect glasses from the shop, she has also noted that not all customers — such as customers with repeat orders for contact lenses — require to make a physical visit and hence, extended delivery options to them.

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

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


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Featured Image Credit: Kwong Shin Optical

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